Summer can be hard on your vehicle. Hot temperatures and long summer vacation trips can takes its toll on parts and lower essential fluid levels.
Before you decide to take a long drive to the mountains or other isolated destinations to admire the fall foliage, you should consider checking a few items on your vehicle or have an auto repair shop inspect your vehicle. These parts to inspect include:
Battery and cables
Hot and humid conditions can accelerate the buildup of corrosion on your battery terminals and cables. Check for corrosion by removing the cable clamps from the battery terminals with a wrench.
If a white powdery substance is present, clean the terminals and clamps with a light sandpaper. Use safety glasses to keep the corrosion from blowing into your eyes.
Examine the cables for bare spots by looking for exposed shiny copper wire anywhere along the length of the cables. If the copper wire touches the metal body of the vehicle, your battery will drain consistently, which may leave you stranded.
You must either replace a worn battery cable or at least cover the bare spot with multiple layers of black electrical tape.
Belts and hoses
Both hoses and belts are affected by summer heat, and they are also affected by the heat generated by hard use on long trips. Hoses must carry heated coolant away from the engine, while belts are also heated by the friction created when they are turned at great speeds to run fans and air conditioners.
Heat will cause hoses and belts to expand, which may cause them to thin at different points. The cool temperatures of fall and winter will then cause belts and hoses to contract, which will cause thinned areas of hoses to burst and belts to break when placed under the stress on a long drive or high speeds.
Check the integrity of your belts and hoses by visual and manual inspection. Hoses should be soft and supple, with no visible cracks or bubbles. Belts should be tight, with no visible dryness or cracks. Replace any hose or belt that looks or feels questionable.
Coolant will expand under high temperatures and flow from the vehicle's cooling system onto the ground through the overflow tank designed for this purpose. Frequent use of your vehicle's air conditioning system is a major culprit in loss of coolant, as evidenced by the small puddle that forms under your parked vehicle after a summer drive.
You can determine if your coolant level is low by checking the transparent plastic overflow tank, which is easy to spot under your hood to one side of the engine. The side of the tank will have two settings, "full" and "low," on its side.
Check the level when the engine is cool, because coolant expands and will provide a false level if it is hot when you check it. Check your owner's manual for the proper coolant for your vehicle. Be sure to clean up any spilled coolant, because it is sweet but poisonous to dogs and other pets.
Don't use a cheaper substitute or your vehicle may overheat at the worst possible moment, such as halfway up a mountain while admiring the beauty of fall foliage.
Check your brake fluid reservoir to be sure that it is filled. Hard use or long trips can require the addition of brake fluid. As with the coolant, you can see the level on the side of the reservoir. However, when adding brake fluid, you must be more precise.
Use only brake fluid that is required for your vehicle as mandated by your owner's manual. Fill it only to the "full" line and do not overfill. Keep all dirt and other contaminants from the brake fluid reservoir or the fluid may become ineffective, causing brake failure.
While breaking down while ascending a mountain is bad, losing your brakes while descending is much worse.
While you are inspecting fluid levels, fill your windshield washer fluid reservoir. It would be nice to actually see the beautiful fall foliage through a clean windshield after all your other preparation.