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4 Ways To "Summer-Proof" Your Car

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What are some of your dream destinations for a summer trip? Sitting by the side of the road with a disabled vehicle probably isn't on that list. But you can avoid that kind of forced rest stop by taking steps to "summer-proof" your vehicle. Here are four things to do before you drive off into the sunset.

1. Schedule Preventative Transmission Services

Automotive transmissions have a tough job. They must keep a vehicle's transmission clean, lubricated, and cool enough to operate well even when carrying a heavy load. The extra strain, coupled with summer heat, can easily raise the transmission above its nominal operating temperature -- and for 20 degrees above that level cuts your transmission's current anticipated lifespan in half, hastening the need for transmission services.

Since summertime is the traditional season for packing the car with as many family members and pieces of luggage as possible, you'll want to schedule any necessary transmission services before you go anywhere. Old fluid may need to flushed or topped off with clean fluid. If you're planning on towing a trailer or other serious load, think about having a transmission cooler installed. These handy devices usually fit either in front of the radiator or between the radiator and the air conditioner condenser, cooling transmission fluid that passes through its tubes or plates (depending on the model). 

2. Make Sure Your Oil Is Up to It

If you don't mind your engine oil this summer, you might need more than just transmission services -- you might need a whole new engine. Oil keeps the many moving parts clean and free of rust while reducing friction. Old, dirty, worn-out oil can no longer perform these tasks, so it's best to start out on a major summer adventure with a few fresh quarts.

Today's drivers have one big summertime advantage over previous generations: not having to change the oil every time the weather changes. In the past, you might have had to use a higher-viscosity oil to protect the engine from excess heat in the summer months, and a lower-viscosity oil to ensure proper lubrication in the winter months. These days, however, there are multi-viscosity oils that can handle the hottest or coldest environmental conditions without too much thermal breakdown. Even so, if you really want to play it safe for that long road trip through Death Valley, a switch to a lighter viscosity wouldn't be a bad idea; at the very least, it certainly won't hurt your car. Your owner's manual is always the best source of information as to exactly what grade of oil you ought to use.

3. Check Your Battery

Batteries are often taken for granted because they "just work" -- that is, until the day they suddenly don't anymore. The typical lead-acid battery that provides your car with electricity combines water with an electrolyte (sulfuric acid) to do its job. Over time, both of these substances can run low, leaving your battery in a weakened state. As you might suspect, the extreme heat of summer can accelerate the loss of water in the battery. Additionally, the dirt and dust of a desert vacation and relentless use of the cabin entertainment system can also drain your battery faster than usual. 

Summer-proofing your car's battery involves both necessary maintenance and careful usage. Have your mechanic run a voltage test on your battery; if it's not operating according to normal specifications, it may need to have water added to it, the top of the battery may need cleaning, or you might even need to replace the battery completely. Once you're on the road toward your summer destination, be mindful of how much electricity your various electronic gadgets are drawing from the battery.

4. Add Coolant

The hotter the ambient temperature, the harder your radiator has to work to compensate. The coolant in the radiator is absolutely essential for keeping your engine temperature at safe operating levels as you drive.  Running out of coolant while driving should be considered an emergency in which you pull over immediately, allow the radiator to cool thoroughly, and then add however much replacement coolant is required. Always carry spare coolant for such an emergency -- or at least distilled water, which should get you as far as the auto shop in the next town. Check the coolant level before you head out on your summer trip, and fill it up if appears low.

Coolant can escape for a variety of reasons, none of them good. If you're worried about your car's ability to maintain the proper coolant level, have your auto shop examine the radiator hoses and other components. If you're retaining coolant fine but still having temperature issues, you might need to change the coolant.

From transmission services to coolant checks, summer-proofing your car can help ensure that you and your loved ones will spend more time at your favorite vacation spots and less time waiting for a tow truck or sitting in an auto shop waiting room. Have a great summer!