Summer arrived this year with a vengeance and it seems like all we can do to keep cool while dodging from building to air conditioned building. But one thing most of us don’t consider during these dog days is how our cars are handling the heat. While they may be running fine for now, chances are this overly warm weather is taking a toll on their internal systems. And if the systems start to fail, the results could not only be costly to your car, it could have a detrimental effect on the environment, as well. This summer, do your car and the ecology a solid and run a quick performance check to make sure all of your systems are up to speed:
Check Tire Pressure
According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), the inflation pressure in your tires goes up about one to two pounds for every 10 degree increase in temperature. The inverse applies to dropping temperature. Overloaded tires can be just as bad as underinflated ones as too much pressure can cause uneven tread wear and increases the chances of hydroplaning in wet conditions. On the plus side, properly inflated tires can increase your car’s gas mileage performance by up to 3.3 percent.
Before driving to an air pump, the RMA recommends that you check your tire pressure before leaving home. As you travel, the tire rubber heats up and a pressure gauge may give inaccurate results after driving for even one mile.
Keep Your Car Hydrated
You know that the warmer it is outside, the more water you should drink to prevent dehydration. But what about your car? Your wheels also need a glass or two of water now and then to keep running — particularly the radiator and battery. With asphalt able to reach temperatures of 140 degrees, checking your radiator and battery liquid levels should be done at least once or twice a month during the peak of summer heat.
To check your radiator, wait until your car has been sitting for several hours to avoid burning yourself with heated coolant. Then unscrew the engine coolant cap and check the level markers. If it’s low, add an equal mixture of bright green engine coolant and water. Even in the summer, it’s important to add equal parts engine coolant and water as the coolant raises the boiling point of the water and prevents loss through evaporation.
Even if your battery is labeled “low maintenance” that doesn’t mean it’s “no maintenance.” While there are maintenance free batteries and types that are inaccessible, most cars still use a battery that requires some form of maintenance.
To check your battery levels, make sure your car is turned off, unscrew or flip open your battery vent caps and check the levels indicated within. If they’re below the recommended level line or you can see the lead plates in your battery, top off the cells to the recommended level with distilled water. Do not use tap water! Battery electrolyte is composed of water, sulfuric acid and a touch of lead, and adding anything other than distilled water could permanently damage your battery. Additionally, because of the acid content of your battery, make sure you wear protective gear such as gloves and eyewear before checking your battery levels.
Lastly, while you’re hydrating your car, make sure all of your other levels are topped off. This includes your power steering, brakes, transmission, differential, oil and even your wiper fluids. If it’s liquid, it’s going to be susceptible to evaporation. On one hand, you’re looking out for your pocketbook, but on the other, a leaky radiator or having to purchase a new battery takes a toll on the environment. Our cars are often far from ‘green,’ but proper maintenance can greatly reduce their footprint.
Check Belts and Hoses
As long as you have the hood up, take a look at your hoses and belts. A good, working hose should be sturdy and solid, not soft or flaky. Be sure to check carefully around seals and joints as these areas are most susceptible to wear. Belts, too, should be solid without visible cracks. If you’re comfortable with removing a belt, take it out and make sure it doesn’t feel excessively slick and isn’t splitting anywhere along its width. If either your belts or hoses are showing signs of excessive wear, either replace them or have them replaced. Leaking fluids not only damage your car, they may run off into the water table or a local waterway when allowed to drip without repair.
What About Your Wipers?
When was the last time you checked your windshield wipers? Summer downpours can happen suddenly and almost without warning, so make sure you’re prepared with fresh wiper blades. Blades should typically be replaced every six months to a year. Before you replace your blades, however, take them off and rub them down with a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water. It may be that accumulated gunk is the only thing keeping your blades from working properly and you might be able to extend their lives another six months to a year.
If they do need to be replaced, try checking your options online for green wiper blades. There are several brands of recyclable wiper blades available on the market, some of which even come in their own recyclable containers.
The Condition of Your Air Conditioning
Last but definitely not least, check your air conditioning system to make sure it’s running at optimal levels. If the air coming out of the vent doesn’t feel a ton cooler than the air outside (air conditioners in cars typically spit out air at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit), if the system sounds rough or if the air coming out smells moldy, have your system checked by a professional. There are a lot of DIY car air conditioner web pages out there, but you have to remember that you’re dealing with a chemical that not only harms the climate, it remains in the atmosphere for more than a decade if it escapes your car’s cooling system. Fortunately, car companies are starting to develop air conditioning systems that use much more eco-friendly refrigerants, but until they hit the market, take your car to someone who can trap any refrigerant that escapes and dispose of it according to EPA standards.
John Egan is managing editor of the website Car Insurance Quotes, which provides online car insurance news and services to consumers in all 50 states. John’s goal is to deliver high-quality content and Auto Insurance knowledge to drivers so they can make informed decisions about choices that affect their pocketbooks and their driving experience.