It’s a lot of fun to plan for summer in Canada. Beaches, parks, camping adventures, festivals and more—there’s so much to look forward to! But it’s also important not to forget the practical details such as getting your car ready for summer road trips.

Checking that your vehicle is ready for the road is critical for summer road trip planning. No one wants to waste valuable vacation time dealing with mechanical mishaps far from home. Minimize your risk of trouble by doing some key maintenance ahead of time. Here’s a comprehensive list of everything you should check out to get your car ready for summer adventures.

Get your car ready for summer, tip #1: Check your tires

Tires deserve more credit than they get. Those four patches of rubber are the only thing keeping your car—and therefore you and your passengers—connected to the road. This is why it’s important not only to ensure you choose quality tires to begin with, but also that you monitor their condition and use the right tire for the season.

If you haven’t yet swapped your car’s winter tires for summer or all-season tires, make this the top item on your road trip prep to-do list. Winter tires are critical for safe driving in colder temperatures. The rubber compound grips more effectively at temperatures below 7 degrees Celsius. Technically, it’s not dangerous to keep winter tires on all year long. However, because winter tires are designed to offer more grip in cold conditions, their softer compound wears far more quickly once temperatures rise.

Tires are expensive, so the best reason to swap them is to preserve them for their intended use. You’ll get the longest life possible out of both your sets of tires if you switch them diligently as the temperature changes.

Check that your tires have enough tread

Before you have your summer or all-season set of tires remounted in the spring, be sure to check the tread depth. For the warmer months, experts often cite 2/32” as the minimum tread depth required for tires to be safe. Given the torrential rains that are common in parts of Canada through the summer, we suggest replacing your tires once they wear down to 4/32”. How can you check the tread depth of your tires? Find a quarter and point the caribou’s nose straight down into the tread. If you can see all of it, your tread is worn and your tires should be replaced.

Once you’re ready to depart on your road trip, check your tires as part of your vehicle walkaround. There should be no visible cracks or bulges in the rubber or dents on the rims. Use a pressure gauge to check that the tire pressure is within the manufacturer’s published tolerances. (You’ll find these on the inside of the driver’s side door.)

Don’t forget to check the condition of your vehicle’s spare tire as part of getting your car ready for summer. If your car has a tire fill kit instead of a spare, be sure you know where it’s located, how to use it, and that it doesn’t need servicing. Many modern cars will alert you via a dashboard notification if it’s time to service your tire fill kit.

Tip #2: Consider whether you need an oil change

Think back to when you last had an oil change, and think ahead to how many kilometres you’ll be covering on the road trip you’re planning. If you’ll approach or hit your vehicle’s recommended oil change interval during your trip, it’s a good idea to take care of that task before you depart. The further your trip will take you, the more likely it is this will be a wise idea.

You’ll often hear people say you should have your oil changed every 5,000 kilometres or 8,000 kilometres. The truth is not all cars are created equal. Yours may have a different suggested oil change interval than others. The best policy is to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation, which is set out in the owner’s manual.

Even if you think your oil is in good shape, take a moment to check your engine’s oil levels and condition before you go. This is an easy job you can perform in your own driveway or parking spot.  Grab a rag, pop the hood, and look for the oil can symbol. (This is often a yellow screw cap.) Unscrew this and pull on it. As you pull, you’ll remove a long metal stick from the engine called a dipstick. Wipe this with the rag, then dip it back into the oil reservoir where it came from and pull it out again.

If you look closely, you’ll see a clearly marked hashed section. The oil level should fall within these markings and look amber in colour. If the level is unexpectedly lower or the oil on the stick looks very dark and thick, your car’s engine may be leaking or burning oil inappropriately. It’s important to investigate this as you get your car ready for summer before heading out on a long road trip.

Get your car ready for summer, tip #3: Top up the wiper fluid

Did you know there are two types of windshield washer fluid? Most Canadians know about the winter formula, which is often blue and resists freezing in colder temperatures. But there’s also a formula intended for use in the summer, which is often red or purple in colour. It does a better job of clearing stuck-on debris like bugs from your glass to improve visibility.

Whenever your washer fluid gets low in the spring, swap out the winter formula for the summer formula to get your car ready for the warmer months. Don’t forget to top up the reservoir before you leave for longer trips. Consider bringing a backup jug if you’ll be on the road for extended periods in remote areas.

If it’s been a while since you last changed your windshield wipers, you may wish to do this as you get your car ready for summer road tripping. Experts recommend changing your wipers every 12 months to ensure they operate optimally.

Tip #4: Pack an emergency kit

Canada is a vast country, and a surprising amount of it is remote wilderness. No matter where you’re headed this summer, it’s important to be prepared. Packing an emergency kit for your trunk will give you peace of mind and ensure you’re prepared for the unexpected.

Every car with a gas-powered engine should have a set of jumper cables or a jumper battery pack on board. You’ll also want to pack a first aid kit, some flares or reflective triangles, a safety vest, extra windshield washer fluid, blankets, a couple of small candles and matches, a mobile phone charging pack and cables, bottled water, and non-perishable food items such as granola bars.

Learn more about packing an emergency kit for your car >

Get your car ready for summer, tip #5: Consider accessories

If you’re off on a summer adventure and you’ll be bringing different gear than usual, consider whether an accessory might make your life easier. Need to mount a couple of dirt bikes? Perhaps a hitch-mount or roof-mount bike rack would help. Expect to haul plenty of gear to the campsite? It might be time to invest in a roof box. If you’ll have young kids along, a car caddy gives them a place to store snacks, drinks, books and toys within easy reach. (Here’s an example from Amazon.ca; if you buy from this link, we’ll receive a small commission.)

Tip #6: Make sure you know who you’ll call for help

Sometimes, even after the best laid plans, you’ll still need to call for help. If your car is four to five years old, chances are it’s still covered under a new vehicle warranty, which should also come with 24/7 roadside assistance. Check that your coverage is still active and that the number is readily available in your glovebox before you start your journey.

When your car is older, a CAA subscription is a great investment. For less than you’d pay for an emergency towing call, you’ll have access to roadside assistance and other emergency services anywhere in Canada as well as other membership benefits. You’ll only need to call CAA once to learn an annual membership is a great bargain. Learn more about CAA’s membership structure here.

If you’ll be well outside of mobile phone service for long periods, consider purchasing an emergency beacon. This links with satellite communication to alert authorities that you need help, no matter where you are in the world. They’re expensive, but if you frequently travel outside mobile phone coverage, this is a worthwhile investment.

Check out more driving and car care tips by clicking here >

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