Now’s the time when most of us are either going away or preparing for our summer break. And it’s when our cars come into their own as a trusty family workhorse. Below are six basic summer car checks you can carry out. They’ll only take a couple of minutes and will ensure your car performs safely and reliably while you’re away.
If you’re worried about anything, don’t hesitate to book your car in for some professional attention. Alternatively, you could take your car for one of Green Flag’s free vehicle health checks. But in the first instance, read on to see the six summer checks I think you should perform.
Pump up your tyres
Chances are, when you head off on holiday, you’ll have the whole family plus luggage in the car. You may even have a roof box to cope with anything that won’t fit in the boot. All this means you’ll be carrying extra weight. And to cope with that, your tyres need more air in them.
Look inside the fuel filler flap, on the door sill or in the user manual and you’ll see a couple of pictograms. One has three people on it with a tyre pressure, one has more people plus bags. This second one shows a higher tyre pressure. You should inflate your tyres to this number. It’ll help them cope with the extra load, make them less susceptible to overheating and suddenly failing and it’ll improve your fuel economy. It really is a win-win!
Check your screen wash
Summer is the time when the bugs come out in style. And that means if you’re driving any distance, thousands will meet a sticky end against your windscreen. Water on its own will just make the problem worse by smearing their remains over the glass. What you need is screen wash.
The best screen wash is designed to clean your windscreen properly. And unlike washing up liquid – which you should never use – it won’t damage your paintwork. I buy concentrated screen wash rather than the ready mixed. You can then mix up a batch in a container like an old mineral water bottle and carry any left overs in the boot for topping up while you’re away.
Clean inside your windscreen too
We all think about the outside of our windscreens, not many of us think about inside. However, time spent in our car with the air conditioning on leaves a greasy deposit on the inside of the glass. In bright sunlight this can make seeing out difficult. And as the saying goes, if you can’t see a hazard, how can you avoid it?
All you need to do is get some window cleaner and a couple of sheets of newspaper and give the inside of the screen a good wipe over. If you do the outside at the same time, a great tip is to wipe horizontally inside, vertically outside (or vice versa). That way you’ll instantly know which side any smears are on.
Check the oil
Having the correct amount of oil in an engine is vital to ensure the motor performs at its best. And that’s particularly true in hot weather when you want to keep the heat generated by moving parts to a minimum.
Inspecting the level of your oil is one of the most important summer car checks you can perform. And it’s quick and easy. Simply lift the bonnet, pull out the dipstick, wipe it, reinsert it, then pull it out again. The oil should be somewhere on the marked area. This is usually between two markers or small kinks in the dipstick.
If it’s lower than the marked area, or not registering on the dipstick at all, you need to top the oil up.
How’s your coolant doing?
In summer’s heat your engine needs all the cooling it can get. The coolant system is a sealed unit but over liquid can seep out. Look under the bonnet and find the reservoir. The liquid should be somewhere between the minimum and maximum markers.
If it needs topping up, it’s fine to do so with water for the short term. Just make sure the engine is cold when you do this. However, you should get a professional to check the consistency when the weather turns cooler. You don’t want the anti-freeze too diluted or it won’t work properly in lower temperatures.
Will your air con keep you cool?
When the weather’s sweltering like this, you need your air conditioning to be working properly to make driving as comfortable as possible. The bad news is the gas that the air con needs to work leaks out slowly over time. And that makes the air con less effective.
Of my summer car checks, you can carry out this one by running the engine and turning the air con temperature down to minimum. The air coming through the vents should be noticeably cold after a couple of minutes.
If it isn’t, the good news is, it’s easy and relatively cheap and fast to have an air conditioning system re-gassed. And most garages do it. When you’re sitting in holiday traffic as cool as a cucumber you’ll be thankful you had this done.
Damon Jowett is Green Flag’s head of service delivery – rescue