How to Prepare Your Car for Summer

Monday, 22 July 2019  |  Ravenol Marketing

The Great British Summer wouldn't be complete without the traffic jam

The school holidays are upon us, and no doubt whilst some of you will be planning to stay in the UK, others may be hoping to save money by traveling to Europe by car. Here are 10 important things to think about before making a long summer journey and other best practices to get your car ready for whatever the Great British Summer can throw at us, come rain or shine:

Tyres

It’s good practice to regularly check the tyres for bubbles in the side walls, cuts or gouges, uneven wear or visible wear bars, especially before making a long journey.  If you notice any issues, change the tyre. Make sure the tyres are inflated to the pressure recommended in the manufactures handbook – over-inflated tyres are more prone to blow-outs and under-inflated tyres are prone to wear, both of which are exaggerated in warmer temperatures. Don’t forget to check pressure of the spare tyre too.

Worn tyres affect handling and braking. The legal minimum tread depth is 1.6 mm, but 3 mm is recommended for safe braking in wet weather. An easy way to check the depth is using a 20p piece – if the rubber covers the inside line on the coin it’s legal.

Changing to a seasonal tyre can improve performance and is especially worthwhile if you’re planning on taking your car abroad on holiday - summer tyres have harder rubber compounds that withstand hot roads better than the soft rubber winter tyres.

Brakes

Test your brakes in a quiet place and make sure they don’t feel soft or spongy, don’t lock under normal use and that the car slows down accordingly.

Brake pads are prone to thermal damage due to the high heat they reach when in use followed by quick cooling in icy conditions or deep puddles. If possible, remove the brake pads and check for signs of wear and cracking. If you’re not that technical, at least make sure that the edges aren't crumbling or discoloured and that the brake rotors or drums are not cracked.

Also check brake fluid level and that the seals on the brake fluid caps don’t look degraded or cracked. Brake fluid is kept in a reservoir near the base of your car's windscreen. Make sure it’s clear and up to the "full" mark. If it's any lower, top it up. If it's dark, it needs to be flushed and replaced by an experienced mechanic.

Air Conditioning

Could you imagine anything worse than being stuck in holiday traffic on a hot day with no air conditioning! Possibly the simplest thing on your car to check, just turn the temperature down to its coldest setting and the fans up to maximum. If the air blows strong and ice cold, your system is working perfectly. If not, the refrigerant inside the system may need topping up. Also check the condition of the rubber belts and hoses for any signs of degradation, and if you’re due a service, ask them to change the cabin air filter too.

Whilst opening windows increases drag, using the air conditioning also has an impact on engine power – below 60 mph it’s more efficient to crack your windows. Also, if your summer journey involves a lot of hills, the increased strain of air conditioning on the engine can cause it to lose power and overheat.

Windscreen Wipers

Not to be overlooked given the average driving conditions during the Great British Summer. You can also get special summer and winter formulations. If they smear water or the rubber is splitting, they’ll need replacing. Working windscreen wipers are a legal requirement, and they’re pretty easy to replace yourself.

Whilst you’re by the bonnet, open the lid and locate the washer bottle. If it’s looking low, top it up with screenwash then try pulling the washer jet control to make sure they’re directing screenwash at, and not over, the windscreen. You can adjust them easily by inserting a pin into the hole and repositioning them.

Oil

Be sure to check the level and colour of your oil — if it's still a nice gold colour and is up to the fill mark, it’s fine. If it’s a bit low, top it up. If it's black and nasty then get it changed. Regular oil lasts between 6000-7000 miles between changes. RAVENOL's specially formulated extended change synthetic oils can last up to 30,000 miles or 2 years, whichever comes first, but we recommend following the guidance in your vehicle handbook. 

Oil must be of the appropriate grade and should be changed regularly (check your handbook for recommended intervals). Although warmer temperatures generally help your oil work better, using the wrong viscosity can cause serious problems. If you’re not sure, use our Which Oil guide or give us a call/ email.

Filter Changes

Air, oil and fuel filter changes should be a part of every quality service. The increased dust and pollen etc. in summer can lead to clogged air filters which then decreases airflow to the engine and affects performance. Clogged oil and fuel filters can also decrease performance. It’s good practice to not let your fuel tank go below a quarter full which avoids nasties such as sludge entering the fuel system and condensation in the fuel.

Power steering and Transmission Fluids

These often get overlooked during a general service, but if there’s an issue it can cause serious problems on modern cars, so check the levels well in advance of your trip.

Whilst the colour of modern transmission fluid varies, it should by bright and needs to be at the exact level recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Too high and you’ll notice rough gear changes and slipping. Too low and you could burn out your torque converter. The location of the reservoir differs between automatic transmission and manual transmission cars and can be difficult to access, so ask your mechanic if you’re not sure.

Low power steering fluid can lead to increased steering effort and eventually failure of your power steering pump, whereas dirty fluid can cause damage to the entire system. In both cases it’s much cheaper to get it checked and either top it up or have it flushed and refilled.

Coolant

Coolant increases the boiling point of water, reducing the chances of your car’s engine overheating (and also protects your car’s engine against freezing in winter). Coolant should be clean, bright, and filled to the approved level. Your vehicle’s coolant reservoir should be located under the bonnet. If the levels are underneath the minimum mark then top it up with the correct type of coolant. Whilst you’re there, don’t forget to glance over the rubber components (belts and hoses) to check for cracks and leaks – if they look worn get them replaced.

Coolant should be changed completely every 2 years and topped up at least once a year, but keep it well away from dogs who love the sweet smell – it’s poisonous to them!

Battery

Whilst you’re under the bonnet checking any of the above, take a moment to look over your battery to make sure there are no signs of leakage around the battery's top. Unless you have a sealed battery, check its fluid levels and if necessary fill to the brim using only distilled water.

Lights and Indicators

As you should do regularly and before any long journey, make sure your headlights, brake lights and indicators are clean and working. This is a legal requirement. If any bulbs or reflectors need changing, they’re cheap to buy from a parts store and usually simple enough to replace yourself. 

And finally, a few more things to think about:

It’s always good practice to carry a breakdown kit, including tools, a warning triangle, high vis jackets, water, food and blankets. In some European countries, it’s the law to carry one in your car.

If you’re driving abroad, be aware of local differences in driving practices and regulations. Innocuous things to us might be illegal in other countries, such as using a hands-free or bluetooth headset in France. The AA has a really handy list of local rules for road users in every European country.

Also don’t forget speed limits and drink-drive limits vary between countries. Most countries blood alcohol levels are only half that of the UK! Even half a lager with a meal could put you over the limit.

Make sure as well as your driving licence and passport, you also have a valid DVLA Check Code, your insurance certificate, and your vehicle (V5C) logbook document. European breakdown cover is also a good idea, especially if you’re travelling somewhere a lot hotter than the UK!