As motorists take to the roads and highways this summer for much-needed vacations, dealing with car trouble can put a damper on their trip.
Unfortunately, the summer heat can negatively impact a vehicle's performance in several ways, so motorists must take precautions before they hit the road to ensure a safe and smooth journey.
Mike Calkins, manager of technical services for AAA, said while cars are more reliable today than in the past, there are several critical components of an automobile that are impacted by heat.
Here are three ways heat can have a negative impact on a car and several maintenance tips to avoid these occurrences.
“Most people think that winter is the hardest time on a battery, but in reality, it’s heat and vibration [that] are the two worst enemies of a battery,” Calkins said.
If a battery is getting old, it’s just as likely to fail in very hot weather as it could in very cold weather during the winter, Calkins said.
If a battery is more than three years old, Calkins suggests getting it checked by a reputable shop before leaving for an extended trip.
Motorists should also check to make sure the batteries are properly mounted, and not moving around, because if it does, the internal parts of the battery will break apart, causing it to fail.
Calkins said it is important to check coolant levels on a monthly basis and then the cooling system should be flushed and refilled using the manufacturer recommended coolant at the interval that the automaker recommends.
Even though most cars today use long-life coolants, which typically last for 50,000 to 100,000 miles, that doesn't mean that you should not keep an eye on them, according to Calkins.
“If you have a cooling system failure, it could result in severe engine damage to the tune of many thousands of dollars,” he said.
Engine oil actually plays a significant role in cooling ability because it transfers the heat from the hot internal components away from those parts and into the general engine where the cooling system can carry it away.
"You don’t want to run the engine low on oil in the summertime, particularly, because it greatly increases the chance of internal damage when you run low on oil," Calkins said.
While the oil should be changed according to manufacturer's recommendations, it should also be checked on a monthly basis to make sure it's preferably up to the full mark in the summer.
If a driver sees that the car may show signs of overheating, 99 percent of the time the best thing to do is just pull over and see if it will cool down by letting it idle. Calkins also said it's important to turn off the air conditioner because it can strain the engine. Additionally, turning on the heater full blast, while it will feel uncomfortable, can help pull heat out of the cooling system.
“You need to make sure your tires are properly inflated first and foremost, because summertime is when you see the most blowouts,” Calkins said.
The reason is because tires overheat and the tread separates from the carcass of the tire. When a tire is underinflated, it causes a tire to flex excessively. The extra friction causes heat to build inside the tire causing blowouts to occur.
Make sure tires are inflated to the manufacture’s recommended pressure which is usually found on a decal in the driver’s door jamb. Calkins said this is different than the pressure molded into the side of the tire, which is actually the pressure where the tire meets its maximum load rating, and in most cases is not the recommended pressure by the vehicle manufacturer.
AAA reports that under-inflated tires can affect the handling and braking of a vehicle, which can be particularly dangerous if driving at a high rate of speed.
"The faster you drive on any tire the hotter it gets," Calkins said. "If the tire is underinflated, the increase in heat is even greater for any given speed."
AAA also reports that tire treads should be inspected for adequate tread or uneven wear, which could indicate a suspension or alignment problem.
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