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Prep Your Car Before Summer Road Trip

(LOS ANGELES, May 24, 2011) — With the summer months’ higher temperatures lurking around the corner, the Automobile Club of Southern California is urging motorists to prep their car or truck before taking to the nation's highways for vacations, family reunions and trips to theme parks.  Summer vehicle inspections are especially important for drivers who delayed maintenance on their vehicles due to the recession.
About 1.2 million drivers will call AAA for help with a flat tire during the summer travel season, and many of those problems could be avoided by just inspecting the tires before getting behind the wheel, according to Auto Club Automotive Research Center Manager Steve Mazor. The only tools needed for a tire inspection, said Mazor, are a quarter and a tire pressure gauge.
“The summer road trip usually goes hand-in-hand with hot temperatures," added Mazor. “A road trip during the summer months typically involves driving in 90- to-100 degree heat. In those temperatures, breakdowns happen to cars that have not been maintained properly or those that haven’t been serviced for hot weather.”
Many motorists know that hot weather contributes to radiators overheating, but extreme heat also can sap weak batteries of remaining energy, cripple air conditioning systems, create or enlarge hose leaks and snap worn belts.
To assist motorists in finding reliable mechanics who provide high quality maintenance and repairs and who guarantee their work, the Auto Club has certified more than 600 auto repair shops in Southern California as AAA Approved Auto Repair (AAR) network facilities. These facilities undergo regular facility inspections, must maintain rigorous standards for mechanical and customer service must use quality replacement parts and employ properly trained technicians. To find the nearest Auto Club-Approved Auto Repair facility, visit, call 1-800-713-0003 or visit one of the Auto Club branches to pick up a directory listing the shops in the AAR network.
Before summer vacation, motorists should check the following maintenance items, or have them checked by a trustworthy or certified automotive mechanic:
  • Inspect the antifreeze/coolant level and condition. Make sure the mixture of water and coolant is the mixture that's specified in the vehicle owner's manual. Also check to make sure the coolant has been flushed and changed as recommended by the vehicle maintenance schedule.
  • Inspect and replace worn or cracked belts, as well as hoses that are worn, cracked, blistered, brittle, or too soft. Even belts and hoses that look fine should be examined carefully. Belts and hoses that are more than seven years or 75,000 miles old should be looked at as candidates to be replaced as a safety precaution due to age and mileage.  Once they reach 10 years or 100,000 miles, they should be replaced regardless of inspection results.  Belt tensioner and or idler pulleys should be replaced along with the serpentine belt and cooling system hoses should be replaced as a set.
  • Check tires for uneven wear or excessive tread wear and make sure all tires, including the spare, are properly inflated. Inflate tires to recommended pressure. Under-inflated tires are a safety hazard and can cut gas mileage by as much as two percent per pound of pressure below the recommended level.
  • Check the level and condition of engine oil. When driving under extreme conditions such as 90- to 100- degree temperatures, or when towing a heavy trailer, consider switching to heavier motor oil. Check the "severe driving conditions" section of the owner’s manual for oil recommendations.
  • Since high temperatures can compromise batteries, test and replace old or weak batteries. Be sure to check the water level of batteries with removable cell caps. If the battery is more than three years old, have it tested during each maintenance service and if it's more than five years old, consider replacing it due to age.  The Auto Club has a mobile battery service in select areas that may be able to assist you by testing your battery and replacing it with a new battery, if needed.
  • Check the transmission fluid for the correct level and that it doesn't smell burnt or look dirty, since heat can break down the fluid over time. This is especially important for vehicles that are used for towing. Check the owners' manual for the right type of transmission fluid to use and the proper interval for service and replacement.
  • Inspect brake fluid for proper level and condition. Low brake fluid could indicate excessive brake wear or fluid leak. Dirty brake fluid that is dark colored like coffee indicates contamination or moisture in the brake fluid. A thorough inspection of the brakes and flushing of the brake fluid is probably needed.
  • Inspect power steering fluid for proper level and condition. Low power steering fluid can cause damage to the power steering system and dirty and or burnt power steering fluid can lead to premature power steering failure.
  • Don't leave home without fresh windshield wiper blades and the “forgotten” fluid, windshield washer fluid. Fresh blades and windshield washer fluid will help to remove road dirt and insects from your windshield. Use pre-mixed fluid, not water from a garden hose. The premixed fluid contains ingredients that won't harm exterior vehicle paint. 
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The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.