Summertime. It beckons to all Canadians to get outside and explore the natural world. Our summers may be short, but the heat can be intense. Since travelling to the U.S. is unlikely for a getaway this year, many Canadians may be planning on taking road trips closer to home. If you are among those who are revved up to cruise to a cottage, campground, or provincial park this summer, it’s wise to ensure your vehicle is up for the trip too.
Before you go, though, make sure you have the right amount of auto insurance coverage, especially if your vehicle was in storage, or if you reduced coverage on it because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In any event, on those occasions when the thermometer rises, it pays to know how to maintain your vehicle. This is especially true in a future where hotter Canadian summers are expected as weather patterns continue to shift.
Regular vehicle maintenance is vital throughout the year. Steer clear of the summertime blues and help prevent your vehicle from suffering a heat-related breakdown with these useful tips:
Check your vehicle’s cooling system
The No. 1 problem your car will face driving sweltering summer temperatures is the risk of overheating. Coolant systems keep your car from overheating by pumping liquid coolant through the engine to absorb heat. The liquid coolant flows into the radiator, where it is cooled down by passing air. The process repeats keep the engine from overheating while running. If coolant runs out, a hose leaks or a pump stops working, the entire cooling system can fail causing your engine to overheat and your car to stop running.
To keep your coolant system functioning properly:
- Flush the coolant periodically in accordance with manufacturer recommendations.
- Check the overflow coolant reservoir and top off with a 50/50 mix of water and coolant if it is running below the fill line. If you keep having to top it off, this is a sign you need to have your coolant system inspected.
- Keep a pre-mixed jug of coolant in the trunk of your car if it is prone to overheating. But take note: never remove the radiator cap while the engine is hot.
- Check rubber hoses and belts for deterioration or leaks. Keep an eye out for a puddle under your car after you park it for a while. That too is a sign you need to have the coolant system checked by a professional car technician.
Is your vehicle’s battery up to snuff?
Just as extreme cold can kill your battery, extreme heat can also cause batteries to fail as well. That's because extreme high temperatures shorten the life of car batteries. Batteries work harder in the summer since they power your car's air conditioning system, which puts further strain on their lifespan. In addition, battery fluid can evaporate and cause your terminals to corrode and fail. To avoid battery issues this summer:
- If your battery is more than three years old, get it tested to see how much life is left.
- Dab an old toothbrush with a mixture of baking soda and warm water to scrub any corrosion that has built up on the terminals.
- Whenever possible, avoid parking in the direct sun. Choose a garage or a shady spot to keep the internal temperature of your battery from climbing too high.
Cool runnings: other ways to prepare your car for hot weather
While the battery and cooling system are most affected by summer’s heat, here are a few more things to do as the mercury rises:
- Check all your other fluids including engine oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid and power steering fluid. If you are running low, summer heat can evaporate these liquids even more. If they evaporate entirely, your engine will not function properly.
- Replace your cabin air filter if you have one. This will allow your air conditioning to operate more efficiently.
- Driving regularly in the summer heat can be hard on your car’s tires. Tire blowouts are a risk to be mindful of, particularly if your tire treads are wearing down or during heatwaves. Keep an eye on the tire pressure and the condition of your tires’ treads.
- If your air conditioner isn't blowing cold air, you need to get it checked by certified technician. The issue could be something minor such as being low on refrigerant, or something more serious like a leak in the system.
- If you’re driving less or not at all (whether due to the COVID-19 pandemic or because you put a vehicle in storage each year), there are steps you need to take to keep it in good condition.
- Prepare for breakdowns, especially if you have an older car. Keep an emergency roadside kit in your car that contains water, non-perishable snacks, jumper cables, flares and a flashlight. Pro tip: Keep the batteries for the flashlight separate so that they do not corrode.
- Check with your insurance company or broker to see if your car insurance policy includes roadside assistance in case of a breakdown.