We know that looking after your car, whether you own it or it’s a company vehicle, is important to most drivers all year round which is why we created this guide for summer care and this one for winter car care.
What are the Most Common Reasons for Summer Breakdowns?
Overheating - the engine draws in air from the exterior to cool it down but when the temperature is hotter outside it means that this isn't as effective a cooling method which is why it's so important that you keep your coolant topped up.
Dead battery - Although you're more likely to get a flat battery in the winter you can still get one in hotter weather. This is because high heat can dissipate battery fluid and this chemical reaction corrodes the battery, especially around the connection points which leads to a dead batter
Low oil - although cooling isn't the primary function of oil, it does help keep your engine cool. If you have low or dirty oil this can add to overheating, as well as cause damage to your engine components. In the heat the viscosity of oil lessens which makes it more watery and not as effective a lubricant and when the oil is low this has a greater impact and can lead to permanent damage to parts such as the camshaft.
Rubber belt failure - the alternator in your vehicle charges the battery which keeps your lights, wipers, sound system and the car itself working. It's driven by a rubber belt, and when features like the air conditioning and water pump are used it has to work harder which means that in the summer it is put under extra stress and if it is damaged or starting to perish then it can easily snap and leave your vehicle undrivable.
Faulty brakes - points of friction like the braking system and clutch go through surface changes when they heat up, and this can mean they don't grip as well or work as they should which can lead to brake failure or issues with your clutch and changing gears.
Tyre condition - if your tyres are compromised in any way, including any damage or low tread then they are more likely to burst in hot weather, as the air within the tyre expands in the heat.
To help you avoid these and any other incidents during the summer we've rounded up all our best tips and practices for summer car care below.
General Summer Car Care
There are some general checks that you should be doing throughout the year, no matter what the weather is, including checking the tyres and keeping your fluids topped up.
It’s important that you regularly check your tyres to ensure they are legal and safe for you to drive on, improve your fuel economy and have a comfortable drive.
There are three main aspects of the tyres you should be checking:
- The pressure
- The depth
- Any damage
Every vehicle will have a recommended tyre pressure, and there may be a difference between the front and rear tyre pressure based on the vehicle. It’s important that you check the correct pressure for your vehicle and then regularly top up to this level to prevent them from going too low which decreases your fuel efficiency and can lead to additional wear on the tyres.
It is a legal requirement for all tyres to have a continuous tread depth of 1.6 mm around the central three-quarters of the tyre and so you will need to check that your car meets the legal requirements throughout the year rather than waiting for a service or MOT to be completed and it picked up then.
You’ll want to look for any cuts, bulges and cracks to the tyres as these can indicate structural damage which might lead to the tyre bursting further down the line. If you spot any damage to your tyres we recommend popping to a Kwik Fit or similar garage to have them checked by a professional and repaired / replaced as needed.
We’ve got a detailed breakdown to checking your tyres here which will give you a comprehensive look at what you should be spotting.
Just like you should be checking your tyres throughout the seasons you should also be keeping an eye on the fluid levels under the hood.
There are five main fluids that you should be checking which are:
When checking any of these fluids you should look make sure you are parked on a flat even surface and the vehicle is not angled (parked with one side on the kerb) to avoid getting incorrect readings.
You should also wait for the engine to be cold before doing anything under the hood, including checking the fluids. This is not only to ensure you get accurate readings but for your safety as hot parts can seriously injure you.
Most manufacturers will recommend you change your brake fluid around every two years or so and this should be done by a professional mechanic.
However, between changing the brake fluids you should check it and top up where necessary. If you ever feel like your brakes are slow or behaving oddly then the brake fluid should be the first thing you check.
Your brake fluid reserve will be located under the hood, and you’ll usually be able to find a diagram in the vehicle manual that shows you the exact positioning if you are unsure. There will be a minimum and maximum level marked on the side of the container and you can do a simple visual check to see that it is between these two markers. If it is too low you will need to top it up, but make sure you check the vehicle manual or manufacturer’s website to find the correct type for your vehicle.
As well as checking the level you want to check the colour of the fluid. It should be light and nearly transparent not cloudy or dark. If it is cloud or dark you should take it to a car to be changed.
You’ll also want to check the oil level regularly, as a lack of oil can cause major damage to your engine and even engine failure.
All cars with a combustion engine will have an oil tank and a dipstick located near it so that you can check the level of oil without the difficulty of looking through the cap hole into the tank to judge the level.
To check the oil level you’ll want to remove the dipstick, wipe it clean and then reinsert it into the tank to get an accurate reading. There should be a minimum and a maximum level marker on the dipstick and if your reading shows it to be close to or below the minimum then you will want to top up.
Just like with brake fluid there are different types of engine oil, and they will not all be suitable for every vehicle so you should make sure that you use the correct type for your car.
The oil should be an amber colour and fairly runny so if it has turned a milky colour or thickened a lot then you would be better getting the oil changed rather than just topped up.
Please note that electric vehicles (EVs) do not need oil in the same way a combustion engine in a petrol / diesel vehicle does and so you will not need to check an oil reservoir for them.
Engines produce a lot of heat as a by-product of creating power for the vehicle and without engine coolant they would overheat which can cause major damage to the vehicle and injury to you and any passengers.
This is the most important fluid to check when the engine is cold as the system runs very hot and is highly pressurised and so if opened when warm it can cause serious burns.
There will be a minimum and maximum lines on the reserve and the liquid should sit comfortably between these two lines. If it is too low then you should carefully open the cap and fill up as needed, once you have checked the correct type for your vehicle.
Power steering fluid ensures you have smooth steering and if you find that something is a little off with your steering then this should be one of the first things you look at.
The location of the power steering fluid can vary on models so will not always be under the bonnet but on the majority of models it will be.
When checking the levels of this fluid you should be aware there are two sets of minimum and maximum levels, one for when the engine is hot and one for when it is cold. If the car has been used in the last eight hours it will be the hot markers you should use, however we recommend checking it when it has been over this long and using the cold markers so that you can top up if required.
Screenwash is an important fluid even during the summer as a bright sun can reflect differently on a dirty windscreen, causing distractions or restricting your view.
To check this you simply need to take a look at the tank and if it is looking a little low top up as needed.
Look After Your Battery
You might think that with the cold weather of winter which sees many dead batteries is the only time that you need to look after yours but that’s not true. The heat of summer can speed up chemical reactions inside your battery and cause it to be overcharged, and this can reduce your battery’s lifespan which is why it’s important to keep it cool and make sure your coolant has sufficient fluids.
Additionally, you should check for any corrosion and leakage of battery acid and regularly wipe off the terminal points to ensure they are kept clean. Please only do so once the battery has been disconnected to avoid injuring yourself. Before driving reattach the cables and make sure these are securely attached to avoid them coming loose when driving.
Check Your Air Conditioning
With warmer weather you will use your air-conditioning system more in summer months. It’s important that this system is operating correctly as if it's leaking refrigerant it might cause damage to the vehicle as well as stopping you from getting cold air.
You should have a qualified mechanic look at the vehicle if you are concerned about the air conditioner not working correctly.
Check Your Air Filters
All vehicles will have an air filter to prevent particles, dust, sand and insect debris from coming into the vehicle. Some additionally have pollen filters or cabin filtration systems to further improve the quality of air in the car.
These filters will need changing, and summer is a perfect opportunity to do this. You can usually change these filters quite easily at home, but if you’re ever unsure we recommend talking to a professional.
Replace Your Wipers
The sun’s glare on the windscreen can be particularly bad if your screen is not clean and a damaged or worn wiper can prevent you from cleaning the windscreen properly or even smear dirt to further obscure your vision.
Your wiper blades should be replaced once a year to ensure they do not wear down too much and become unable to clear the rain or smudge dirt rather than clear it off.
Cleaning Your Car in the Summer
We recommend keeping your car clean throughout the year but there are a number of reasons that it’s especially important for the summer months. Bird poo on the exterior for example can solidify and then when the paint lacquer expands due to heat in the summer but the bird lime doesn’t it damages the paintwork beneath. Additionally, the bright sun can reflect differently off dirt and dust on the windscreen becoming a hazard for you while driving.
You can go through a drive-through car wash or use a valeting service to clean your vehicle but if you want to do it yourself then we’ve got a few top tips to help get your car as clean as possible at home.
- First, choose your tools carefully. Make sure any brushes you use aren’t too abrasive on the paintwork and for the wheels you have a brush suitable for the alloys. You’ll also want a microfibre cloth or shammy to dry the vehicle afterwards as well to avoid getting rain spots on the car.
- We always recommend that you rinse the vehicle off with some warm water before cleaning, to help loosen and dislodge any dirt and make it easier to clean with the soapy liquid.
- Make sure you follow any instructions on the cleaning products you have chosen. You might opt for specialist products on the bodywork, alloys, glass, fabric / leather seats and interior or one universal product for the exterior and another for the interior.
- If using a sponge or brush to clean the car then you should be careful not to press to heavily against the paintwork and cause damage with your cleaning efforts.
- Don’t be afraid to repeatedly clean one spot if there is a stubborn stain there.
- Buff out any watermarks when the vehicle is dry if you have let it dry naturally in the warm weather.
- Once dry then for an additional level of protection you can wax the exterior of the car.
- Make sure your glass is clean inside and out, getting rid of any smudges, fingerprints and dead insects to give you the best possible view of the road around you.
Driving in the Summer
Driving during the summer months can be a little different to driving in the winter, though there are no major changes you’ll need to make there are some small adjustments that you should be making.
When you get into the vehicle you should make sure that you are at a comfortable temperature, have your sunglasses or sun visor in place and have water or a tissue handy if you think you’ll need them on the drive.
If you’re concerned about fuel economy then you might want to avoid using ancillary features, such as the air conditioning, however in the summer when it’s hot outside you want your car to be as cool as possible. One way you can do this is to have the air conditioning on, but if you’re travelling at speed then you can get a strong breeze by having your front windows open.
During summer is when most people’s hay fever will flare up, and if you need to take medication for this you should check that it does not make you drowsy or impair your ability to drive. If your hayfever is particularly severe you might want to get someone else to drive if possible.
If you're thinking of travelling with your lease car then you should also take a look at our travel guide for all the essential info on international travel with a lease car.
Things To Keep in Your Car in Summer
There are a few essentials you'll want to keep in the car all year round, such as a warning triangle and high-vis jacket, but there are a few more that will change with the seasons and some you'll want in summer that you don't need the rest of the year.
We recommend you keep a bottle of water in the car at all times but this is especially important during the summer as the hotter weather makes it more likely for you to become dehydrated.
During the summer you'll also want to keep some sun screen in the car, not only will this come in handy when you're out and about and need to top up but on longer journeys. Car windows do not protect you from the sun's UV rays and while you might not feel it as hotly on your skin you can still get burned while in the car.
Additionally, we'd advise keeping a pair of UV protecting sunglasses in the car so that you can see when driving in bright sunlight. And for when you're out of the vehicle you might find it useful to have a cap or sunhat in the vehicle as well.
Other useful things to keep in the car during the summer if you have the room are:
- A light summer jacket in case you're caught by one of the British summer showers
- A beach towel for if you take an unplanned dip in the sea or a local river
- A picnic blanket which can not only be used for eating but to keep you warm if you're caught out by a cold spell
- Sun shades to protect your rear passengers from the bright rays, or a removable one for the windscreen to keep the car cool when parked
- Window vent guards so you can open the window without worrying about your pets falling or getting hurt by putting their head out of the window
Reusable bags that can be used for carrying any unexpected treasures, shopping and as a bin if needed in the vehicle
Checks to Do Before Summer Journeys
1. Check the vehicle condition - use our detailed breakdown above to check the vehicle fluids, tyres and general condition to make sure that it's in the best condition for your trip.
2. Make sure the vehicle is cool before setting off. We recommend allowing the car to air out the hot air by either opening doors and windows or blasting the air-con before you load up your passengers to avoid anyone being adversely affected by the sudden heat you can get. But even if you're not able to do this you should make sure that the contact points aren't too hot to touch such as the seatbelt buckles, steering wheel and gear stick.
3. Make sure your windscreen is clear to minimise the risk of the sun blinding you with sun glare.
4. Check the weather before setting off so that you can pack extra water, hats or jumpers for when you reach your destination if there is a change in temperature.
5. Check there's some water in the car for you and your passengers to drink, and if possible bring a fresh bottle with you to avoid it being warm from sitting in a hot car.
Wessex Fleet’s Best Practices for the Summer
1. Don’t leave any food in the vehicle, it could go off quickly in the heat, melt and cause damage to your interior or attract animals to the vehicle, especially if windows are left open whilst parked.
2. Make sure you don’t overheat by using the air conditioning or opening the windows for a breeze through the vehicle but make sure you close them before leaving the vehicle.
3. Put some sunglasses on or pull the visor down to protect your eyes from the sun’s glare and stop yourself from being blinded by it.
4. Don’t leave your pets in the car, even with a window open, it can get significantly hotter in the car especially when it is hot already outside so you should never leave your pets or children alone in the vehicle.
5. The UK is no stranger to summer showers and you should always be prepared to encounter them, water on dried mud that’s been left by farm machinery can quickly turn into mud that’s easy to skid in, roads can retain a lot of surface water and unprepared drivers can easily be caught unaware.
6. Don’t let yourself be lulled into a false sense of safety because the sun is shining, make sure you stay aware of your surroundings and any potential hazards.
7. Plan ahead if it’s a particularly nice weekend or a holiday when there’s going to be a lot of cars on the road then check your satnav to make sure you leave with enough time.
8. Keep a carrier bag or something similar in the vehicle to use for any rubbish while you’re driving and take this out regularly to avoid rubbish build up, especially during the summer as it can quickly smell in the heat.
9. Keep a little summer kit in the car with sun cream, sunglasses, a hat and anything else you might need during the summer months in the car so you’re not caught without them.
10. Keep a bottle of water in the car to stay hydrated in hot weather.