6 Tips to Prep Your Car for Long Summer Drives
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6 Tips to Prep Your Car for Long Summer Drives

With the summer travel season upon us, Canadians across the country are preparing to hit the highway in their cars and trucks to explore, vacation, visit and camp.

Regardless of the adventures in your summertime travel agenda – whether it’s an Ontario road trip or a drive from Vancouver to Banff – a few key tips, tricks and considerations are worth bearing in mind to ensure your vehicle is ready to tackle the challenges of hot-weather driving (and towing), with maximum safety, reliability and fuel economy.

Want to make sure your ride is ready to tackle summertime travels with confidence? Follow the tips and checks below.

1. Check your tires & avoid a flat tire situation

If you suffer a flat tire on the go, it can stop your road trip dead in its tracks—especially if your spare tire is flat, damaged or missing, or if your inflator / mobility kit isn’t in proper working order.

Before hitting the road, give your spare tire some TLC 

Remove it from the vehicle, inspect it for signs of cracking or damage, check the inflation pressure, and confirm that it’s not expired, or past its useful service date. If you suffer a flat on the way to your vacation destination, finding a spare tire that’s flat, damaged or unsafe to use can be a real bummer.

Does your spare tire require the use of a pulley system to lower it from beneath your vehicle? If so, confirm that the pulley system is working properly, not rusted or seized. 

If there’s a problem with your spare tire, or an issue accessing it, you’ll want to know about it before you hit the road. Temporary spare tires are intended to be used for short periods at reduced speeds, and may need to be replaced after use. 

Ensure tire pressure is set correctly

Finally, be sure to check the condition and inflation pressure of the four tires mounted to your vehicle as well. Checking and adjusting inflation pressure to proper levels helps your car handle better and achieve better fuel mileage, and helps your tires last longer too—saving you money.

Read our full tire guide to learn more about tire pressure, tire checks, depth and more.

2. Optimize visibility: clean windshield & appropriate wipers

When drivers are able to gather better information about their motoring environment more easily, safety at the wheel improves and stress levels drop. Ensuring you’ve got optimal visibility at the wheel can make a big difference here. 

Popular car safety features like ​​Adaptive Cruise Control and Emergency Front Collision Warning & Braking also help. We discuss these features more in our article Car Safety Features [Part 4]: Safety Looks Ahead.

Start by ensuring you’re using an appropriate windshield wiper blade for the weather, and remove those clunky winter blades (if applicable) which can perform poorly in summertime. 

Use a quality, summer-rated washer fluid that’s made for warm weather and bug-guts, and consider treating your windshield with a water-repelling coating like Rain-X or ITEKT, which can help improve the performance of your wiper blades, and enhance visibility dramatically in heavy rain.

To clean various forms of challenging grime and haze from interior window surfaces, a few drops of liquid dish soap in some warm water makes a great cleaner that’s free and non-toxic.

A full lighting check is also advised. Using an assistant, check that all signals, brake lights, headlights and the hazard lights are in proper working order.

3. Car air filters: two important ones to check

Before hitting the road for long-distance summertime drives, consider checking two important filters, and replacing if necessary.

Engine air filter

Running a blocked or clogged engine air filter results in decreased performance, poor fuel economy, and may even lead to more serious engine trouble. Replace that aging filter with a fresh new one, and you’ll experience improved performance, smoother operation, and reduced fuel consumption.

Cabin air filter

Most cars use this filter to pre-clean the outside air drawn into your car by the climate control system (and specifically in summertime, the air conditioner). A clogged cabin air filter can result in poor AC performance, overworking of the AC system, and even system damage or water leaks into the cabin.

Starting the summer travel season off with a fresh cabin air filter can help increase the reliability and performance of your air conditioner, for maximum peace of mind.

4. Brake check: here’s how to test them before a road trip

If your car’s brakes are healthy, they should provide an urgent ‘bite’ from the first bit of brake pedal input, and trigger either wheel lockup, or the ABS system, when applied hard for an emergency stop. Your vehicle most likely has braking technology, learn more about those features in our Car Safety Features [Part 1]: Stopping Abilities article.

Doing a pre road-trip test drive while paying special attention to the operation of your car’s brakes can help reveal potential trouble, if you know what you’re looking for.

Low speed test: listen for brake scraping, squealing or squeaking sounds

Quiet your ride’s cabin, drive at a reasonably low speed, and ride the brakes lightly for a moment or two with the windows down slightly. Here, you’re on the lookout for a scraping, squealing or squeaking sound, which are all signs that your brakes could use some professional attention.

Do this test several times, listening closely for any unwanted noises, and ‘feeling’ for any unwanted sensations. If your brakes are healthy, they’ll work with no unwanted noise and feedback detectable from within the cabin.

High speed test: how do the brakes feel?

Next, drive at a higher speed and work the brakes harder. Using a moderate to heavy brake pedal input, slow the car down quickly, accelerate back up to speed, and repeat—several times.

Here, be on the lookout for a soft or mushy pedal feel, or a tendency of the vehicle to pull to one side or the other. If you notice any unwelcome sounds or sensations here, it could be a sign of braking system trouble that’s best attended to before your road trips begin.

Perform an emergency stop procedure

Finally, perform an emergency stop where appropriate.

Here, you’ll stop the vehicle from speed as quickly as possible, after finding an appropriate, empty stretch of roadway for the job. When panic-braking, be sure the vehicle stops quickly and in a straight line, and that the brake pedal feels firm and solid, not gooey and mushy. If the brake pedal goes to the floor, or if your vehicle performs badly in this test, be sure to have a professional investigate, as soon as possible.

Other signs of braking system trouble include a large amount of visible rust on braking system components, especially rear rotors (if equipped).

5. Car battery health: is it time for a replacement?

Never underestimate the problems a weak or dying battery can cause across a multitude of vehicle systems in modern cars. 

Even if your ageing battery is strong enough to start your engine without hesitation, it may struggle to provide sufficient power to other vehicle systems, which can become very fussy and tend to malfunction (sometimes dramatically) if they’re connected to a battery that’s past its prime. Here are 3 signs that you need a new car battery.

Modern cars are hard on their batteries, with some owners reporting the need to replace factory-installed batteries in their new vehicles in as little as 2 years.

The gist? Having a professional battery test ahead of your summer travels is an excellent idea to maximize peace of mind. If the battery in your car doesn’t pass its test with flying colours, replacing it can help boost the reliability of your entire car or truck.

Buying a portable booster pack before a road trip is ideal

Remember: weak and dying batteries are a major cause of electronic problems in modern cars. Thankfully, replacing a battery is typically an affordable and straightforward job.

Consider travelling with a portable booster pack, just in case. Not only can these devices jump-start a dead car, boat or ATV battery, they also tend to come in handy at the beach or campsite to keep mobile electronics juiced up.

For everything car batteries, also read our Ultimate Car Battery Guide: How to Charge, Maintain, Replace, and More.

6. Cooling system: an overheated engine will kill your trip

Engine cooling systems in modern cars typically require very little maintenance, though neglecting your cooling system could be a recipe for disaster if you’ll frequently spend time in a fully loaded vehicle, possibly towing a trailer or boat, in very hot weather.

In the heat of the summer, your engine’s cooling system works overtime to keep things running cool under the hood. Fresh coolant, a healthy water pump, and a leak-free cooling system are vital to proper performance of your engine’s cooling system.

Coolant leak may require professional help

Do you smell a sweet, sugary smell from your vehicle when the engine’s hot? Have you noticed a visible leak of orange, pink or green fluid beneath your vehicle? If so, you may have a coolant leak that needs professional attention.

A pre road-trip cooling system check-up and servicing can enhance the reliability of your engine’s cooling system, and may uncover small problems that can be addressed before they become larger problems.

If your cooling system fails on a road trip, engine overheating is likely. An overheated engine will stop your road trip dead in its tracks, and may result in catastrophic engine failure if drivers attempt to continue driving in an overheated state.

Take cooling system health seriously, and check your owner’s manual for instructions on how to deal with an overheating engine, before your road trip. It could prevent thousands in repairs, or even a blown engine. 

There you have it, six pre-road tips to ensure your vehicle is ready to tackle the long journey ahead. Summer driving deserves extra attention, so these tips will help you before your departure. Next, here are 9 of the best road trip apps you can download for free.

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