Ah, summer. The season of road trips, camping adventures, and long drives to the beach. It’s not all sunshine and roses, though — with the heat come new challenges for car owners, so preparing your car for summer travel is crucial. This summer car maintenance guide will guide you through the essential car care tips for hot weather, ensuring your vehicle stays in optimal condition throughout the sunny season.

The Impact of Hot Weather on Your Vehicle: What You Need to Know

A rise in temperatures can result in a multitude of problems for your vehicle. 

Let’s start with batteries. High temperatures can accelerate fluid evaporation in batteries, weakening the charge and shortening their shelf life.

The heat’s not great for tires either — the pressure per square inch of car tires fluctuates with the weather. In the summer, that can mean overinflation and an increased chance of a blowout. 

Lastly, the heat can cause your engine to over… well, heat, especially if your coolant isn’t in top condition. But don’t worry; our summer car maintenance guide will show you how to mitigate these issues.

A person repairs a tire.

To avoid a dead battery in the middle of a summer excursion:

  1. Check your battery’s charge level. You’ll need a voltmeter (set to 20v DC if it’s not autoranging). To check your battery, turn off the ignition and any accessories, like lights or radio. Then, place the red lead from the voltmeter on the positive terminal (usually indicated by a red cover or “+” sign) and the black lead on the negative terminal. Always connect the positive terminal first! If your voltmeter reads below 12.4 volts, you may need to charge or replace your battery. 
  2. Once your battery is three years or older, the American Automobile Association (AAA) suggests testing it annually. When you bring your car in for a service, consider asking your mechanic to test the battery, just in case they pick up anything your tests missed. 
  3. Keep the battery terminals clean, as dirt or corrosion can negatively impact your battery’s ability to hold a charge. If the terminals become corroded, baking soda and a small amount of water can help clean them.

Tire Maintenance for Hot Weather Driving

When doing summer car maintenance, don’t forget the tires. Increased temperatures can increase tire pressure, potentially leading to a blowout. 

Check your tire pressure regularly, ideally when the tires are cold. Rotate your tires as recommended by your vehicle manufacturer, and ensure they’re properly balanced. Check the tread depth, too – worn-out tires are more likely to lose traction on hot, slick roads.

Cooling System Care: Preventing Overheating in the Summer Heat

A car’s cooling system is its first line of defense against overheating, a common problem during summer. The coolant needs to be replaced as per the manufacturer’s recommendations. A good rule of thumb is a complete flush and replacement every two to three years or 30,000 miles

As part of your summer car maintenance, ensure all parts of the cooling system, such as the radiator, thermostat, water pump, and hoses, function properly. If your car tends to run hot, consider getting a cooling system inspection before the peak of summer heat. Speaking of checking fluids, here’s a quick rundown:

A person refills car coolant for a car care tip for hot weather.

Summer Car Maintenance: What Fluids to Check (& Why)

Your vehicle relies on various fluids to function correctly, and maintaining these fluids is even more critical during hot weather. Fluid placement locations and container types may vary by make, model, trim, etc., so check your vehicle’s owner’s manual to see where different fluids are located and manufacturer recommendations for checking them.

You’ll want to check the following:

  • Engine Oil:
    • Where & How: Most cars have a dipstick you can use to check the oil level. Pull it up and clean it. Then, dip it and pull it up again. If the oil level is near the maximum indicator and light golden or amber-colored, you’re in good shape. If the oil level is low or brown/black, it’s probably time for a change. 
    • Why: Regular oil changes are vital, especially before long summer trips. Old oil can lead to excessive friction and overheating.
  • Transmission Fluid: 
    • Where & How: In an automatic transmission car, you can check the transmission while in park or neutral. The transmission fluid dipstick is usually behind the oil dipstick, where the transaxle meets the rear of the engine. If the fluid is amber, red, or smooth, you’re fine; you probably need a replacement if it’s gritty or dark. In manual transmission vehicles, transmission fluid access is sometimes under the vehicle, so consider asking a professional for help.  
    • Why: This fluid helps keep your gears shifting smoothly. If it’s low or dirty, your transmission could overheat, and that’s no good.
  • Coolant:
    • Where & How: Coolant can be difficult to check and dangerous while the car is hot, so you may want to take your vehicle in for a service pre-summer service if you’re not comfortable checking yourself. In most vehicles, the coolant reservoir looks like a plastic container located under the hood. If the fluid is brown instead of brightly colored and clear, you may need a refill. 
    • Why: This fluid is crucial for keeping your engine from overheating. Replacing coolant if it’s dirty or running low is vital during hotter weather.
  • Brake Fluid:
    • Where & How:  Most cars have a brake fluid reservoir at the rear of the engine compartment. Newer reservoirs are often translucent, but in older vehicles, you may need to lift the top of the reservoir. Brake fluid can be toxic, so be careful! Wearing gloves is recommended. You may need a re-up if the fluid is cloudy or at a minimum level. 
    • Why: Heat can degrade brake fluid, impairing braking performance. Ensure your brake fluid is at the appropriate level.
  • Power Steering Fluid:
    • Where & How: Power steering fluid is usually on the passenger side in a clear container, but may have a dipstick if the container is opaque. Good power steering fluid is usually amber or pinkish, while fluid needing a replacement may be brown or black.
    • Why: Without this, steering your vehicle could become challenging. Check for leaks, particularly in hot weather.
  • Windshield Washer Fluid: With more dust and bugs in the summer, maintaining a full reservoir of washer fluid is crucial.
A woman walks to her car during the summer to perform summer car maintenance.

More Car Care Tips for Hot Weather

We’re not done! Here are some additional are some additional car care tips for hot weather:

  • Test the Air Conditioning: There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a hot car with a malfunctioning AC system. If your AC isn’t cooling the car down quickly, it may be time for a system recharge. During your summer car maintenance, turn your AC on and make sure it’s blowing cool air through all vents. If it’s cutting in and out, refuses to turn on, or doesn’t blow cool air, it’s probably time to pay your mechanic a visit. 
  • Check Belts and Hoses: Check all belts and hoses for signs of wear and tear. The extreme summer heat can cause these parts to wear down at an accelerated rate. A broken or malfunctioning hose or belt can negatively impact other vital car parts, so acting proactively regarding hose and belt checks and repairs is in your best interest.
  • Turn the Lights On and Off: Ensure all lights are functioning properly – headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers, interior lights, and trailer lights if applicable. Ensuring your car’s electrical components function properly doesn’t just help keep you safe, it also prevents you from getting pulled over for a busted signal (which is never on anyone’s road trip bucket list).
  • Park in the Shade (& Use a Sunshade). Parking in the shade will help your car stay cool — you don’t want to be running hot before you even turn the ignition key. Using a sunshade and parking out of direct sunlight will also help maintain your car’s interior, especially if your vehicle features materials that can crack or discolor under intense heat.
A person checks car parts for a guide on car care tips for hot weather.

Preparing Your Car for Summer Travel: A Handy Guide

Going on a road trip? Here’s a quick checklist of car care tips for hot weather you’ll want to follow to make the most of your roadbound adventures:

  • When you pack, distribute weight evenly to avoid stressing any one part of the vehicle. Overloading your car can cause premature brake wear and suspension issues and worsen your vehicle’s fuel economy.
  • Drive for stretches at a time, but take breaks. Staying on the road for twenty minutes or longer helps your battery recharge more efficiently, counteracting some of the accelerated wear and tear hot weather can bring. Despite that, stopping every hour or so can help your car cool down and prevent highway hypnosis from setting in, which is crucial if you want to drive safely.
  • Pack some nonperishable snacks and electrolyte-enhanced water. The snacks is self-explanatory. You probably don’t want to accidentally reach for something that went bad because it wasn’t in a cooler. Electrolyte-enhanced water can help replenish electrolytes lost due to sweat, helping you fend off dehydration during those long hours behind the wheel. 
  • Chapstick & a first aid kit. Chapstick will spare you the pain of cracked lips, a first aid kit is there to help take care of anything more serious. Importantly, make sure you know what’s in your first aid kit and how to use it — having the materials to tie a tourniquet is only useful if you know how to use them. 
  • Have a routine for checking the car before leaving it. If you’re a parent taking kids, ensuring you make sure everyone is out of the car every time you turn it off is vital. Even if you’re traveling alone, you don’t want to leave electronics in a turned-off car accidentally, and car interiors heat up fast. Pre-planning stops and setting an alarm on your phone ahead of time that will remind you to check the car works well. You can also pin a post-it reminder to the dashboard, the center of the wheel, or the door handle to make sure you never miss it. 

Looking for ten things you should have in your car at all times? We’ve got you covered.

Don’t let car maintenance fall by the wayside as you gear up for summer. Use this summer car maintenance guide to keep your vehicle in top shape, no matter how high the mercury rises. Remember, a well-maintained car means a safer, more efficient, and more enjoyable summer road trip. Safe travels!

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