CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With the dog days of summer upon us in the Carolinas, high temperatures can take their toll on people, animals and even cars. Extreme heat can push a vehicle past its limits, and once again this year some drivers will find themselves stranded at the roadside because of it.
“While many drivers think about the importance of getting their vehicle ready for cold temperatures in the winter, it’s important to not forget about the need to prepare for hot summer months,” said Tiffany Wright, President of AAA Carolinas Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Many parts of the Carolinas are experiencing extreme heat, which can take its toll on vehicles, but a few preventive maintenance steps can help keep your vehicle running smoothly.”
AAA Carolinas recommends motorists address five key areas to help their vehicle safely survive high summer temperatures:
1. Heat Can Zap the Life from Batteries
Most drivers think battery problems occur primarily in winter, but summer heat can negatively impact your car’s battery even more than the bitter cold of winter. Heat and vibration are a battery’s two worst enemies leading to internal breakdown and eventual failure. While drivers cannot do much about the heat, they can make sure their battery is securely mounted in place to minimize vibration.
Another potential summer problem is faster evaporation of the battery fluid, leading to corrosion on terminals and connections. Clean any corrosive build up from the battery terminals and cable clamps, and ensure the clamps are tight enough that they will not move.
If a car’s battery is more than three years old, it’s a good idea to have it tested by a trained technician to determine how much longer it will last. This test can be performed at any AAA Approved Auto Repair facility, or AAA members can request a AAA Mobile Battery Service technician come to them and test their battery free of charge. Should the battery need replacement, the technician can usually replace it on location. For more information on the AAA Mobile Battery Service visit AAA.com/Battery.
2. Keep Your Engine Cool
Automobile engines work extra hard in the summer, and it is the cooling system’s job to protect the engine from overheating. In addition, additives in the coolant protect the radiator and internal engine components against wear and corrosion. Without proper cooling system maintenance, the odds of long term engine damage, and a summer time boil over, definitely increase.
Over time, engine coolant becomes contaminated and its protective additives are depleted. That’s why the system should be flushed and the coolant replaced periodically as recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Older coolants used to require changing every two years or 24,000 miles, but most modern formulations are good for at least five years and 50,000 miles. See the owner’s manual or maintenance booklet to determine the service interval appropriate for a vehicle.
Between flushes, make sure the coolant is filled to the proper levels by checking the overflow reservoir. If necessary, top off the reservoir with a 50/50 mix of water and the coolant type specified by the vehicle manufacturer. CAUTION! – Never remove the radiator cap when the engine is hot – boiling coolant under pressure could cause serious burns.
Rubber cooing system components also are susceptible to deterioration caused by extreme heat. Inspect hoses and drive belts for cracking, soft spots or other signs of poor condition. Worn parts are more susceptible to failure in hot conditions and should be replaced.
3. Tires: Avoid Excessive Heat Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Driving on under-inflated tires not only affects the handling and braking of a vehicle, it also can cause tires to overheat and increase the likelihood of a blowout. This problem becomes even more of a concern when road temperatures are extremely high.
More than half the vehicles on the road were found to have at least one under-inflated tire, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, and 85 percent of motorists do not know how to properly inflate their tires.
Tires should be checked when the car has not been driven recently, and they should be inflated to the pressure recommended by the vehicle manufacturer—not the number molded into the tire sidewall. Recommended tire pressures can be found in the owner’s manual or on a sticker normally located on the driver’s door jamb. Some vehicles use different pressures for the front and rear tires.
While checking the tire pressures—including the spare—drivers also should inspect the tire treads for adequate depth and any signs of uneven wear that might indicate a suspension or alignment problem.
4. Cars Need Fluids during Extreme Heat Too
Engine fluids are essential to keeping a vehicle running smoothly. Most fluids not only lubricate, they also serve as coolants by helping carry heat away from critical components. When fluid levels are low, this cooling effect is reduced, and the possibility of overheating increases. Drivers to should check all vehicle fluids including motor oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid and brake fluid to ensure they are filled to the appropriate levels. If any fluids need to be topped off, be sure to use the type of fluid specified in the owner’s manual.
5. Cool Passengers are Happy Passengers
Maintaining a comfortable driving environment reduces fatigue, which can play an important part in driver alertness and vehicle safety. During extreme summer heat, a properly operating air conditioning system can be more than just a pleasant convenience. If a car’s air conditioning is not maintaining the interior temperature as well as it did in the past, it may mean the refrigerant level is low or there is another problem. Have the air conditioning system checked by a certified technician.
Many automotive climate control systems today are equipped with a cabin filter that prevents outside debris from entering. If present, this filter should be inspected and replaced as needed to ensure maximum airflow and cooling during the summer months.
Just in Case…Be Prepared for Summer Breakdowns
Even with proper preventive maintenance, summer breakdowns can still occur, so AAA recommends every driver have a well-stocked emergency kit in their vehicle. The kit should include water, non-perishable food items, jumper cables, a flashlight with extra batteries, road flares or an emergency beacon, basic hand tools, and a first aid kit.
While many of the maintenance tasks to prepare a car for extreme summer heat are relatively simple and can be performed by the average driver, some are best left to a trained automotive technician. AAA offers a free public service to assist motorists seeking a qualified auto repair facility that they can trust to work on their vehicle. AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities must meet stringent professional standards and maintain an ongoing customer satisfaction rating of 90 percent or better. To locate a nearby AAA approved repair shop visit AAA.com/Repair.
AAA Carolinas, an affiliate of the American Automobile Association, is a not-for-profit organization that serves more than 2 million members and the public with travel, automobile and insurance services while being an advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.