Take that much-needed summer road trip, skip the car problems. Prior to hitting the road, there are a couple of major car care essentials to check off your list (so you don’t end up stranded), and a couple of time-savers that will make cleaning and maintaining your vehicle sooo much easier.
The auto repair market is growing at 11% annually, and with more and more older cars on the road due to inflation, it pays to spend a little time and money now to prevent future problems.
In this post, I’ll break down 9 car care tips for summer driving–many are free, and require a little bit of your time.
1. Check your coolant and fluid levels
Be sure you check those engine coolant levels before heading off to prevent your engine from overheating; while you’re at it, check those transmission fluid, brake fluid, and wiper fluid levels too.
How to change coolant
Coolant comes in different concentrations, generally a 50/50 mix. Before you change things out, it’s a good idea to perform a coolant flush to remove deposits that could overheat your engine. Many automotive shops can do this, but it’s not difficult to do on your own (basically one hose with a clamp you loosten).
To save money, I prefer picking up antifreeze and a bottle of distilled water. You can then mix water and antifreeze at whatever ratio (usually 50/50) your vehicle manufacturer recommends.
I recently had a problem in early spring when it reached about 80 degrees in March. I noticed my Jeep was low on coolant, causing my check engine light to come on. You might also find your A/C doesn’t get as cold with low coolant; a sweet-smelling aroma coming from the vents is a sign coolant may be leaking.
Again, make sure you purchase coolant that’s recommended by your vehicle manufacturer and top off your coolant reservoir to the fill line.
2. Purchase a detailing cart to make washing easier
Summer is the best time to wash your vehicle because it stays light outside for a longer period of time, but lugging around buckets, brushes, towels, and everything else is a hassle.
I recommend picking up what’s called a detailing cart to make washing your vehicle easier. This cart is designed to hold all of your supplies, including spray bottles and everything else, and just makes the wash process more efficient.
If you don’t have the room in your garage, you can purchase one that collapses like the one pictured above. Running back and forth to the garage is a pain, and these carts will save you a ton of time
These carts come in a few different varieties for different purposes for about $100; check out a list of a few of my favorites in this blog post.
3. Check and clean your cabin air filter
Since your A/C will get a workout when it’s hot, don’t neflect your car’s cabin air filter. This filter is located behind the glove box in my truck, but few people check this regularly (or where to locate it)!
A cabin air filter basically filters air from the outside running through your vents; you’ll want to make sure this filter is clean and free of pollen, debris, and everything else.
Your vehicle may not have a cabin air filters ( especially prior to year 2000), just as an FYI.
4. Check your engine air filter
Even more important to your vehicle in the summer is your engine’s air filter. Summer driving is tough on your vehicle’s engine, especially if it reaches 80 or 90 degrees like it does where I live.
Swap your engine air filter to ensure your vehicle’s engine gets the most airflow possible to cool it. Engine air filters usually have dates stamped on them and should be replaced every 10,000 to 15,000 miles or so.
Should you change an old engine air filter that doesn’t look dirty?
Even though your engine air filter may appear clean on the outside, the filter can still be clogged and needs replacing regularly for optimal fuel economy and engine performance.
5. Consider a summer driving tire
Many tires are all season (like on my truck), but if you drive a sportscar and really care about performance and handing a summer tire will be optimal. Vehicle cornering and steering is better with summer tires, because the tires have more traction and grip, even when wet. Summer tires are also stickier because they use a different compound than winter tires.
Summer tires also don’t have deep grooves, which makes them better for handling, but less than ideal for driving over wet snow or mud but focused solely on handling.
I’d say most people opt for an all-season tire, but swapping tires between seasons isn’t a bad idea and will maximize tire life on both sets.
6. Clean the engine bay
After salt, pollen, and everything else, it’s a good idea to clean under the hood. This is a good time to check your air filter while you’re at it, and clear the area of leaves, pollen, and debris.
Since many engines have covers, I’d start by using a microfiber towel and a product like Meguiar’s Vinyl and Rubber cleaner and conditioner. This stuff works great, and perfect for engine bays. I like to use old worn out microfiber towels for engine bay cleaning.
7. Be mindful of the sun: protect your clear coat
Think about your car like your skin..leaving it out at the beach with sand all over it, baking in the sun is going to dry it out and cause your clear coat to wear away. Eventually, your paint will begin to fade, which is why you see vehicles with faded colors, rust, and pitting.
You should always protect your vehicle with a coating of natural wax, or a man-made sealant; both of these products help provide a layer of protection. You can take it a step further with a paint protection film or a vinyl wrap, it’s just a matter of personal preference. I personally like to hand wax my vehicles at the start of the summer driving season, and re-apply spray wax every few weeks.
Avoid washing your vehicle with dish soap, as this is a detergent that can strip wax off (which is fine if that is the intent). I like to use a car soap with wax for that extra layer of protection. If you have a brand new vehicle you may want to use a wax-less car soap (which is perfectly fine) so long as you protect it.
Some people don’t like leaving behind wax after they wash which is understandable if you have a pristine-looking show car, but for older vehicles, I’m perfectly okay with using a wax and wash product. Claying your vehicle after removing all wax is a good spring cleaning activity to prep your vehicle for driving season, just be sure to reapply wax.
8. Throw away drink bottles and old food
Summertime means ants, bugs, squirrels, and just about everything else will be lurching, waiting for an easy meal.
Be sure to throw away those old fast-food wrappers and drink bottles, because ants and other insects are really easy to attract. I recently had a problem with ants, and an old drink bottle was the culprit.
If your car has low ground clearance, cleaning the interior is even more important to prevent insects and bugs from entering.
Noticing a musty spell in the summer? It could be evaporating liquid
Like any water left in a vehicle on a hot day, old drink bottles or cups with just a little liquid in them can easily cause your car to smell pretty bad.
Eventually, mildew and even mold can form if water goes unchecked, so be sure to clean out and vacuum your interior regularly.
Summer is my favorite time of the year for driving, but I like to prep all my vehicles in April. Coolant, tire pressure, and waxing are all on my bucket list.
Before you break out the hose and bucket this summer, check out a few of my favorite detailing products by category to make washing and detailing a lot easier. Good luck!