George Gershwin once composed: “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” We all have memories of long, languid days spent by the pool or at the beach, followed perhaps by a creamy treat wedged inside a waffle cone. Then, on the trip back home, we’re suddenly reminded of how tough heat is on cars, as we spot an overheated vehicle on the side of the road.
High temperatures can take a toll on car fluids, leading to a breakdown and possibly a major repair. Conduct a fluid check now, and you may avoid problems that leave you stranded miles away from the beach later. Here are the five essential fluids to check in the summertime.
Also known as antifreeze or radiator fluid, coolant protects the aluminum engine parts and keeps an engine from overheating and freezing. The fluid consists of a 50–50 blend of coolant and water — a ratio you can confirm with an antifreeze tester. Inspect the coolant in the reservoir for both the level and condition. If it’s cloudy or rusty, replace it. Otherwise, top it off to the level shown in the reservoir.
Change your motor oil at the intervals listed in your owner’s manual. Here, you’ll choose the severe duty interval — not because of the number of miles you drive, but due to the extreme heat. If an oil change isn’t due, check the engine oil level and top it off as needed. Always keep an eye on the oil, checking it at least once per month.
3. Brake Fluid
Just like transmission fluid, brake fluid is set in a sealed system. Check the brake fluid reservoir to verify the proper level. Unlike coolant, don’t add fluid, as a decrease usually matches the wear of the pads. However, it also could point to a leak in your brake system, which is something your mechanic should inspect.
4. Car Battery
Most car batteries are “maintenance free,” and that means you cannot check the water levels. What you should inspect is corrosion build up on the battery terminals. You can easily remove corrosion by making a solution of baking soda and water and using a toothbrush to scrub away build up. The average lifespan of a car battery is three to five years; if your battery is nearing the end of its life cycle, replace it.
5. Washer Fluid
Your car won’t break down if you’re out of washer fluid, but a lack of fluid can be hazardous to visibility. Top off the washer fluid, and, while you’re at it, inspect the wiper blades. Weather and time take a toll on the blades, which can streak or even scratch your windshield.
In addition to a fluid check, there are other maintenance matters to handle, especially before your next big summer trip. First, check tire pressure — including the spare — and ensure that there is sufficient pressure. Rotate as required; replace if the tread indicators are showing. Second, inspect all lights: headlights, turn signal indicators, daytime running lights, fog lamps and taillights. Replace worn bulbs as needed. Third, check belts and hoses and replace any that are cracking, blistering, fraying or hardening.
By following these tips and the maintenance schedule for other items, you’ll be relaxing at the beach this summer — instead of scrambling on the side of the road.
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Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.