Driving Through The Heat
We’ve covered winter tips and survival when taking your vehicle to an outdoor destination, but looking back through the archive discovered we’ve never talked about preparing your vehicle for the heat. Let’s fix that! We sure learned about driving in hot weather during the 50 Campfires Field Trip: Great River Road.
Preparing your vehicle for a hot weather trek begins the same way as in winter. Get it into the shop and have a competent mechanic check it over – especially the air conditioning system and the vehicle’s engine and drive train cooling systems. Make sure they check the brakes and tires, too. If you’ll be towing, make sure the automatic transmission fluid is clean and fresh.
A Question of Efficiency
A big hot weather driving question is always, “Do I roll down the windows or use the air conditioning? Which is more efficient?” The answer is, “It depends.”
According to the experts we talked to – and the owner’s manual in the 50 Campfires Field Trip: Great River Road Nissan Armada – below 40 miles per hour it’s more efficient to open the windows to cool the vehicle due to reduced engine load. At more than 40 mph, it’s more efficient to use the air conditioning to cool the passenger compartment due to the increased aerodynamic drag opening the windows would create.
Where Rubber Meets the Road
It’s especially important to check tire pressure often in hot sunny weather. Rolling for hundreds of miles down the sunbaked pavement subjects tires to extreme heat. Making sure they are properly inflated for the conditions reduces wear, helps gas efficiency, and allows the vehicle to stop and handle properly.
Before beginning on a long trip consider the AGE of your tires as well as the condition. If you don’t drive very often, your tires may still have a lot of good tread on them, but if they are years and years old, environmental conditions may have begun to degrade them. Prolonged exposure to high heat conditions could cause a blow out on old tires, so it’s best to replace them before the trip.
If You Should Overheat
It’s rare for a modern, well-maintained vehicle to overheat, but it is possible. If your temperature light comes on or the read out moves into the red zone, pull over and turn the vehicle off as soon as safely possible. Allow it to cool (for at least an hour if possible) then restart and drive immediately to service center. DO NOT open the radiator cap and do not add water until the vehicle is completely cooled down. If you’re caught in traffic and can’t pull over:
- Try not to ride the brakes.
- Shut off air conditioner and lower windows to reduce engine load.
- If it continues to overheat, turn on heater and blower as this transfers heat from the engine to the passenger compartment.
- In stopped traffic shift to neutral or park and rev the engine a little. This makes the water pump and fan speed up to draw more liquid and air through the radiator.
Cooling Before You Get In
On modern vehicles, it’s perfectly fine to start the engine with the air conditioner already turned on. You won’t do any damage or reduce the life of any components. In fact the folks at Nissan tout using your remote starter if you have that option to precool the car before you get in! Another really nice option is seats with air circulation built in.
When your car is parked in hot weather, you can help the situation a great deal by putting an inexpensive, fold out reflector in the front and rear windshields. This keeps the interior much cooler and helps protect dash and seat covering materials.
The only other thing to stow in your vehicle for summer weather is a couple of gallon jugs of water. You aren’t likely to need them for the vehicle itself, but they can come in handy in so many ways in an emergency.