Prepare Your Car For Summer Travel

AAA Auto Repair Article
By AAA Automotive
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Car trouble can ruin your day, or worse yet, a long-awaited vacation. Follow these maintenance tips to help keep your travels safe and trouble free.

Tires

Underinflated tires impact the handling, braking, and fuel economy of your vehicle.

Check Tire Pressure
Figure 1. Monthly tire pressure checks are a key part of vehicle maintenance. (AAA image)
Check pressures at least once a month when tires have been at rest and are not hot. Inflate tires to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended pressure listed in the owner’s manual or on the driver-side door jamb, and not to the number molded into the tire’s sidewall.

Inspect tires for cuts, gouges, or sidewall bulges. To check tread wear, insert a quarter upside down into the grooves in several spots. If the top of George Washington’s head is visible at any point, it’s time to start shopping for new tires. Uneven wear across tire treads can indicate inflation, suspension, or wheel alignment issues.

Brakes

The brakes are the single most important safety system on your vehicle. Inspect the brake system for fluid leaks and check the pads/rotors and shoes/drums (as applicable), for wear at every oil change, and whenever there are signs of a potential problem.

Pay attention to any brake warning indicators on your car’s instrument panel, or any grinding or scraping noises when applying the brakes. Worn out brakes or brake system hydraulic pressure loss require immediate attention.

Battery

Heat and vibration are a battery’s two worst enemies. You can’t do much about heat, but you can secure your battery to minimize vibration, and clean the terminals to ensure good electrical connections.

Check Car Battery
Figure 2. AAA Mobile Battery Service performing a battery test at the roadside. (AAA image)
Depending on local climate and vehicle use, most car batteries have a three- to five-year service life. After three years, have your battery tested to determine remaining capacity. In many areas, AAA members can have a AAA Mobile Battery Service technician come to their home or work to perform a free battery test. If your battery needs to be replaced, a new part can usually be installed on location. For more information, visit AAA.com/Battery.

Fluids

Check your vehicle’s engine oil level monthly. Change the oil at the intervals specified by the vehicle manufacturer and use an oil that meets the vehicle’s factory specifications. Most newer engines require semi- or full-synthetic oil to properly protect the engine and maintain the vehicle warranty.

Check Car Fluids
Figure 3. Fluid levels must be correct for safe vehicle operation. (AAA image)
Also check the engine coolant and brake, transmission, and power steering fluids. When fluids need to be topped up, always use a product that meets the specifications listed in the vehicle’s owner’s manual. Note that newer car models may have sealed automatic transmissions without a dipstick, and electric power steering that may not use fluid.

Wipers and Washers

Rubber components naturally deteriorate over time so wiper blades require periodic replacement. The typical wiper blade lifespan is six to twelve months depending on local climate.

Check Car Wipers and Washers
Figure 4. Good wiper blades are critical to clear vision. (AAA image)
Keep the windshield washer fluid reservoir topped up with a solution formulated to remove insects and other debris. Test the washer spray nozzles for proper operation and aim before leaving on a road trip.

Belts and Hoses

Reinforced rubber drive belts power the engine water pump and various accessories such as the alternator and air conditioning compressor. Inspect the belts and replace any that are cracked, glazed, or frayed. Note that many modern multi-rib or drive belt materials do not show easily visible signs of wear. As a general rule, replace drive belts every 60,000 miles.

Check Car Belts and Hoses
Figure 5. A comparison of multi-rib drive belts after 100,000 miles. Both need replacement, but the newer belt made of EPDM rubber does not show wear like the older part. (courtesy Gates)
Rubber hoses carry various fluids in the engine compartment. Inspect and replace any leaking or damaged hoses. Replace worn, brittle, bulging, or excessively soft radiator hoses. Check for leaks around hose clamps and at the radiator and water pump.

Air Conditioning

A malfunctioning air-conditioning system seldom disables a vehicle, unless the drive belt that powers both the AC compressor and the engine water pump breaks. Auto air conditioning systems do not require routine maintenance, but should be taken to an auto repair shop for diagnosis if there is a decrease in cooling capability.

Climate control systems equipped with cabin filters that prevent outside dust and debris from entering the vehicle should have the filter inspected and replaced as needed.

Emergency Kit

AAA recommends keeping an emergency kit with a flashlight and extra batteries, first-aid supplies, drinking water, non-perishable snacks for your travelers and pets, battery booster cables, and emergency flares or reflectors in your vehicle. Add also a rain poncho, basic tool kit, duct tape, gloves, and shop rags or paper towels.

Finding Quality Auto Repair

AAA recommends that you plan ahead for vehicle service by finding an auto repair shop and technician you can trust before you need them. AAA.com/Repair provides information on nearly 7,000 Approved Auto Repair facilities that have met AAA’s high standards for appearance, technician training and certification, insurance coverage and customer satisfaction. AAA regularly inspects every Approved Auto Repair facility and surveys their customers to ensure ongoing performance. In addition, AAA members receive special benefits that include auto repair discounts, an extended 24-month/24,000-mile parts and labor warranty, and AAA assistance in resolving repair-related issues.

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