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Your Car: Summer-izing Your Car

Making sure your car's fit for summer driving can be inexpensive and painless. Here's how.


Getting Your Car Ready for Summer

It's easy to see that winter can be hard on a car. It may be less obvious that summer's heat can be nearly as nasty as the cold of winter. And, because auto repairs are almost always easier, cheaper, and less inconvenient when they're done as preventive measures—before a system meltdown occurs—paying a little attention to your car now can help ensure that you won't have to pay a lot of attention to it later this summer.

Here's a checklist and some suggestions on how to prepare your car for summer driving:

Read your car's owner's manual—and follow its schedules for maintenance. If it suggests alternate service intervals, such as for oil or filter changes, follow the schedule with shorter intervals. It's cheap insurance.

Air-conditioning. Try it before you need it—turn the AC on and let it run for a while. Even if it's turning out plenty of cold air, have the hoses and belts inspected.

Cooling system. Corrosion inhibitors in coolant can lose their effectiveness over time. The cooling system should be flushed and refilled according to manufacturer's specifications; a two-year interval is typical. Have the pressure cap checked or replaced when you have the coolant replaced. While you're at it, have the system tested for leaks and have the belts and hoses inspected. Although hose life varies greatly, you can think of a hose's life span as you would a dog's: Every year of hose life equals at least seven of ours. It's best to replace aging hoses.

Brakes. Have them inspected.

Electrical system. Inspect the battery and cables; have the terminals cleaned if they're corroded. If your battery is approaching the end of its warranty period (typically, five years), consider replacing it. Otherwise, the only way to detect a weak battery before it fails to start your car is to have it tested at a repair shop.

Fluid levels. Check oil, brake fluid, coolant, automatic transmission fluid, and windshield wiper and power steering reservoirs. It's best either to have a professional do these inspections or to consult your car's owner's manual for proper procedures.

Tires. Take off snow tires. Inspect tires for worn tread, uneven wear, and damage, including sidewall damage. Check air pressure (don't forget the spare) when the tires are cool by using your own high-quality gauge. Despite the recent controversy over inflation pressure and tire failures on some sport utility vehicles, inflating tires to the pressure recommended by the vehicle's manufacturer is generally best. The pressure figure given on the tire sidewall is a maximum, not necessarily the one to use for ordinary driving.

Tread depth should be at least 2/32 of an inch. Most tires have wear bars at right angles to the tread; when you can see them, replace the tire. Uneven wear can mean improper inflation or a possible suspension problem, and in either case is much cheaper to fix sooner rather than later.

Lights. Make sure all the bulbs work, including high beams. Check the blinkers. Clean the lenses.


Having your car inspected is a good first step toward trouble-free driving.

  • You can also have your car gone over by a trusted technician. AAA's Approved Auto Repair program helps you locate an approved repair facility near you; telephone (800) 645-4288 (Calif., Nev.), (800) 541-9902 (Utah).
  • If you live in or near Sacramento or Santa Clara, Calif., consider visiting a AAA-run Car Care Plus center for car maintenance needs. In Sacramento, call (916) 386-8561; in Santa Clara, call (408) 247-5405.

This article was first published in July 2001. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.