Don't take those summer drives without preparing your car first

Prepare Your Car for Summer Driving

by Shaunna Privratsky


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We are all feeling the pain at the pump caused by higher gas prices. Experts predict that it will only get worse, especially with summer driving season getting underway. Hot weather can take its toll on vehicles, and a well-maintained engine will use fuel more efficiently. So, to keep your vehicle in tip-top condition and keep money in your pocket, follow these tips:

  • Make sure antifreeze is at full strength

  • Check radiator cap for a tight seal

  • Have a professional check the cooling system. Flush and fill if needed

  • Check your tires for wear and tear. It is recommended that you replace them when they wear down to 3/32" or more. An easy test is to place a penny with Lincoln's head down into the tread. If you can see the top of his hair, you should take your vehicle in and have the tires professionally inspected.

  • Keep tires properly inflated to the recommended tire pressure. Under-inflated tires increase rolling resistance and reduce fuel economy. They also wear more rapidly. This will save 3% to 4% on your fuel. Check the owner's manual or the door sticker for the proper minimum cold tire inflation pressure.

  • Slow down and aim for a constant speed. Save 10% to 15% by driving 55mph instead of 65mph. Use cruise control whenever possible to help maintain a consistent speed and conserve fuel.

  • Accelerate and brake smoothly. Jackrabbit starts and hard braking use more fuel. Maintain a safe distance from the car ahead of you and anticipate changing traffic conditions, especially in stormy weather or in construction zones.

  • Lighten the load. Remove extra or unnecessary items. Avoid using a roof rack if possible, since it can reduce aerodynamics and lower fuel efficiency by as much as 5%

  • Say no to idling. Turn off the engine if waiting more than a few minutes. Today's engines don't need a warm up period. Start the car and gently drive away.

  • Minimize the use of air conditioning and the heater. Park in the shade to reduce interior temperature and the need for air conditioning. Use the vent setting as much as possible or open windows to circulate air.

  • However, close windows at speeds over 50mph. It creates a drag and increases fuel consumption.

  • Consolidate your errands. By planning ahead, you can bypass congested traffic areas, which leads to less idling and fewer stops and starts. When feasible, share a ride or carpool to work.

  • Use the right oil. Choose good quality, energy-conserving EC oils. Look for cans marked with the symbol ECII, which is the American Society of Testing Materials logo for fuel-efficient oils.

  • Keep the wheels aligned. Wheels that are fighting each other waste fuel. Rotate the tires as recommended in your service manual to help tires wear evenly.

Don't forget about spring-cleaning your vehicle. After months of slogging through dirty snow, sliding over ice and splashing through mud puddles, it deserves some special attention, too. Preparing your vehicle now for the warmer months will save you time and money.

Follow these tips to keep your ride looking and running smoothly this summer:

  • Replace winter tires or rotate all-season tires.

  • Wash and wax the exterior, and remove the salt built up in the wheel wells and the underbody. It can eat away at the metal and cause rust or failure of key parts.

  • Clean and dust the interior. Apply upholstery spray to protect from sun damage.

  • Clean the upholstery and carpet. Wash seat covers. Clean and replace the winter mats.

  • Change the oil and filter.

  • Check all the belts and hoses, replacing any that are worn.

  • Top off fluids.

  • Replace windshield wipers in time for spring showers.

  • Have the brakes inspected by a professional.

  • Update the emergency road kit. This should include a good pair of jumper cables, a tire-inflation kit, a sign or flares, basic medical equipment, extra water, and a flashlight with fresh batteries. You should add items that you need for specific trips.

Maintain and service your vehicle to keep it in good condition. Follow the recommended service schedule in your owner's manual. Keep in mind your area's seasonal weather. Take it in to be serviced right away if you suspect something is wrong, because a minor problem can morph into a major repair if left unchecked.

Today's vehicles are a big investment for most families. Proper maintenance and following these tips will protect your investment. If you keep your car running at peak performance this summer, you will be rewarded with a reliable ride for less.


Shaunna Privratsky is an expert in personal finance. Between writing, reading and gardening, she is always on the lookout for bargains. Please sign up for the free newsletters at The Discount Diva. You can also visit Shaunna on Google+.

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