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By Don Patten

Don Patten is a leading expert in automotive education. His text book Automotive Service Basics published by Prentice Hall is used in automotive instruction courses world wide.

Summer weather and the increased heat brings on some special problems. These require special vehicle service inspections and operations. The summer heat increases the importance of the engine cooling system and all moving vehicle parts need the right lubrication in the right spot to prevent damage. We will go into detail on how to prepare for the rigors of summer weather but some of the service steps may be too advanced for most owners. Use these steps as a guide and get your professional service technician to do the work.


One little known fact is that most engine radiators and cooling systems are too small to maintain the right engine temperature under extreme conditions. Some examples of extreme driving conditions are stop and go driving for long periods of time on a hot day or climbing a long hill with the engine under a heavy load. These conditions usually result in over heating if the system is not operating at maximum efficiency. To make sure the system is operating right, follow these steps: First, make sure the coolant is at the right strength (50% water and 50% antifreeze). This will give the system maximum heat transfer. This step requires the use of a cooling system hydrometer tester. Next, be sure the inside of the radiator is free of scale and rust. Use a chemical cleaner, or have the radiator cleaned if needed. Check the condition of the pressure cap. Replace it if the seal is damaged. Replace radiator and heater hoses every four years or when they show signs of cracking. Repair all leaks and have the system pressure-checked to see if all leaks are repaired. Replace the water pump belt if it shows signs of damage.


Place a thermometer in the center duct of the air conditioner blower outlet. Turn on the blower and air conditioner to maximum cool. Drive the vehicle and check the thermometer. The temperature should be in the forty to fifty degree Fahrenheit range. Clean out the fins on both the radiator and condenser at the front of the engine. If the temperature is not right and the fins are clear, additional service is required. This requires a licensed professional. He will install pressure gauges and do further testing. A common air conditioner problem is low refrigerant.

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Change the engine oil to a summer viscosity. This is needed because of the increased heat to protect the engine from damage. Use a 20W-30 instead of a 10W-30 for example. Change both the automatic transmission filter and oil if your vehicle is automatic.. If you are towing a boat or trailer, consider a transmission cooler to prevent transmission damage due to excess heat in the fluid.


Extreme heat can be the enemy of the hydraulic brake system. This is especially true as the system wears out. More brake use is required to stop in the same distance. Have the disc brake pads checked for thickness and general condition. Flush out and replace contaminated brake fluid in the master cylinder. A brake system that has not been serviced after there is high mileage on the vehicle should be taken apart and new system parts installed. Replace the pads and shoes. Rebuild the calipers and wheel cylinders. Have the drums and rotors turned. These operations are important for your safety. Brakes develop an extreme amount of heat especially in the hot summer weather. They have to be operating at peak efficiency.


Worn and damaged tires can be a safety hazard anytime, but most people travel more in the summer, and the heat speeds up tire failure. Examine the tread for any signs of abnormal wear. Be sure the correct inflation pressure is maintained. Under inflated tires over heat and deteriorate rapidly. Align and balance the tires if wear indicates they need it. This is a good time to replace worn shocks and steering parts. Lubricate all suspension parts that have grease fittings.


Check the air filter and replace it if needed. Replace the fuel filter and PCV valve. Check and replace any faulty ignition parts. Check and replace any worn accessory belts. Check the power steering fluid and replace dirty, contaminated fluid. Check the engine motor mounts. Consider a complete engine tune-up if it runs poorly or gets low fuel mileage.


Fill the washer reservoir and try the washers. Clean and adjust the nozzles if they do not work as designed. Replace worn wiper blades. Check all lights and set the headlights if they do not direct their light beam forward and slightly down. Be sure your inspection sticker is up to date and the license has been renewed. The middle of a trip is the wrong time to remember these items.

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