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Insider secrets for hot-weather driving

Summer has definitely arrived! The Weather Channel is actually reporting more than 4,000 daily record highs have been smashed in the last month. Last weekend here in Overland Park, Kansas, we hit 107, with no relief in sight. If we’ve ever needed hot-weather driving wisdom, it’s now!

Here are a few tips you may have never heard of to keep you on the road safely and efficiently:

Recirculate your air. Most air conditioning systems have a mode for fresh air and one called recirc (or max). In fresh air mode, the system takes 100 degree outside air and tries to cool it down to 40 degrees. Recirc keeps recycling the cold air inside your vehicle, and is easier on your air conditioning system. So, periodically cycle to fresh air (especially when travelling with smelly relative) but mostly leave it on recirc. In the spring and fall, I always use fresh mode.

Fill your tank. Your fuel pump is an electric motor that runs constantly, and tends to heat up just like any motor. Fuel in the tank actually helps keep it cool, so the more fuel, the cooler the pump. In the extreme hot weather it is always a good idea to keep your tank fuller than normal. When you get to a quarter tank, fill ‘er up!

Check your radiator cap. Your radiator cap has two main functions. Since coolant expands a little as it warms up, the cap acts as a relief valve sending excess to the overflow jug. At night when the engine cools down it works in reverse and allows coolant from the overflow to be sucked back into the system to maintain the proper level. If the cap is weak it will not allow coolant to return to the system, therefore lowering the level and causing the engine to run hotter than normal. Also, NEVER remove a radiator cap when the engine is warm. The coolant is more than 200 degrees and the steam that comes out first is even hotter. Your mechanic has a special pressure testing tool to see if your radiator cap is still working. They are fairly inexpensive so if you prefer, you can

change it yourself with a little care. Just remember to remove it when the engine is cool.

Add a cooler. Your transmission’s biggest enemy is heat. Summertime means vacation time and camping. If you are towing a trailer make sure your vehicle (car or truck) is equipped with an auxiliary cooler. Most all vehicles have a factory cooler, usually built into the radiator, but most vehicles were also not designed to tow a significant amount of weight. This is where auxiliary coolers come into play. The auxiliary cooler can be plumbed into the existing factory transmission cooler system behind the front bumper. It just needs a little air to keep its cool. The cost to install an auxiliary transmission cooler is usually under $350, which far outweighs the cost to replace your transmission.

Air your tires. Tires start out at ambient temperature and heat up as you drive. As temperature increases, so does pressure. Make sure you start out at the proper pressure. Pressure too low creates more heat and the tire flexes more. Pressure too high and you lose traction and create a stiffer ride. The design pressure can be found on a placard along the driver’s doorjamb. (Check out my blog “Are your tires safe? Part 1” from last month.) Typical numbers are 30 to 35 psi, but every car has a specific number. In the hot weather it is OK to start out a little low in anticipation of increasing pressure as you drive and heat up. A rule of thumb is for every 10 degree increase in temperature, your tire pressure increases by 1 psi. So if you are heading out on vacation in 100 degree weather, it’s OK to lose a few pounds.

Smell your battery. Car batteries actually work better the hotter they get. However, an old weak battery will actually boil the acid inside. This is why you sometimes see a battery that appears wet. It is actually acid that has vaporized through the battery case and condensed on the top. Worse yet, if you collect enough dirt on top of the acid, you create a path for electricity to travel. This slowly runs your battery down. I’ve seen it. Walk by the front of your car and take a whiff. If you notice that piercing smell of acid, it’s time for a new battery. Never touch a wet battery without rubber gloves. Never jump-start a hot/wet battery–the acid vapors are explosive.

Maintain your air conditioner. During extreme heat, the air conditioner is more than a nice convenience—it is key to fighting road fatigue. If your cabin doesn’t seem to be cooling down to a tolerable temperature after a few minutes, have your air conditioner checked by a certified mechanic.

Be prepared! Don’t text and drive, but always take your phone and charger with you in case you break down. It’s a good idea to have AAA or the like just in case.

And don’t forget to bring along a bottle of water!


Hot Weather