Angie's List: How should I prepare my car for summer?

Paul F. P. Pogue
Angie’s List
Oil changes are a vital part of auto maintenance, especially before embarking on a long road trip.

Memorial Day marks the beginning of the summer holiday season, and with that, you may be putting plenty of miles on your car. However, nothing ruins a fun vacation faster than a car stalled out on the side of the road. By taking some basic maintenance steps, you can improve the odds your vehicle will get you where you’re going.


Keep your oil changes up to date. Most auto shops will perform a basic inspection at this time, and they can often catch developing problems before they get serious.

Prior to a long journey, have a mechanic inspect and test belts, hoses, brakes and battery. They should top off all coolant and wiper fluid.

Check your tires and verify they’re inflated to the correct pressure. Under-inflated tires both lower gas efficiency and cause accidents. During a long road trip, do this a few times. Big changes in temperature will cause your tires to lose pressure faster. If your road trip is longer than a few thousand miles, rotate your tires midway through.

If you have low tread, replace the tires; poor tread Is dangerous. The penny test is a quick and easy way to check tread level. Hold a penny upside down between the tread tire block. If you see the top of Abe Lincoln’s head, you need new tires.

If your tires bulge, they definitely need to be replaced.

If you’re towing anything, take care to follow the guidelines set by both the car and trailer manufacturers. During long towing sessions, take advantage of rest areas to allow your engine, transmission and brakes to cool down. Steep hills and winding roads take a serious toll on your car, and a brief rest can avoid major problems.

Summer puts a lot of strain on your car’s air conditioner. Your trusted mechanic can inspect it to make sure everything’s in good working order.

Inspect your windshield wiper blades, and replace them if they show signs or wear or damage. You don’t want them to give out during a summer thunderstorm!

Clean dirty headlights and verify that all the bulbs work.

While driving, pay attention to strange and unusual sounds. Screeching or grinding brakes need to be addressed right away. Sputtering or rattling noises often indicate exhaust problems. Humming, growling or roaring noises usually mean your tires or wheel bearings are going out.


No matter how well you maintain your car, emergencies can and will leave you by the side of the road. Make sure you’re ready for that situation. Check that your spare tire and jack are in good condition. It’s also a good idea to maintain an auto club membership or roadside assistance program.

Pack a car emergency kit that includes:

— First aid kit

— Backup cellphone battery or charger

— Flashlight

— Road flares

— Jumper cables

— Nonperishable food, water and medicine

— Warning triangle and/or white flag

— Blankets

— Basic tools

Paul F. P. Pogue is a reporter for Angie’s List, a provider of local consumer reviews and an online marketplace of services from top-rated providers. Visit