If you're going on a summer vacation involving a lengthy drive, it's important to have your car checked before taking off. Nearly 8 million motorists will have breakdowns that are called into AAA alone between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with the summer heat playing a part.
"Before taking a trip, make sure everything is up to snuff with the car," says Doug Gailor, owner of Steele Creek Tire & Service Center in Charlotte, N.C. It's important to follow the manufacturer's recommendations. Gailor said that includes checking all of the fluid levels — oil, brake, transmission, power steering, coolant and windshield cleaner — before leaving. Fluid levels, such as engine coolant, can evaporate quicker in the summer heat. Neglecting your cooling system before leaving can lead to engine failure in the high heat.
Also check to see if your car needs an oil or filter change. If you're driving a thousand or more miles on a vacation, you could hit your oil change mark while you're gone.
Tires are also important to check before your trip. Auto experts recommend making sure your tire pressure is at the recommended manufacturer's level and that they are rotated, if they're due for it. Tires should generally be rotated about every 5,000 miles.
Tire pressure recommendations, meanwhile, are listed on the inside of the driver's doorframe or in the vehicle owner's manual. Auto technicians also suggest including a spare tire and making sure it, too, is at the correct pressure.
Gailor said when temperatures warm up the roads, tire tread can wear down quicker. The tread level is something you can look at yourself or have an auto technician check. You can perform the Lincoln penny test on your own by placing Lincoln's head upside down in the tread facing you. If you see the top of Lincoln's head, you likely need new tires.
"A lot of people are driving cars with under-inflated or over-inflated tires or with four different pressures in every tire," said Leann Kinney, with Jeff's Auto Service, Inc. in Hopkins, Minn. "This will cause a premature wearing out of the tires and affect gas mileage."
You'll also need a healthy battery before making any trip.
"Nothing drains a battery faster than heat or cold," Kinney said. "So if your battery is low on voltage, you probably will have a no-start and that's not fun. Also, electronics do not like heat, so if your engine light comes on, don't ignore it. This could also leave you stranded."
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration suggests having belts and hoses in good shape with no signs of blisters, cracks or cuts in the rubber, which can happen in high summer temperatures.
Wiper blades, lights and the air conditioning system should also be checked, Kinney said.