• Check your fluids and perform regular maintenance.
  • Confirm proper tire pressure to avoid a blowout and improve fuel economy.
  • Keep yourself cool with a/c and your vehicle cool by parking in the shade.

The arrival of summer marks an ideal time to make sure your car or truck is in good working condition. The high temperatures of summer can be tough on a vehicle - everything from the paint down to the tires is subjected to harsher than normal conditions. Gone unchecked, some issues could leave you stranded in the heat. Here are a few tips to help make sure you and your vehicle are protected against the hazards of summer.

Fluids like coolant, motor oil and windshield washer fluid are things motorists can regularly check on their own. Engine coolant, sometimes called antifreeze, is the number one thing motorists should stay on top of in the summer months. Since modern cars have a closed system for coolant, checking or adding coolant is easy. This is generally done through the coolant reservoir located under the hood. Consult your owner's manual for a specific location. Be sure the coolant level is between the minimum and maximum markings, adding more if necessary. But never open the radiator cap or coolant tank lid when the engine is hot.

Tire pressure is also important, especially in summer months. As the outside temperature climbs, the air in your car's tires expands, so check your tire pressure when the tires are at a normal temperature - before you set out on a road trip. Also, be sure to use the proper tire pressure for your car, not the maximum pressure listed on the tire sidewall. Check the recommended tire pressure label in the door jamb or glove compartment, or consult your owner's manual.

Tires that are over- or underinflated can reduce the vehicle's handling capability or generate excess heat, causing a blowout. Although most newer cars have an on-board tire pressure monitoring system, get a good quality tire pressure gauge - a dial-type analog unit or digital gauge, not a straight, pen-type one - and check them yourself every few months. Don't forget to check the pressure in your spare tire, too. It's like an insurance policy. You never know when you might need it.

Along with the heat, summer also means more long-distance road trips that reveal the high cost of poor fuel economy. So it's a good time to keep up periodic maintenance like oil and filter changes and inspection or replacement of the air cleaner and fuel filters. Not only are these essential to the durability of your engine in the long term, but neglecting them will cause poor fuel economy in the short term, too. Performing regular maintenance means it will take less fuel to make that long highway trip. Maintaining proper tire pressure and using cruise control on the highway can further improve fuel economy, keeping your summer fuel costs down.

While air conditioning can be a drag on fuel economy in stop-and-go driving, keeping the windows up and the a/c on improves aerodynamics and is ideal on the highway. Plus, it will keep the driver and passengers comfortable and reduce driver fatigue. Have your air conditioning system checked annually. If your car's a/c is not getting cold, chances are you have a leak in the system. Adding refrigerant will only solve the problem temporarily, so invest in a proper repair. Some a/c systems have a cabin air filtration system. Check your owner's manual to see how often the filter should be changed. And if you see a little water dripping from your car, don't worry. The a/c system drains condensation when it's working properly.

Keeping your car cool when you're not driving is important, too. The heat of the summer sun can cause cosmetic damage to your car and make it harder to cool off inside when it's time to drive. Protect your paint and interior by parking in a garage or under an awning when possible. Regularly wax your vehicle using a polish with UV protection to reduce sun damage and paint fading. Protect the interior, too. Purchasing a $10 sunshade that keeps sunlight from coming in the windshield can reduce fading, drying and cracking inside your vehicle, and keep you cooler when you sit down behind the wheel.

Preparation is a key to handling harsh summer heat. Following these simple tips will help your vehicle to perform its best this summer. Not only will you and your vehicle be better prepared to survive the heat, but you'll also make the most of your summer by enjoying the freedom that a well-cared-for car can offer. That certainly beats being stranded in the heat.

What it means to you: Don't get stranded in the heat. Maintain your car year-round, but make special preparations for dealing with the hazards of summer, too.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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