Extreme heat can cause problems for cars — make sure you’re ready


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Automobiles don’t like the hot weather and the extreme heat can push a vehicle past its limits.

To make sure vehicles keep functioning during the hot summer days, a little preventive maintenance is recommended because no one wants to sit at the side of the road in the heat with the hood up waiting for roadside assistance.

Summer is the time when drivers sit in traffic jams heading to the beach or the mountains. Before getting into that situation, make sure a vehicle can take the heat — starting with your car’s electrical system.

“All electrical components start to have issues trying to keep up with the heat of the vehicle,” says mechanic Seth McKinney of Raleigh’s North Hills Exxon.

The vehicle’s battery is especially susceptible in the heat, so have someone check what’s called the “cold cranking power.”

McKinney checked one battery sitting in a car in his garage and found it was testing as marginal.

“You’ll only have 480 out of 600 cold cranking amps,” he said. “What happens is that when it gets really hot — it will leave you stranded.”

Coolant levels are important because the coolant does more than help bleed off heat from the engine.

“If you have low coolant, it causes the fans behind the radiator to work harder because they’re trying to pull air across the radiator,” said McKinney. “That causes them to constantly run and if they constantly run — they can burn out, cause fuses to pop and other issues.”

Dirty air filters for the engine and air conditioning need replacement because they can strain the car.

McKinney held a new filter up to the light and said: “If you can see through it — it’s good. If you can see through it you need to replace it.”

He said a dirty filter will make an engine work harder if it has a bunch of debris in it.

New filters cost anywhere from $10 to $15 to replace.

“That’s cheap compared to paying for other issues down the road,” McKinney said.

Tires and air pressure are crucial any time of the year, but especially so in summer because tire pressure fluctuates with air temperature.

Tire pressure should be checked regularly.

When McKinney took a test reading of a car that was pulled into a repir bay he found its pressure was 42 psi.

“This should be at 35 psi,” he said.

To check a vehicle’s proper inflation pressure consult a sticker mounted on the door jamb.

Tire pressure varies from vehicle to vehicle, and in some cars, the front tires need a different pressure than the rear tires.

McKinney says improper pressure is dangerous and will destroy your tires.

“When it’s over-inflated it’s going to cause it to wear out in the middle of the tire and if it’s under-inflated it will wear on the outsides,” he said. “Either way it causes uneven edge wear.”

Improper tire inflation also affects the way a car handles, and how much traction there is between the rubber and the road.

In the event a driver gets stuck, it can help to have a summertime emergency kit, which includes at a minimum:

  • Water
  • Non-perishable food
  • A flashlight
  • Jumper cables
  • Some basic hand tools
  • A first aid kit

     You can add other items to your emergency kit at your discretion.

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