Prepare Your Car For Summer Travel

AAA Auto Repair Article
By AAA Automotive
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Car care checklist for summer road trips

It's time for a drive vacation. You mapped a route, booked hotels, and made a checklist of things to do before you go. AAA reminds you to also make car maintenance part of your summer road trip preparation. Use this car care checklist to ensure your vehicle is ready for summer travel.

1. Check tires and tire pressure

Inspect all four tires and, if you have one, the spare tire as well. Look for cuts, gouges or sidewall bulges. Insert a quarter upside down into grooves to check tire tread. If you see the top of George Washington’s head, it is time for new tires.

Check tire pressure when the car has been idle and tires are cool. Inflate as needed to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended pressure. You will find it listed in the owner’s manual and on the sticker of the driver side door jamb. Do not use the number on the tire sidewall.

Check Tire Pressure
Figure 1. Monthly tire pressure checks are a key part of vehicle maintenance. (AAA image)
2. Listen to and feel the brakes

If you hear a grinding sound or feel a vibration when applying the brakes, take your vehicle to an auto repair shop for a brake inspection. A service professional will check the brake system for fluid leaks, and the pads, rotors, shoes and drums. If repair or replacement is needed, use the Repair Cost Estimator to help anticipate costs.

3. Secure and test the battery

Check the car battery to be sure cable connections are clean and tight, and the hold down hardware is secure. Have a service professional do a battery check to determine remaining capacity. AAA members may request a free battery check.

Check Car Battery
Figure 2. AAA Mobile Battery Service performing a battery test at the roadside. (AAA image)
4. Top off engine oil and other fluids

Check that engine oil, coolant and brake, transmission and power steering fluids are at the correct levels for safe vehicle operation. When adding fluids, use products that meet the specifications listed in the 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.
Check Car Fluids
Figure 3. Fluid levels must be correct for safe vehicle operation. (AAA image)
5. Replace wiper blades and replenish windshield cleaner

Rubber wiper blades naturally deteriorate over time. If wipers streak or fail to clear the windshield thoroughly, replace the blades. Fill the windshield washer reservoir with fluid formulated to remove insects and other debris, and test to make sure the nozzles spray adequately.

Check Car Wipers and Washers
Figure 4. Good wiper blades are critical to clear vision. (AAA image)
6. Check belts and hoses

Reinforced rubber drive belts power the engine water pump and accessories such as the alternator and air conditioning compressor so you should inspect and replace any that are cracked, glazed or frayed.

Note that 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.

Inspect and replace worn, brittle, bulging or excessively soft radiator hoses. Check for leaks around hose clamps and at the radiator and water pump.

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)
7. Keep the AC running cool

Take a test drive with the air conditioner running. If you notice a decrease in cooling capacity, take the car to an auto repair shop for diagnosis. Also have the cabin filter inspected and replaced as needed.

8. Replenish emergency kit supplies

AAA recommends keeping a well-stocked emergency kit in your vehicle. Include a flashlight and extra fresh batteries, first-aid supplies, drinking water, non-perishable snacks for people and pets, car battery booster cables, emergency flares or reflectors, a rain poncho, a basic tool kit, duct tape, gloves and shop rags or paper towels.

9. Plan ahead for vehicle service

In the event you should need vehicle maintenance, know ahead of time where to find an auto repair shop and technician you can trust. Use AAA.com/Repair to access AAA’s network of nearly 7,000 Approved Auto Repair facilities. Each shop meets AAA’s service and customer satisfaction standards. AAA members receive auto repair discounts, an extended 24-month/24,000-mile parts and labor warranty, and assistance in resolving repair-related issues.

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