Commercial vehicles are under heavy strain on any given day. Yet combine the typical rigors of the job with extreme summer heat, and smooth operation becomes even more difficult. And because this is often the busy season for commercial truck and van drivers, that makes breakdowns during this time even more costly. Prevent seasonal weather disruptions by following Commercial Truck Trader’s 10 tips for summer vehicle maintenance.
1. Examine & Refill Coolant
Problems with the cooling system are some of the most common issues that lead to vehicle breakdowns, and they’re especially common over the hot summer months. To prevent overheating, keep coolant topped-off and clean, using only antifreeze recommended by the manufacturer. Check coolant for its antifreeze-water concentration ratio every 3 months, 500 operating hours, or 20,000 miles, whichever comes first. Many drivers who are extra wary of overheating will actually test their coolant at the start of summer and then monthly throughout the season. You should also visually examine coolant to check for dirt, rust, or other contaminants floating in the coolant or causing the fluid to appear cloudy. Finally, be sure to follow OEM recommendations for coolant replacement and flush intervals, which help keep the entire cooling system fresh and functioning.
2. Inspect the Rest of the Cooling System
In addition to the coolant fluid itself, the entire cooling system should be regularly inspected, including a coolant system pressure test, so you can replace parts as needed and prevent problems before they happen. When performing preventative cooling system maintenance, check the radiator and all hoses, pumps, belts, lines, and caps for signs of leaks, excessive dirt or debris, and cracks or other corrosion, cleaning or replacing them as needed. Because coolant hoses degrade from the inside out, they need to be inspected near the ends of the hose. If a hose is spongy instead of firm, the hose should be replaced. You should expect to replace belts and hoses every two years.
3. Check & Top-Off All Other Fluids
The flow of engine fluids help to disperse heat out of concentrated areas, and dramatic shifts in weather can cause your engine to draw on its fluids more than usual. In addition to your coolant, inspect and refill all other vehicle fluids at the start of the summer season, including transmission fluid, engine oil, power steering fluid, and even your windshield wiper fluid. Consider starting the summer season with a fresh oil change and oil filter replacement.
4. Start Your Day with a Tire Inspection
Tires with proper tread and inflation levels help ensure safe traction, control, and braking, but the summer shift to higher temperatures can threaten the integrity of your tires. Heat causes air to expand and overinflated tires can lead to increased shock, irregular wear, decreased traction, and blowouts. It can also be dangerous for drivers to underinflate tires, which causes more surface area to contact the road, increasing friction heat and the risk of a blowout. In fact, tire underinflation is often a bigger problem than overinflation. The trick is to check and adjust tire pressure to OEM recommendations, helping your truck or van remain in that sweet spot of summer tire safety. In the summer heat, inspect your tires every day before you head out. Checking them in the morning while they’re cool gives you the most accurate idea of if the pressure is where it needs to be.
5. Keep an Eye on Tires Throughout the Day
Maintain a careful watch on your tires throughout the day, looking them over each time you make a pit-stop. When in the summer heat, try to inspect the tires every two hours or every 100 miles, whichever comes first. Keep in mind that rolling friction on a hot day will slightly expand tire pressure, but they are built with some flexibility for that. It’s not a good idea to let air out of a hot tire, as you’ll risk underinflating it, which risks a blowout and could lead to a flat tire later when things cool down. If a tire is too hot to touch, it is at risk of a blowout or even catching on fire, so remain stopped until the tires cool down.
6. Maintain Electrical Components
Summer weather is one of the primary contributors to battery drainage, corrosion, and failure. Extreme heat can evaporate battery liquids, which throws off the electrolyte balance, leads to sulphation, and weakens its charge. Meanwhile, summer humidity contributes to battery oxidation. Regularly check your battery, battery fluids, battery terminals, wiring, cables, and all other electrical components, cleaning, refilling, and making repairs and replacements as needed.
7. Examine the Air Conditioner
If your AC system is not pumping out cool air to its full potential — or at all — it’s time to get it fixed. Check your levels of freon or other refrigerant, which is a quick way to determine if there’s a leak. Other AC issues can include a faulty high pressure switch, damaged cooling coils, malfunctioning compressor, or contaminants clogging the system. A professional mechanic should be able to help you identify any issues and, in addition to repairs, will be able to recharge your system and balance the pressure. Finally, while you’re inspecting your AC, go ahead and also check your cabin air filters, replacing them as needed to ensure you’re breathing the coolest, cleanest air possible.
8. Inspect Refrigerated Compartments
Extreme summer heat places extra stress on refrigerated trucks and vans, and cooling failures can be incredibly costly, with respect to both repairs and spoiled cargo. Test refrigerated compartments early in the summer so you know if preventative maintenance or repairs are needed before things really heat up later in the season.
9. Check the Brakes
Increased summer traffic means more braking than the rest of the year, which can lead to brake pads wearing down and eventual damage to the rotors. As one of the most important safety features of your commercial vehicle, it’s a good idea to start your summer off with a professional brake inspection and service.
10. Replace Windshield Wipers
Lots of grime gets kicked up onto your windshield during the winter season, from de-icing salt to dirty melting snow, which can wear down your wipers and impair your vision while driving. If you didn’t already replace your windshield wipers before those April showers, you definitely want to put in new wipers before the summer thunderstorms and hurricanes roll in.
Conclusion: By following these preventative maintenance tips, your summer work should be safer, smoother, and more comfortable. Browse more of our tips and tricks by visiting Commercial Truck Trader’s Summer Tips resources page. And if you’re looking for a new truck or van this summer, check out the nationwide selection of for-sale inventory available on CommercialTruckTrader.com and our sister site NextTruckOnline.com.