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What is a summer check?

What is a summer check?


Rarely has a saying been more aptly used than when it comes to a pre-summer holiday car check, a stitch in time saves nine.

Why does your car need a summer check?

Actually, it will save you a great deal more than just money, because breaking down en-route to a family holiday destination is one of the most stressful scenarios, especially if you have a deadline, such as catching an airplane or ferry.

Unfortunately, family holidays are also when cars get put under the most stress. A combination of the extra weight of luggage, a full complement of passengers and (hopefully!) warm weather make tyres, brakes, air conditioning and the coolant systems in particular, work overtime.

Which is why it’s such a good idea to book your car in now for a quick once-over. In many cases you’re only looking at 30 minutes or so and even better, some checks are offered free of charge.

Technicians will look at the common causes of a breakdown, the state of the battery, the condition of the tyres and brakes, the radiator and all the hoses in the cooling system, the air conditioning and much more.

Car driving on a road in the sun

There are some interesting statistics about holiday travel in this country. According to Visit Britain, there were 47 million domestic holidays in Britain last year, five per cent up on 2016. In the case of short break staycations, which are becoming more popular, the majority are booked relatively last minute with almost 80 per cent being taken within three months of the booking.

There is also good evidence showing that holiday travel does cause more breakdowns. A recent government survey shows that the worst months for breakdowns are July and August and the worst days Saturdays and Sundays; in August 2016 the two days over the weekend accounted for one third of weekly call outs.

So, get your car booked in for a summer check, it’ll only take around half an hour and many garages offer it for free. Far better to have any potential weakness spotted and fixed now than being stranded on the hard shoulder of the motorway as you watch the airplane you should have been on fly overhead!

What are the common causes of breakdown?


Extra weight in the car from passengers and luggage puts more strain on all the mechanical components, from the engine to the clutch; the alternator to the air conditioning. If you’re driving in slow moving traffic there may not be enough air coming through the radiator grille for it to easily cope and you’ll see the temperature gauge creeping up, or a warning light may come on.

Unfortunately, once it begins to rise there’s not a lot you can do about it, other than try to get some air flowing through the rad a bit faster.  Putting on the heater might take some of the temperature out of the engine but probably not enough to cure what is a more underlying problem.


How to avoid overheating:

A workshop check will look at the condition of the coolant, which needs changing every 30,000/40,000 miles or so and the water channels in the engine, the radiator and connecting hoses will be flushed out. The radiator itself can be pressure-checked for the start of any little leaks and the water pump and pulleys given the once over. It really is the best way to guard against this most common of faults.

Flat battery

Air conditioning, children in the back using the 12V sockets to recharge phones or use games and all the other myriad electrical systems in our cars; they all draw power from the battery. The battery wears with age and needs replacing periodically, but should be up to the job, unless, of course, the car is not used very often and then only for short journeys. If this is the case it is not being recharged from the alternator and will suffer.


How to avoid a flat battery:

Again, a pre-holiday trip journey will let a mechanic test both the battery’s state, the alternator and belts which charge it when the engine is running.


Other than an unavoidable puncture caused by running over something sharp, by far the biggest and most easily avoidable cause of a blow-out is heat. The tyre generates heat as it rolls over the road, brakes, accelerates and corners and as the air inside it expands so it pushes up the pressure, ultimately to the point where the tyre goes beyond its design boundaries and fails. At best this leaves you by the roadside changing a tyre, at worst it causes a crash. The more load – weight in the car – the tyres have to carry, the hotter they become.

Car tyres

How to avoid a puncture:

Easy! Look in your manufacturer’s handbook you’ll find the tyre pressures recommended by the manufacturer for when the car is heavily loaded and you really should take notice of them. It will probably need to run with more air in to avoid the sidewalls and tread moving so much and generating extra heat.

And don’t forget – if you have a spare, check that too!

Clutch failure

Pulling extra weight, especially if you’re towing a caravan or trailer, puts enormous strain on the clutch, the only component that transfers the engine’s power to the axles. Hills and slow starts, as you pull away, where the clutch is half in and half out, is torture for it and if it fails the engine will still rev, but the car will not move an inch. Stop/start driving in queues is another harsh test for the clutch.

Car gearstick

How to avoid clutch failure:

It can happen, but clutches rarely fail straight away and there are warning signs. If the car judders as you set off, if there’s a faint burning smell or if you use plenty of revs when pulling away, but don’t accelerate think you should; these are all indications that your clutch could be coming to the end of its life. If it does go it cannot be roadside repaired and your car will need towing to a garage.

Even though they’re pretty robust and reliable, clutch failure is still one of the top five causes of breakdown.


Finally, and by far the easiest to prevent, is running out of fuel. Imagine the scenario; the low fuel warning light is on and you come to the back of one of those horrendous, endless queues you often see on motorways. If you keep the engine running, so the air con is working and use up that last half gallon or so, you’ll feel both pretty stupid and frustrated, not to mention the object of other driver’s anger as you conk out.

Car being fuelled up

How to avoid running out of fuel:

Always play safe; never get the tank that low.

Car checks to do before you go on holiday:

  • Oil - use the dipstick to check the level; oil lubricates the engine and transfers heat around.  Having the right amount is absolutely fundamental to keeping your car running. Read here to find out more 
  • Lights – get a friend to help or use the reflection in a window to make sure all the lights and indicators are working, especially if you’re towing.
  • Washer fluid – could this be any easier? Check the level in the washer bottle and add a little screen wash.
  • Tyres – not just the pressures, but the tread. In 60 seconds you can check the tread depth and look for any obvious signs of damage such as a bulges or cuts.