It’s August, and in Texas that can only mean one thing — it’s gonna be hot. Your car needs special care in the extreme heat as well as the cold, but not many people think about that.
Your car is out in the heat all summer long, rolling along highways and sitting in bumper to bumper traffic. It sits in the parking lot at work during the hottest part of the day. Eventually, your car breaks down if it isn’t given the proper attention.
Here are some tips for driving in the extreme heat that should help you keep your car in top shape for summer.
Do not leave pets or children in a parked car in the heat. That is a cardinal rule of summer safety, just as important as locking the gate on your pool and storing toxic chemicals out of reach. Every year unfortunate accidents occur when someone leaves a small child or a pet in a car “for just a minute” or forgets to drop them off, only to return to tragedy.
For your own safety, use a sunshade to keep the interior cooler when the car is parked for extended periods. Plastic steering wheels, metal belt buckles and vinyl upholstery can become hot enough in the sun to burn skin.
Preserve Your Battery
Excessive heat is harder on batteries than winter cold. Heat and vibration can cause your battery to break down internally and eventually fail.
- Securely mount the battery to minimize vibration.
- Be aware battery fluids can evaporate in the heat and corrode terminals and connections.
- Have a technician test your battery if it’s over three years old and replace it if indicated.
While you can’t do much about the heat, you can keep your terminals and cable clamps clear of corrosion and make sure the clamps are tight enough they won’t move.
Keep an Eye on the Oil
Oil lubricates moving engine parts and helps dissipate heat. If the oil level is low, there will not be enough lubrication, resulting in damaged and overheated components.
Allow the car to sit a few minutes before checking the dipstick to allow oil to settle and drain from the engine. Check the oil by pulling the dipstick, wiping it, and reinserting it. Remove it again to take a measurement. Your car will use just a bit of oil so you may need to replace some every so often.
Pour the oil in a little at a time, waiting for a few seconds and checking the dipstick, so you don't overfill.
Care for Your Cooling System
Besides oil, your car has a cooling system to keep the engine from overheating. The radiator holds and circulates coolant that contains additives to protect the radiator and internal engine parts against corrosion and wear. If you lose coolant, long-term engine damage and boil over risk increases.
The coolant system is sealed and should not require replacement liquids between servicing, but damaged hoses and radiator leaks can allow coolant to escape.
To maintain an effective cooling system, old coolant must be replaced according to the auto manufacturer’s instructions in the manual that came with the car.
- Old coolant becomes contaminated and loses its preventive additives.
- Flush the coolant system according to the maintenance schedule for the car. Modern cars typically go for two to six years or 24,000 to 100,000 miles between cooling system maintenance.
- Between flushes, check the coolant level in the overflow chamber and replace it with a 50/50 mixture of water and the same coolant already in the car. In an emergency, you can use plain water but have the system checked as soon as possible.
Safety Note: Never remove a radiator cap when the engine is hot. The coolant is under pressure and is boiling hot. You could sustain severe burns if you aren't careful.
The rubber components of the cooling system can deteriorate in extreme heat. Check the hoses and drive belts for soft spots, cracking, or other signs of poor condition. Replace worn parts, which could fail at any time.
Taking Care of Your Tires
The worst problem with tires in hot conditions is underinflation. Underinflated tires affect handling and braking. The tires can overheat and are at increased risk of a blowout, especially in high heat.
Check your tire pressure when the car has not been driven recently. They should be inflated to the pressure recommended by the vehicle manufacturer, not the number printed on the sidewall of the tie. Some models may require different pressures between front and back tires.
Inspect the treads for adequate depth as well as signs of uneven wear. If tires are wearing unevenly, you may have a problem with the alignment or the suspension. A tire with uneven wear can blowout at the weakest point.
Keep an Eye on the Other Engine Fluids
Besides coolant and oil, keep other engine fluids up to level. Some carry heat away from critical components, and low fluid levels reduce this effect. Components may become overheated and fail.
Check all fluids and replace with the type specified in the owner’s manual. Fluids include motor oil, coolant, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, and windshield wiper solution.
Check the Air Conditioner
Does it seem like the air conditioner isn’t maintaining the interior temperature like it used to? You may have low refrigerant levels or another problem. Consult a certified air conditioning technician to re-gas the air conditioner every two to three years. Also, make sure you run the A/C periodically to keep it in tip-top condition.
Older cars may need the air conditioning system cleaned to remove dirt and bacteria. Cabin filters in all vehicles, which prevent debris from entering the interior, should be inspected and replaced as needed to maximize airflow and cooling.
Stock an Emergency Kit
Getting stuck anywhere in the heat or cold, whether it’s in rush hour traffic or a remote spot away from immediate assistance, can happen to anyone. Make sure your car has an emergency kit containing the following for trips of any length in the summer or winter:
- Non-perishable food items
- Jumper cables
- A flashlight and extra batteries
- Road flairs or emergency reflectors
- Basic hand tools
- A first aid kit
Always carry plenty of water when traveling through areas where service stations and people are few and far between. It may be a while before help can reach you.
Belts and hoses can crack, blister, or otherwise become damaged in intense heat. Check them periodically and replace them when needed. This is not a DIY project; take the car to a certified mechanic or technician for service.
When the summer heat is upon us, our cars take the brunt. On the highway or in the parking lot, the extreme heat eventually causes liquid evaporation and deterioration of parts. Check everything regularly and replace worn tires, hoses and belts. Keep up fluid levels. And enjoy what’s left of the summer.