Driving in a heat wave: tips to stay safe and avoid a breakdown

High temperatures increase the risk of vehicle breakdowns and make car journeys uncomfortable for drivers and passengers, so follow our tips to make sure you and your car can handle the heat wave.

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check your car

High temperatures can wreak havoc on your car, so checking key components before you leave could prevent a breakdown or rough ride later on. Breakdown service, the AA has even suggested that owners of older cars that haven’t been serviced recently should consider avoiding travel to avoid the risk of a heat-related breakdown.

Check your fluid levels, paying particular attention to your car’s coolant level – this is what will prevent your engine from overheating. Also check the oil level and windshield washers (a dirty windshield and strong sunlight can restrict your vision), and check the windshield wipers for the same reason.

Broken or underperforming air conditioning can also make long trips uncomfortable, so check that your system is working before you leave.

plan and prepare

Air out your car before you travel. Even with high temperatures outside the car, it’s worth opening the windows for a few minutes to let any trapped hot air escape before setting off.

Avoid traveling in the middle of the day, when temperatures are highest. If you can, try to do it early in the morning or later at night, when air and road temperatures will be lower and traffic is likely to be calmer.

Pack a basic travel kit with plenty of fresh water to keep you and your passengers hydrated and snacks. Bring sunglasses and make sure you have a mobile phone and a charger, in case it breaks. If you break down, you could be trapped outside in hot temperatures, so also make sure you have sunscreen, hats, and long-sleeved shirts to protect you from the sun.

(Photo by DAMIEN MEYER/AFP via Getty Images)

Take regular breaks to avoid heat-induced drowsiness and when you stop, park in the shade. Not only does this keep the interior of the car cooler for when you get back, but it can also help protect your car from overheating components. Invest in a windshield protector to reflect some of the heat away from your car.

Take care of children and pets

Even when you’re on the go, you need to take extra care to make sure very young, very old, and animals are comfortable and hydrated. If any passenger shows signs of distress, pull over in a cool, shady spot.

dealing with a breakdown

Basic checks will help reduce the chances of your car breaking down, but if your vehicle has a problem, you should try to pull off the road and pull over somewhere shady where you can wait for a recovery service.

AA President Edmund King has this advice: “Extreme temperatures can be dangerous if you break down or get stuck in congestion. Make sure you have enough fuel or electrical charge to keep your air conditioner running.

“If your car breaks down when temperatures are high, it is even more important than usual that [breakdown services] get to you as fast as we can. Knowing your exact location is vital, so downloading the what3words app and reporting your unique location can help us reach you faster. Try to wait in the shade in a safe place.

“Carry plenty of water, at least a liter per person traveling. If the worst comes to the worst, you can keep yourself and those around you with cold water while you wait for help to arrive.”

If your car starts to overheat, you can temporarily fix the problem by turning up the car’s heater to draw some of the heat out of the engine compartment. However, this is only a temporary solution and you will need to top up the car’s coolant (once the system has cooled down) or have it checked by a mechanic as soon as possible.

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