Ahhh, British summertime. Three months of blissful heat, never-ending sun and big smiles all round…well, not quite. While we’ve had a smattering of mini heatwaves here and there, it’s been a good few years since the British Isles were gifted a real scorcher of a summer. Sigh! That being said, it only takes one day of blazing sunshine to change the conditions on the road and alter how your car responds to them. Yep—driving in hot weather can be a totally different ballgame.
So, whether the British summer still has a treat in store for us, or you’re heading off to a place with warmer climes, we have some important advice to share. Heat exhaustion can affect both you and your beloved automobile, so make sure you follow these dos and don’ts to ensure a stress-free summer road trip. Enjoy!
For your car
DO keep an eye on engine coolant levels
Engine coolant (as you can probably guess from its name!) plays a vital role during adverse weather conditions. Containing a mix of water and antifreeze/coolant, it prevents the liquid in your car’s radiator system from freezing in the winter and overheating in the summer. Before setting off on a long journey, ensure that the engine coolant levels are sufficient. You can check this by locating the min and max markers on the coolant tank itself.
If your car does require a top-up, be sure to only do this when the engine has been off for a long enough time that everything has cooled down. Uncapping the coolant tank when the engine is still quite warm can result in hot liquid spraying everywhere. Not as funny as it sounds and actually quite dangerous!
DO check your tyres
Make sure you know what the optimum tyre pressure is for your particular vehicle and don’t overdo it. Heat leads to a rise in pressure, which in turn causes the air inside your tyres to expand. If you don’t stay on top of it, those babies could actually blow! Look out for and repair any existing damage to the outer parts of your tyres, too, as this will only exacerbate the potential for disaster.
DO top up your oil
The oil in your car also helps to regulate the engine temperature. If it gets too hot, the levels will drop and its consistency starts to change. That’s not good news for anyone, so make sure you check the levels frequently.
Been a while since your theory test and not sure how to do this? Pull out the dipstick, wipe it clean, dip it back in and out again and compare the current level against the max and min markers. For safety reasons, you should only perform this check when the engine has been turned off for at least 10 minutes.
DO make sure your car’s battery is up to the job
Your car’s battery might not be something you need to think about on the daily, but when it comes to driving in hot weather, you should spare it a thought. If you know your car is going to be exposed to prolonged periods of warm temperatures (we should be so lucky!) it’s a good idea to get the battery checked over (and maybe even replaced) first. These kind of conditions can put an extra toll on battery life, so you want to make sure it’s up to the job!
Travelling away from home? Bring jump leads, just in case.
DO decide between air con and open windows
When driving in hot weather it’s inevitable that the car will get a little (or a LOT) stuffy. Your first instinct might be to roll down the windows, or maybe you reach for the air con instead. Whichever you choose, don’t use both at once. Rather than producing double the icy cool goodness, what will actually happen is you just waste a bunch of fuel. Instead, it is recommended that when driving 30 mph or less, you should go the open window route. Once your speed picks up, switch over to the air con.
Not only will this approach give you the best of both worlds, it also saves on fuel. You see, when you have your windows open it reduces the wind resistance of the car, meaning it has to use up more fuel to maintain the same pace. If your car is moving quickly as it is, fuel consumption can really start to soar.
DO invest in a windscreen shield
There’s nothing worse than coming back to your vehicle after a long day in the sun, only to find that it’s even hotter inside your car. It’s enough to make you want to walk home! Even if you immediately crack a window or get the air con going, it takes a long time to shift that heat. So, why not prevent it building up altogether by purchasing a windscreen shield? Guard, cover, screen—whatever you call it, sticking one up as you leave your car can make a huge difference.
Yes, when covered parking isn’t available, some kind of windscreen shade is the next best thing.
DO stay hydrated
As a general rule of thumb, it’s important to stay hydrated. When driving in hot weather, however, it’s even more essential. Being dehydrated makes you uncomfortable, irritable and reduces your ability to concentrate. Not ideal when you need to focus on everything happening on the road! Keep a good supply of water in the car, so you can pull over and have a few glugs as soon as the thirst kicks in.
Purchase a reusable water bottle. Not only is a plastic one bad for the environment, in hot weather the bottle can start to melt slightly, causing chemicals from the plastic to leak into the water. Yuk! You’ll be doing something eco-friendly and benefiting from tastier water—a double win!
DO slap on the sun cream
You might not be aware if it, but the sun’s rays can penetrate the windows of your car. This means you’re susceptible to sunburn and, in extreme cases, sunstroke while driving. The worst part is it can be very hard to notice the sun’s impact until you get out of the car. You might show up at your destination positively glowing—and not in a good way!
So, before setting off, slap on some sun cream and keep a stash in the car so you can top up along the way (when the car is parked up, of course). Be sure to share the lotion with any fellow passengers, too!
For your car
DON’T let your car overheat
In a place like the UK, we’re not used to long bouts of hot weather, which means a heatwave really can wreak havoc on your car. If travelling long distances in high temperatures, you run the risk of your car overheating. Try to avoid this happening at all costs. There will be warning signs before the worst happens, so make sure you’re ready to spot them and prevent a disaster.
Depending on how old your car is, there will either be a temperature gauge or warning light to alert you to the fact that your car is starting to overheat. If you’re not sure which your car has, consult the manual. Once you know, you can keep an eye on it and pull over as soon as anything looks awry.
Steam coming from your engine? Try not to panic. This is a sign that the coolant has begun to boil. Pull over safely, leave the car to cool down for at least half an hour and then top up the coolant (carefully!). If you’re ever not sure about something or don’t feel comfortable altering things under the bonnet, seek the help of a professional.
DON’T allow fuel levels to get too low
When it comes to topping up the petrol in your car, there are two kinds of people: those who refill as soon as the fuel tank gets to around 1/4 full, and those who are happy to drive around with the fuel warning light on. The thing is, when the weather’s nice and warm, your car’s fuel levels drop a lot quicker than usual. This means you can’t rely on your normal estimations of how much time you have left before needing to fill up.
To avoid getting stuck in the middle of nowhere, or at the centre of a traffic jam on a hot day (both nightmare scenarios), make sure you head to the petrol station in good time. Playing it close to the line is just not worth it if the sun’s out!
DON’T cause any unnecessary wear and tear
Driving in hot weather calls for some of your best driving. Any of those nasty little habits that are all too easy to pick up (coasting, breaking harshly, accelerating too quickly…etc) need to be nipped in the bud, because they will be extra damaging when your car is already struggling against the heat as it is. The hot weather basically exacerbates any faults already present in the vehicle, so don’t add any more to the mix!
DON’T assume your air con system is up to the job
Not to keep banging on about it, but hot weather in this country is pretty rare. As a result, we’re guessing your car’s air con system doesn’t get as much use as it would if you lived in, say, the south of France.
If it hasn’t been put to good use for quite a while, you’re taking a bit of a chance assuming that the air conditioning will be able to power through long periods of time in the heat. So, if you’re planning a particularly big journey, it’s definitely worth getting the whole system checked over before you leave. Even a minor clog could prevent you from enjoying a strong, cool breeze. Better safe than sorry!
DON’T leave children or pets in the car
One of the most important things to remember about using your car during the summer months is how quickly the inside of your vehicle will heat up, especially when it’s left parked up somewhere. It is imperative that you do not leave children or animals in your car on a hot day. Even if just for a short time, there can be devastating consequences.
Some people think that leaving a window cracked open will allow enough fresh air in to keep such passengers safe, but it doesn’t. If you decide to travel with animals or children in the car when it’s hot out, the bottom line is that you need to take them with you when you leave the car. Not possible? Don’t take them in the first place.
DON’T underestimate the power of pollen
If you’re one of the 13 million people in the UK that suffer from hay fever, you need to remember to take any medication with you in the car. Symptoms of the condition, like excessive sneezing and itchy eyes, can impact your ability to drive safely. When you’re cruising down a country lane in the sunshine, pollen is likely to be flying all over the place, so make sure you can handle it!
While we’re on the topic, it’s also important that you ensure any medication you take is non-drowsy and does not prevent you from operating machinery.
DON’T leave anything smelly or sticky in the car
We all know what it’s like when bags of rubbish are left out in the sun—not pleasant. A very similar thing will occur if you leave any food or drink in your car that carries a fragrance. You should also be aware of the fact that, if it’s very hot, fizzy drinks can overheat and explode, leaving a lovely sticky mess for you to clean up.
All of this is not to say that you shouldn’t take food and drink with you on your drive. On the contrary, we don’t want you getting hungry or thirsty behind the wheel. As long as you pull over safely before chowing down, it’s perfectly fine to eat in your car.
So, no need to scrimp on the snacks—just make sure that you either eat them all (easy!) or take them with you when you leave the car.
DON’T forget your sunnies!
And, finally, save yourself hours of squinting and re-adjusting the sun shade in your car by popping on a pair of sunglasses. This is actually a safety issue—looking cool is just a bonus! Sun glare is no joke and can really impact your ability to observe everything that’s happening on the road. It will also pick up and bounce off any marks on your windscreen, so make sure that’s nice and clean before you set off.
Driving in hot weather
And there you have it! Our top dos and don’ts for anyone planning to drive in hot weather this summer. Our fingers are very firmly crossed that you’ll actually get to put them to good use soon! Planning a vacation that will involve you travelling a little further afield? Be sure to check out our guide to driving on holiday. It includes loads more tips and tricks that will ensure your road trippin’ experiences are safe, carefree and (best of all) fun!
For more driving advice and all the latest news, pay a visit to the PassMeFast blog.