Whether you are planning to drive your own vehicle or rent a car for your summer vacation, you shouldn’t underestimate the dangers of driving in high temperatures, especially with the latest heat wave that hit much of the US. While there might not be icy roads, or batteries refusing to start due to low temperatures, summer offers its own risks. Read on to avoid ruining a perfectly planned summer road trip.
Before you leave
I know much of the excitement about road trips comes from a certain lack of planning, taking spontaneous detours and all that. While I am not arguing against that, it’s good to have at least an approximate idea of the duration of your trip and how much you can spend. It goes without saying that children need a whole new level of planning – games and toys, food and frequent breaks, among others.
Now for the technical part – there’s hardly a part of your car that isn’t affected by high temperatures. Get plenty of water to keep you and your car well hydrated. Except your car needs other fluids as well – fuel, oil, engine coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, windshield washer – and all of them should be at appropriate levels.
We all know from 6th grade physics that matter expands when heated. The same is true for your car tires, so checking the pressure each time you set out on the road is a must. I am not even going to talk about the importance of a spare tire – a real one, and not one of these “donut” spare tires (beware, cars often come packed with them), which will generally not last for more than 70 miles. Same goes for all kinds of belts and hoses – there should be no visible signs of wear and tear. Even small cuts can be aggravated more than usual due to the heat.
Finally, check the performance of your AC, especially if you are riding with people who are sensitive to heat or have medical conditions. But it’s about more than that. On most new cars, the serpentine belt that gives power to your AC gives power to other important parts like the water pump. If the belt goes down, you might start sweating from more than just the heat.
On the road
Unsurprisingly, the months from July through October are statistically the most dangerous to be driving. Other people want to enjoy a good drive just like you, so expect less of those it’s-only-me-and-the-road-ahead situations and prepare for some traffic congestion. That includes people on motorcycles and bicycles, which don’t exactly have a reputation for safe driving. School is out, so be prepared for the riskiest of them all – teenagers and college students. So drive carefully, don’t “overheat” and get yourself into a road rage situation.
Speaking of overheating, checking coolant levels is not enough. You should monitor the engine’s temperature while driving and pull over and let the fan cool it down a little bit. If the problem persists, look for signs of leakage, usually in the form of wet or white stains on coolant hoses. Don’t underestimate the issue – damage due to overheating will not only leave you stranded by the side of the road, but can cause permanent damage that is expensive to fix.
Nothing is as romantic as driving at dawn or dusk. But that time also happens to be most dangerous for sun glare. Always keep a pair of sunglasses close to you, better yet if they are polarized. As for lenses that darken when exposed to the sun, count those out, as your windshield will filter almost all of the UV light. Clean up all smears on your window-shield as they will help increase the glare.
Finally, summer-grade fuels are a bit more expensive than winter-grade ones, so here’s a few tips on fuel efficiency in the summer. Don’t use open windows to keep yourself cool because they increase the drag. For the same reason, put all roof luggage in a roof box. Your AC is also fuel thirsty, so you can turn it off once it reaches a comfortable level and turn it back on when it starts getting hot again. Now all you need is good company and a destination and you are ready to go!