This is the time of “the terrible threes,” the extreme heat and high humidity that make the “Dog Days of Summer” so miserable. The triple digit temperatures heading this way this weekend can prove themselves dangerous for mankind, mammals and metal alike. Think shortness of breath, nausea, tire blowouts, and dead vehicle batteries. During these “Death Valley Days,” Washington area residents will experience the hottest days in four years and all that high humidity will make it feel “as hot as 100 to 110 degrees at times,” local weather forecasters warn.
The dangerous heatwave poses hazards for motorists, their passengers, their pets, and their vehicles. For example, when outside temperatures are 80 to 100 Fahrenheit, as forecast for the days ahead, the interior of cars parked in direct sunlight can easily reach between 180 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of minutes, putting children five and younger, adults over 65, pregnant or nursing mothers, and persons with disabilities or pre-existing medical conditions, at risk of heat stroke and heat prostration. It only takes “15 minutes for a child left inside a hot vehicle to suffer life-threatening brain, liver and kidney injuries.”
Even if it is only 90 degrees outside, the heat inside your car’s engine compartment can soar to 140 degrees or higher, which can lead to complete failure of a weak battery. In heavy traffic during heat waves, drivers shouldn’t tailgate the car ahead. Tailgating can stress a car’s cooling system when it sucks in hot exhaust fumes. “Carry plenty of water inside your vehicle to avoid dehydration.” During the hottest heatwave since 2012, the switchboard inside AAA’s emergency roadside assistance nerve center will be humming with calls from stranded motorists. Nationwide, the switchboard receives one SOS call every second of the day.
“It’s summertime and the driving isn’t easy in the scorching heat. It is axiomatic, as temperatures outside spike, calls for emergency roadside assistance spike as well,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “It is a given, triple digit temperatures pose a risk to the health of drivers and even the vehicles they drive, especially if their cars aren’t ready for the extreme heat.”
The most common calls for service associated with scorching temperatures include overheated vehicles, tire problems, and battery failures, explains AAA. AAA expects to rescue more than 8.3 million motorists this summer, with the top reasons being dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires.
- AAA will rescue more than 1.7 million motorists with dead batteries during the summer driving season.
- AAA will assist nearly 1 million motorists with flat tires during the summer driving season.
- AAA will rescue more than 1.1 million motorists from being locked out of their car during the summer driving season.
“AAA’s network of emergency roadside assistance first responders handle approximately 30 million roadside assistance calls a year. Yet half of all breakdowns could have been prevented with proper maintenance,” explained James Spires, Director of AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Car Care Centers. “That’s why it’s even more critical to ensure your vehicle is properly prepared to meet the summer heat.”
For humans, heat exhaustion can occur at temperatures above 90 degrees. For vehicles, the white-hot temperatures exact a toll. So AAA recommends motorists make sure their vehicles are prepared for the summer months. Here are some common heat-related car problems, and what you can do to help prevent them:
- Overheating: This is the most common cause of summer breakdowns. Service the cooling system as specified in the vehicle’s factory maintenance schedule. Check the coolant level, condition, and concentration periodically – a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and distilled water is recommended. Use the type of coolant recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Never remove a radiator cap until the engine has fully cooled!
- Battery Failure: Heat and vibration are a battery’s two worst enemies, leading to internal breakdown and eventual failure. AAA recommends drivers have their vehicle’s battery tested when it reaches three years of age, and annually thereafter. For routine care, clean any corrosion from the battery posts and cable connections, wash the surfaces with a solution of baking soda and water, and tighten connections as needed. Make sure the battery is securely mounted so it cannot move about. If the battery has removable caps, check the fluid level at each oil change and top up with distilled water as needed. When working on a battery, always wear eye protection and rubber gloves to avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid.
- Tire Blowout: Under-inflated tires affect vehicle handling and braking, and can also overheat, increasing the likelihood of a blowout. Check tire pressures once a month when they are cold, before driving any distance. Inspect the tires and make sure they have at least 4/32” of tread remaining for good wet-road traction. Also, look for uneven tread wear and cuts, tears or bulges in the sidewalls that may indicate internal tire damage or the need for wheel alignment. Rotate the tires as recommended, usually at every oil change. Remember to check the spare as well, and make sure the lug wrench and jack are present and in good, working condition.
- Air Conditioning Failure: In extreme summer heat, automotive air conditioning is a pleasant convenience that can also increase safety by reducing driver fatigue. If the air conditioning does not cool the car interior as well as it once did, the refrigerant level may be low or there could be another problem. Have the system diagnosed by a trained and certified technician. Many vehicle climate control systems today are equipped with a cabin filter that prevents outside dust, pollen and debris from entering. If present, this filter should be inspected and replaced as needed to ensure maximum airflow and cooling during the summer months.
“There is one thing that two out of five drivers forget: carrying an emergency kit in the vehicle. It makes a lot of sense, but a recent AAA survey shows that more than 40 percent of motorists do not have one at their disposal,” said Spires. “For safety’s sake, every driver should have a well-stocked emergency kit that includes a mobile phone and car charger; a flashlight with extra batteries; a first-aid kit; drinking water; extra snacks/food for your travelers and any pets; battery booster cables; and emergency flares or reflectors.”
Keep in mind, the experts say that more batteries fail in July than in January because the oppressive summer heat can kill a battery 33% faster than winter cold. Last summer, AAA roadside rescuers responded to 8.3 million SOS calls from stranded and hot and bothered motorists, including nearly 300,000 AAA members residing in the District, Virginia and Maryland. Will history repeat itself?
This article originally appeared on alexandrianews.org.