With summer just around the corner, lots of people are planning their big vacation trips, and for many of us that will mean spending more than a little time on the road. While road trips in themselves can be a lot of fun, the combination of the heat, stop and go traffic and – the worst part – sitting stationary in a traffic jam in the summer sun, is not. Especially if all of this leads to your car overheating, leaving you stranded on the side of a road, hot and frustrated, rather than checking into your nice cool hotel.
Apart from performing a basic system check prior to hitting the road, can you really do anything to prevent your vehicle from overheating if things get rough? Or to get you going quickly again if it does? Actually yes, there very well may be. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Schedule a Real Check Up for Your Car Before You Go
Instead of just doing a quick fluids and tire check in your driveway before going on a longer road trip schedule your vehicle for a real check up with your mechanic before you go. Often, when a car overheats it is because there was a previously existing, but undetected, problem that is then worsened by the heat and traffic, such as a coolant leak or malfunctioning thermometer.
Don’t Ride Your Brakes in Heavy Traffic
Even the newest and best maintained of vehicles can succumb to the heat and it is often because of the way they are being driven. When you are stuck in nose to tail traffic it’s a natural temptation to inch along, basically riding your brakes, at any opportunity you get, even if by moving up you’ll only be traveling a few inches.
This, however, is often what leads cars to overheat, so it’s a temptation that should be resisted. Instead stay where you are until there is a more reasonable gap between you and the vehicle in front that actually makes moving worthwhile.
What to Do If the Worst Happens
If you find yourself watching the temperature gauge rising and rising it’s time to take action. The first thing you should do is turn off the A/C and turn on the heat. Seriously. Yes, it will probably be horrible for the vehicle’s occupants, but it will also transfer much of the excess heat from the vehicle’s engine to its interior. It’s a trick that not everyone knows, but as a temporary measure, so that you can get out of traffic and onto the shoulder or side of the road, it works quite well.
Once you are out of harm’s way – or as close as you can get to that – turn the engine off. Get out – if it’s safe to do so – and pop the hood but do not make a grab for the radiator cap – at this point it will just be too hot and you’ll burn yourself. Step away and let the air do its work. Only once the engine is cooled should you attempt to add water to the radiator or check the coolant.
If you are in an unsafe spot on the road, or if it’s so hot out that there really isn’t even a vague breeze, then it may be wiser to call for help rather than risk yourself, your vehicle and your chances of enjoying your vacation by waiting and waiting for the situation to resolve itself. Occasionally, overheating can cause permanent damage to an engine and even if you get your car going again it may not be safe to drive too far, so erring on the side of caution is often the better way to go.
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