Top Tips For Driving in a Heatwave

There’s more to driving in a heatwave than cranking up the air-conditioning and hoping for the best. In this short guide CarGurus offers a few simple tips for helping you, your passengers and your car cope with the current sweltering conditions.

A engine’s coolant system is sealed so it shouldn’t need topping up between services. Even so it is worth locating the coolant system’s header tank or expansion tank, which looks like a plastic ball with ‘Min’ and ‘Max’ markers. If the level of coolant within is below the max marker ask a garage to top up and inspect the system for leaks. Alternatively you could replenish the coolant (either with pre-mixed coolant or an antifreeze which you then top up with water), and keep a close eye on its level. To avoid scalding yourself, only ever open the header tank when the engine is cool.
See the CarGurus guide: How to Check My Car’s Coolant

Oil doesn’t only lubricate an engine’s components, but also helps with heat dissipation. To check the oil level pull out the dipstick and look for a line of oil between the ‘Min’ and ‘Max’ markers. If the level is below ‘Min’ remove the oil cap and pour in the recommended oil a little at a time. Leave a few seconds for it to drain into the engine, then check the level on the dipstick again. Unlike coolant, it is not unusual for a car to use a bit of oil between services, which is why it’s important to check it every couple of weeks and before any long journeys.
See the CarGurus guide: How to Check my Car’s Oil.

Another task worth performing when the bonnet is open is to top up the windscreen washer fluid. In an emergency you can just use water for this, but it will be much more effective when mixed with proper washer fluid, which is available from car accessory stores or online. Mixed to the recommended concentration, this will also stop the washer fluid freezing in the winter months. Worn wipers will struggle to clear dirt and bugs, so consider renewing these too.

If your car’s air-conditioning is losing its effectiveness then take it to a specialist to be serviced and regassed (note, this is not a DIY job). It is recommended this is done every two to three years to keep the system operating at its optimum efficiency, and running the air-conditioning on a regular basis will also help with keeping it in prime condition. On older cars it is also worth considering having the air-conditioning system cleaned (again a job for a specialist) to remove dirt and bacteria. As an aside, don’t be too alarmed if you see a small puddle of liquid underneath your car after a long drive on a hot day – it is most likely simply condensed water from the air-conditioning.

Ensuring your tyres are at the recommended pressures is good practice at any time of year, but in the summer the high temperatures can increase the likelihood of problems. That’s particularly the case for tyres that are under-inflated, worn or simply old. Remember to check your spare tyre (if applicable) is in good condition and correctly inflated too.
See the CarGurus guide: How to Know When Your Car’s Tyres Need Replacing

It should go without saying that it is incredibly dangerous to leave pets in an unattended vehicle on a hot day. Data from the RSPCA shows that if the temperature outside of a car is 22C it can get to 47C inside a car within the space of an hour. It warns that parking in the shade or with the windows slightly open can still be very dangerous, and encourages anybody who sees a dog in distress in a hot car to dial 999.

It might seem old-fashioned in this fully connected age, but a sun shade is an inexpensive and effective way to keep a car’s interior cool when you’re parked. That includes protecting surfaces such as the steering wheel, gear-lever and seats from direct sunlight. They are also a great way of keeping the sun off kids in the back of a car.

It’s not just your car that needs to be in tip-top condition, but you too. Pack plenty of water, sunglasses, a mobile phone and in-car charger, and any hay fever medication you might require, avoiding anything that makes you feel drowsy. Plan ahead on long journeys so that you have time for regular short breaks, and avoid travelling during rush hour if at all possible. If you do get stuck in a traffic jam keep an eye on the engine’s temperature gauge to ensure the car doesn’t overheat.

After a prolonged dry spell the roads will be coated in dust, dirt, oil and rubber that, when water is applied, can become incredibly slippery. That is why conditions can be particularly tricky after the first rain has fallen following a heatwave. It is thus sensible to keep your speed down and leave more room to brake than you normally would.

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1 Comment

  1. Very good advice that I’m sure many motorists do not do, and not through negligence or ignorance! So many adverts and sales talk does lead many folk to believe that their car is nigh on a sentient creature virtually capable of looking after itself and only needing care and attention when it asks for it!
    The world we live in only goes to reinforce this belief! It’s total rubbish! A car is a mechanical device that needs, at least as much, if not more, attention than a small child!
    Some blame should fall at the feet of owners; however, in my opinion the main blame is on the marketing rhetoric of manufacturers whom will go to any lengths even, in some cases, downright lies, in order to sell their products and produce the greatest profit!
    What happened to “responsible manufacturers and vendors” that we respected and, in return, respected their customers by supplying goods that were reliable and as safe as the technology of the time allowed!
    My view is that we’ve lost “RESPECT” for each other, for honesty, for integrity and consideration for our fellow Humans!
    If this is the way we continue to develop then I’m so glad I’m 61 and not 16! However I do worry about the world that my, and some younger generations, have created in which my Son aged 24 will have to spend his life in! I’m so sad and so sorry I was too small to make it better!????

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