Is your vehicle in good shape for summer?

It is now summer, the time for vacations and lots of car travel. Car travel has been going up in popularity the past few years, with Americans choosing to spend their leisure time driving to some of the great spots in the United States. Getting your vehicle ready for such a road trip during the hot weather can make a vacation much more stress-free.

The first stop should be your favorite repair shop for a pre-trip check.

This is most important for vehicles with more than 80,000 miles and those that have not had good preventive care. The most important focus should be the cooling system, one of the largest systems in your vehicle.

About 75 percent of all major engine damage happens when an engine overheats.

Your repair shop should pay special attention to the water pump, radiator, all the hoses and other parts of the system. Newer vehicles include a lot of plastic in the cooling system that gets brittle with age. If one plastic part breaks, it is a good idea to replace all of the plastic components of the cooling system at once. This includes many water pumps, which have plastic impellers. If your vehicle is overheating on the road, don’t drive that extra four miles to the next exit. I have found those extra few miles can result in thousands of dollars in repair costs. An owner’s part in helping the shop diagnose a cooling system is to observe where the temperature gauge settles in after a long, hot drive. This is hard to duplicate in the shop or during in-town driving. Slightly plugged radiators often are not found without a customer informing the technician that the gauge reads high after freeway driving.

According to AAA, the most common reasons for service calls on the freeways are running out of fuel, flat tires and overheating problems. Keeping the fuel tank more than one-eighth full during long, hot trips is important. Most modern fuel pumps are in the fuel tank and get cooled and lubricated by the gasoline itself.

Have your tires checked for tread wear and age. Yes, tires have a shelf life; some guidelines suggest six years. This is very important on RVs, which sit most of the year and see the road only on long trips. I have to replace all six tires on my small RV because of age — even though they have more than 50 percent of the tread remaining. Keep an eye on your tires, checking the air pressure at least monthly. Tire pressure should be checked cold or in the first four miles of driving, not when pulling off to fuel up on long road trips. It is also a good idea to check the wear pattern of your tires monthly. Just turn the steering wheel all the way to the left or right and see if the tread pattern is even across the tire. Tires are the first defense against the road. Blowouts can be very dangerous. If this happens, don’t panic; let off the gas pedal and ease the vehicle off to the right shoulder. Small steering and brake inputs are the rule here.

Make sure your vehicle is up to date on service, oil is fresh and all other fluids are checked. Good record keeping is important here. One of the greatest advantages to being loyal to one shop is they should be able to tell you what service your vehicle needs and not duplicate or neglect services. Also make sure your windshield is clean both on the inside and outside. Driving into the sun or at night is very difficult when it is hard to clearly see beyond your windshield. Be sure your headlights are cleaned of bugs and dirt too. And if your headlight covers have yellowed, get them buffed before you leave if you will be traveling at night.

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