Top 10 Car Summer Maintenance Tips


Maintain Your Air Conditioning

Sitting in traffic on a hot day is not a good time for your car's air conditioning to run out of refrigerant.
Sitting in traffic on a hot day is not a good time for your car's air conditioning to run out of refrigerant.
David Jeffrey /Getty Images

If you've ever lost your air conditioning on a hot summer day, then you know what a big difference a little cool air makes. The best way to tell if your air conditioner has a problem is if it can't generate or maintain air temperatures that are 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) below the ambient outside air temperature.

The most common cause of a malfunctioning air conditioning unit is a low level of refrigerant. This could be caused buy a leak somewhere in the system. Since modern air conditioning systems are complicated creatures, it's best to have a professional check out the problem.

The air conditioning maintenance industry has changed a lot since 1994, when the Federal government outlawed the use of a refrigerant called R-12, known by its brand name Freon. In the past, if your air conditioner wasn't blowing cool air, you'd head down to the service shop, they'd top your car off with a little Freon and you'd be on your way.

The problem is that Freon, a chlorofluorocarbon, is extremely destructive to the ozone layer. Most people needed Freon refills because they had leaks. By simply refilling the leaky air conditioning units, millions of pounds of Freon were entering the atmosphere every year.

If your car was built before 1994, then you need to have your refrigerant checked out by a licensed professional who knows how to dispose of or recycle the material. In some states, it's illegal to refill a leaky system with R-12. However, even older cars can be easily retrofitted to use the newer, safer type of refrigerant called R-134a.

For even more car maintenance and service tips, check out the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "Be Tire Smart. Play Your Part." National Rubber Manufacturers Association. 2008.
  • "Brakes: What to Watch For." Midas.
  • Bumbeck, Mike. "Undercarriage Wash."
  • "Drive Your Way to Better Fuel Economy This Summer with Pep Boys." The Auto Channel. June 29, 2007.
  • "Hot Weather the True Culprit of Car Battery Trouble." Car Care Council. BusinessWeek.. Dec. 30, 2005.
  • "How do I know when my car really needs a brake job?" Yahoo! Autos.
  • "How often should I replace my air filter?" Yahoo! Autos.
  • "How to Fight High Gas Prices."
  • "How to Inspect Belts and Hoses." Consumer Reports. how-to-inspect-belts-and-hoses-1205/overview/
  • "How to Stay Cool?"
  • Martin, Hugo. "Memorial Weekend driving plans still on." The Los Angeles Times. May 16, 2008.,0,7374679.story
  • "My brakes are squealing. Does that mean I need a brake job?" Yahoo! Autos.
  • "My mechanic says I have to have a refrigerant leak fixed before he can legally recharge my air conditioner. Is that true?" Yahoo! Autos.
  • "NAPA Know How: Wiper Blades." National Automotive Parts Association.
  • Nerad, Jack. "Help Your Car Cruise into Summer." CBS Early Show. May 28, 2002.
  • "Springtime Maintenance."


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