When you usually hear the words “overheating car,” the immediate image is a car on the side of the road with steam fogging up from under the hood. In reality, an overheating engine is just one of many threats your car faces when the temperatures rise and the humidity hits. As our Wisconsin summer turns into a steam bath, take these steps to keep your car going during the heat:
Check your battery.
Contrary to popular belief, summer—not winter—is the hardest time of year for batteries. The heat and humidity of our Midwestern summers can actually cause battery fluid to evaporate and damage the internal parts of your battery. Make sure to have your battery tested every summer and look for signs that your battery is dying:
- Inconsistent starting & consistent recharging. If your car starts fine most of the time, but is suddenly dead and needs to be recharged—not every time, and unpredictably—you may need a new car battery. Yes, a car battery does die if you leave on interior lights, or some other accessory; but if the battery dies without any reason from time to time, it’s time to buy a new car battery at a local auto shop.
- Slow, rough starting. This is the most obvious sign, the long, painful cranking that never seems to end when starting your car. Eventually the cranking won’t happen, and you’ll be stranded. Buy a battery now—and have your mechanic double check for other causes—-so your car starts consistently.
As a general rule of thumb, battery performance usually declines between 3-5 years. Sometimes a battery can die suddenly—without warning—so make sure you add a pair of jumper cables to your emergency roadside kit.
Top off your fluids—and keep them full.
Your car needs antifreeze and motor oil during the summer more than ever for cooling your vehicle. Check both or have your mechanic check your levels at your next oil change, and make sure your car has an adequate level. If you think either fluid may be leaking, put a piece of cardboard under your car to determine what kind of fluid is dripping (we’ve given you a guide to determine the kind of car fluid leaking here). If there is a leak, have your mechanic inspect your car to diagnose the problem and recommend the appropriate repair or replacement.
If you tow with your truck, you should also be concerned about having clean transmission oil. If you have dirty transmission oil, it’s harder on the transmission during towing and can cause serious problems with your transmission. For the record, clean transmission fluid is red. Dirty fluid is brown or black and leaves a metallic residue on the rag you check it with.
Inspect your tires.
Between the heat, hot surface, and severe weather driving, summer is a very hard time for tires. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can keep your car tires in top shape:
- Know the correct air pressure, and maintain it. The correct air pressure for your car or truck is not on the tires, as the common myth says. Actually, the correct air pressure is on the inside of your vehicle door or in your owner’s manual. Elevated summer temperatures also tend to make your tire pressure rise so avoid filling your tire pressure up to the maximum (that can cause an inconvenient flat).
- Don’t procrastinate replacing your tires. If your tires are showing signs of wear, don’t wait too long to purchase a new set. Tires with little tread or very hard tires along with the hot temps can cause an impromptu flat or damage to your suspension. Be vigilant about your tires and driving on the road, and you and your car can survive our hot summer temperatures.