For most of the United States this summer has been brutally hot. Dealing with the heat can be uncomfortable and even dangerous for many, including our cars. The heat can bring a lot of unwelcome issues, so it’s important to try to head off any problems before there is a larger issue.
Here are our top five tips for driving in the summer heat.
Tip #1: Check your fluids.
There are a number of fluids that are vitally important to keeping your car running smoothly. While replacing and topping off these fluids is always important, it’s even more important to do so in the heat when your car is under even more stress than usual. These fluids will also evaporate in the heat, making them disappear even faster. Be sure to keep an eye on the following fluids and top them off as needed:
- Motor oil
- Coolant (antifreeze)
- Power steering fluid
- Brake fluid
- Transmission fluid
- Windshield washer fluid
If you tend to be forgetful with this type of stuff, set a reminder in your phone to check every few weeks or stop by your trusted mechanic to have them monitor everything. It may be a good idea to keep coolant in your trunk if your car’s engine has overheated in the past.
Tip #2: Maintain the cooling system.
Your engine’s cooling system keeps your engine running smoothly. Coolant is circulated through the engine block where it absorbs heat and then moves the heat out of the engine, cooling everything down. While keeping the coolant topped off is an important part of maintaining the cooling system, there are other steps that you should take to ensure the cooling system is running optimally.
- Be sure you are using the right type of coolant. Coolant is specific to your make and model, and using the wrong one can cause serious problems for your engine. You should also be sure to never mix different types of coolant as this can cause complications as well.
- Inspect the hoses and connections regularly to check for leaks. If the coolant is leaking out and unable to circulate properly, your engine can overheat.
- Change old coolant as recommended in your owner’s manual. As coolant ages it can turn acidic and corrosive, which means it can eat away the aluminum in your radiator.
- Read your owner’s manual to see when you should have your system serviced professionally.
Tip #3: Maintain your car’s air conditioning system.
Your car’s air conditioning system not only keeps you comfortable, but it keeps you and your passengers safe and healthy. High temps in the cabin can cause a dangerous health episode for anyone inside, especially the elderly. Heat stroke and dehydration can happen even when you aren’t doing physical activity. But your air conditioning can help avoid danger even in the sweltering heat. Here's how you can keep your car’s air conditioning in top shape:
- Change your cabin’s air filter regularly. The air filter keeps dust and debris out of your cabin, and which can help keep your air conditioning running more smoothly. Additionally clean air can increase your fuel efficiency and keep your cabin smelling fresh.
- Have it serviced when you notice an issue. Air conditioning units are complex, so it's recommended that you get it serviced professionally. In general you can expect to recharge your air conditioner every two years or so.
- Listen for any noises coming from the air conditioner. Noises can signify an issue with your car’s air compressor. Recognizing the warning signs could help you fix the compressor or replace it before you are left with no AC in the extreme heat.
- Take care of your air conditioner throughout the year. Running it for at least ten minutes every week, even in the winter, can help ensure that it will start up when you need it.
Tip #4: Check your tire pressure.
Temperature has a huge impact on your tire pressure. Air is affected greatly by temperature, and as air heats up it expands and changes your tire pressure. A change of 10º Fahrenheit can cause your tires to gain or lose one PSI (pound per square inch). While your tires can withstand changes throughout the day, a drastic increase of 20º or 30º could mean that your tires are overinflated by the end of the day.
It’s recommended to keep a tire pressure gauge in your car (you can pick a cheap one up and leave it in your glove compartment) and check it when there’s a big temperature swing. You can check the recommended PSI for your car in the user manual or in your car’s door jam.
When tires are underinflated, more of the tire’s surface comes into contact with the road. Underinflated tires can cause the following problems:
- Causes your car to feel sluggish.
- Lowers gas mileage (about 0.2% for every PSI drop).
- Decreases the lifespan of tires.
When tires are overinflated, less of the tire’s surface comes into contact with the road. Overinflated tires can cause the following problems:
- Makes them more vulnerable to damage.
- Distorts the tire and causes them to bulge and wear more in the center.
- Can lead to a tire blowout, which is a major safety concern.
You should monitor your tires year round, paying attention not only to the inflation, but also to how the treads are wearing. Replacing your tires or getting your alignment fixed can help you stay safe on the road in any temperature.
Tip #5: Be prepared.
Unfortunately, bad things happen even if we try to avoid them. But being prepared for an emergency can save your sanity. In the summer be sure to have the following essentials in your car in case you break down or find yourself stranded somewhere:
- Bottled Water
- Non-perishable snacks
- Jumper cables
- First aid kit
- Road flares
- Flashlight (and batteries)
- Cell phone charger
If an emergency arises, you want to be sure you have what you need either to fix the problem yourself or get safely somewhere to have the problem solved. Having a charged cell phone and a list of emergency contacts is also important, especially if you are driving with children in the car.
What should I do if my car overheats?
In the severe heat, engine overheating is a very real concern. There are a few telltale signs that your engine is overheating:
- You notice a strange, almost sweet smell (the smell of antifreeze)
- The engine temperature gauge starts spiking
- The check engine light or temperature light comes on
- Steam and/or smoke starts coming from underneath the hood
If you notice any of these signs, it is important to follow the steps below to stay safe and avoid further damaging your car.
Turn off the air conditioning and turn on the heat.
Turning off the air conditioning will reduce the strain that the engine is experiencing. And while it may sound weird, turning the heat on will help divert heat away from the engine and help it cool down.
Pull over and wait.
You need to give your car a break as quickly as possible. Pull over at the first safe spot you see and turn your engine off for at least 15 minutes. This will give the engine a break and allow it to cool down naturally. Do not ignore the signs that your engine is overheating. Even though your car still may be running, continuing to drive can cause major damage to your engine.
Add coolant if possible, but only after waiting.
If you have coolant on hand, topping it off may help cool the engine down and prepare further damage. But do not pull over and add the coolant immediately. The engine is extremely hot and opening the hood can result in a severe burn. Instead, wait 15 minutes and cautiously open the hood when things have cooled down.
Assess the situation.
If you are able to start the engine and feel that it is no longer actively overheating, you can drive your car slowly and cautiously to a mechanic. Keep an eye on the gauges and engine temperature and pull over again if the heat starts creeping up. If the car is not starting easily or it seems to be smoking more, call a tow truck and have a mechanic look at it immediately. Your mechanic can help assess the damage and determine what next steps you should take.
That’s everything you need to know about driving in the extreme heat.
The summer can–and should–be full of fun. But car trouble can turn a fun day at the beach into a nightmare in a matter of seconds. Being prepared and keeping your car well maintained can help reduce the chance of a problem.
If your car troubles involve your car payments, Auto Approve can help! Refinancing your car loan can help you save money every month, and who couldn’t use that? Our experts can get you a free quote in a matter of minutes and help you decide if refinancing is right for you.
So don’t wait, GET YOUR FREE QUOTE TODAY!