How to Make Sure Your Car is Ready for a Summer Road Trip

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Summer is here, and that means one thing for many families: road trip! To get you on your way, we've compiled a list of essential summer maintenance, from air conditioner maintenance to brakes, air filters, and much more. Here's what to keep in mind before setting out.

Chris Fix's Summer Maintenance Items

In this video, Chris Fix walks viewers through several items that should be checked before a summer road trip, one of which is tread depth to detect irregular wear patterns that can indicate suspension problems.

Here's an easy way to check tread depth. Take a penny and insert it into a tread groove, Lincoln head down. If the rubber touches the top of Lincoln's head, your tires are at a tread depth of 2/32", the minimum required by most state laws. If your tread depth is that low, you're also likely to see the wear bars that are perpendicular to the tread grooves, and it's time to replace your tires.

Now, try the same test with a quarter. If the rubber touches the top of George's head, your tread depth is 4/32". One more time with the penny — does the tread reach the Lincoln memorial? If so, your tread depth is 6/32" and your tires are good for awhile longer.

It's also a good idea to have your tires rotated before a long trip. Regular tire rotations will help ensure even wear (and are required by your tire warranty), but you'll also notice a big difference in road manners, handling and ride quality after a rotation.

More Fan Belt Tests

When checking the belt, you should test the tensioner by pushing on the belt in the middle of the longest run and checking to see if it deflects more than an inch and a half and then twist it to see if it twists more than 90 degrees. If you can push or pull the belt more than an inch and a half, the tensioner should be replaced.

Keep Your Air Conditioning Cold for Summer Driving

If your car's air conditioning is blowing warm or hot air, the most likely cause is a loss of refrigerant in the system. Usually, the cure for this is to recharge the refrigerant with something like AC Pro since all systems will lose a small amount of refrigerant over time. If your AC doesn't seem to be working properly, don't simply recharge it—especially if it had been working properly recently. Instead use one of the various leak detection methods to see if the problems stem from more than a minor leak.

Make Sure Your Brakes Are Ready

Your brakes are your vehicle's primary safety system. They're even more important if you're carrying and/or towing any sort of load. Typically, a set of front brake pads will last between 30,000 and 60,000 miles, depending on how the vehicle is used and driven. Your brakes will normally send you warning signs that should alert you they need to be looked at. Even if your brakes aren't sending these signals yet, you should still look at them and verify all is well.

Don't Forget to Check the Brake Fluid

One thing even many mechanics overlook is the condition of the brake fluid. Using a large flat blade (screwdriver or popsicle stick) lightly scrape the bottom of the brake reservoir. Remove the scraper and check it for sludge buildup. If it's excessive, you should flush your brake fluid completely with fresh fluid. Brake fluid absorbs moisture and any droplets of water in the system can boil off in extreme heat and cause bubbles of air, leading to a spongy brake pedal and poor braking performance.

Air Filters Can Greatly Affect Fuel Economy

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Your vehicle's engine needs a strong flow of clean air to run properly. There are two basic styles of air filters: those that are on top of the engine and those that aren't. Those that are on top of the engine are usually in a circular container that is secured by one or two butterfly nuts. Those that aren't are normally inside a box mounted to the fender. If you can't see light through it, it needs to be replaced.

Make Sure the Engine Gets the Fuel It Needs With a Clean Filter

Depending on the quality of fuel you normally buy, a fuel filter will normally last about 12,000 to 15,000 miles. Clogged fuel filters can't deliver the amount of fuel your engine needs to run properly. Fuel filters on most carbureted and some throttle body injected engines will be located either on the throttle body/carburetor or between the carburetor and the fuel pump. On other fuel-injected engines the filter will either be mounted on the bulkhead or under the car near the fuel tank.

How to change the fuel filter depends on where it's located. Stock GM carbureted engines require a large wrench to remove the fuel inlet to access the filter, while most other vehicles have a filter located between the pump and carburetor that can be changed with a straight screwdriver. Fuel filters on some older injected cars are attached with clamps, while newer vehicles need special tools to remove fuel lines prior to filter removal.

Finish Treating Your Fuel System

Now that your engine is getting clean air and fuel, it's time to make sure it can take advantage of them. Fuel injectors and carburetor jets can be clogged by fuel additives and low-quality fuel over time. Advance Auto Parts carries several different fuel system treatments and cleaners, depending on your needs. Our associates will be happy to help you choose the product that will help your engine the most.

Bad Shocks and Struts Will Destroy Tires Faster on Long Trips

Tire-wear patterns caused by bad suspension parts usually take about 500 to 700 miles to set in to where they will only get worse, even if the parts are fixed. The higher tire temperatures caused by extended road trips will only make these more severe. Run your hands lightly over all four of your tires, feeling for pronounced height differences indicating bad shocks or struts. Next, push down strongly and quickly release each corner of the vehicle. Anything more than four rebounds (and, if you're being safest, even fewer) means you've got weak shocks or struts. Also, if you see any wetness (indicating they're leaking), replace them.

Lubrication Is Essential

Chris Fix mentioned it in his video: Check your fluids, especially lubricants. If you're planning for a long summer trip, it's a good idea to change the oil and check your owner's manual for recommendations on viscosity for the temperature range of your destinations.

Last updated July 3, 2018