Hot weather driving tips—precautions for drivers and their cars

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MERIDEN, Conn.—With summer’s arrival, can overheated cars be far behind? “Hot weather brings unique challenges,” cautioned Ray Palermo, director of public relations for Response Insurance, a national car insurer. “It can present dangerous conditions for both the vehicle and its occupants.” Each summer, more than 7 million cars break down on the road, but he suggested that most breakdowns could be easily avoided.

Before heading out, be sure you check out the basics, including oil, transmission fluid, windshield washer, battery level and strength, tire pressure (including the spare), cooling system (which should be flushed and refilled at least every two years), belts and hoses, and a well-equipped emergency kit and tool box.

“Drivers need to stay cool as well,” noted Palermo. “Our national driving habits surveys have shown that 75 percent of drivers are fearful of encountering road rage, and 37 percent said they had personally experienced it in the previous six months.” Do not escalate aggression on the road by responding to it. Take along moist towlettes and water to refresh yourself, and stop to stretch and relax.

When driving in hot weather, it is particularly important to keep an eye on the lights and gauges. If your temperature gauge moves up, turn off your air conditioner and turn on the heater to its highest and hottest setting. It will be uncomfortable, but it will help draw some of the heat away from the engine.

If you are stopped in traffic, put the car in “park” and lightly step on the gas to help circulate coolant.

If the temperature light goes on or if the gauge enters the red zone, immediately pull off the road to a safe spot, well away from traffic. Do not drive any farther—not even to the next exit. Driving with an overheated engine can cause serious damage to the engine.

Do not attempt to remove the radiator cap itself. The hot pressurized coolant will spray out with great force. Do not pour water over the radiator or engine, since a dramatic change in temperature could cause damage. After the engine cools, add a 50-50 mix of coolant and water to the reservoir to bring it up to its proper level.

Even when not stranded as the result of a breakdown, summer heat can pose dangers. Never leave a child or pet in a parked car. Even an outside temperature in the 80s can quickly bring a car interior to lethal levels.

Bring a cell phone for emergency calls, but do not use it while driving.

More information about this and other travel topics can be found at

from the July 11-17, 2007, issue

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