Winter weather is often thought of as more dangerous than sunny, clear summer days, but don't be fooled: summer driving has its share of hazards. More teens and vacationers are on the road and may be unfamiliar with the area, tire blowouts and construction are more prevalent in the summer, and you'll see more motorcycles and bikes, too. Not to mention the weather, which can range from triple digit temperatures to torrential rains, leading to overheating, flooding, even hydroplaning.
The fact is that June, July, and August are the deadliest months for motor vehicle crashes. In 2012, July was the absolute worst month for crash fatalities with 3,126 deaths.
This summer, stay safe as you're hitting the road. Follow these tips to avoid hot weather hazards and keep your summer driving along smoothly.
- Prepare for warm weather: Overheating can cause serious summer breakdowns. Inspect your coolant system including the radiator and pressure cap to make sure they're in good shape. You should also check hoses and belts for signs of blisters, cracks, and wear. Keep your vehicle hydrated by checking for proper fuel levels and look for signs of leaks, especially coolant. Consider bringing extra coolant, oil, and fluids along with you, especially if you're taking a trip in a desolate area.
- Just slow down: Hot weather simply puts a higher load on your vehicle, so pushing it to drive at high speeds can wear it down even further. Drive the speed limit to reduce the wear on your vehicle and practice safe driving habits at the same time.
- Check your air conditioning: In some parts of the country, vehicle air conditioning isn't optional if you want to survive the drive home. Without it, drivers may be subjected to dangerously hot temperatures inside, so it's important to make sure your system is functioning properly. Of course, never leave pets or children alone in a hot car.
- Don't forget sunglasses: Sunglasses aren't just accessories for looking cool. They can also help you avoid the sun's glare, which may cause accidents as it impairs visibility.
- Keep an eye on the temperature gauge: If your vehicle's temperature gauge is starting to tick up out of control, you need to get help, as your engine is at risk of overheating. Pull over to a shop as soon as possible, and if you can't do it immediately, consider turning on your car's heater, as it will take some of the heat away from the engine and potentially save your engine from failure. If your gauge is in or near the red zone, you have to stop driving, as your engine is overheated.
- Never drink and drive: Drunk driving is a problem all year, but especially during summer holidays like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. If you're drinking, make a plan with a sober designated driver or find another way home.
- Check ahead for tough weather: The summer months are popular times for severe storms and flooding, so be sure to check the weather before you head out. Driving in the rain can be dangerous, and flooding can quickly turn deadly, especially if you drive into high water. Even short showers can make roads slippery as rain mixes with the dirt and oil on the road.
- Change your windshield wipers: The hot sun is tough on windshield wipers, but you'll still need them if you get caught in wet weather. Inspect and replace your windshield wipers if needed.
- Remember your oil change: Oil changes are important year round maintenance, but clean oil is especially important during the summer. Oil helps your car prevent overheating, lubricating moving parts safely.
- Check tire inflation: Proper tire inflation is always important for good gas mileage and safe tire wear. But in the summer months, it's especially important to keep your tires running cool with the right amount of pressure to avoid a dangerous blowout. Use the manufacturer's recommendation found inside your driver's door jamb to find out the proper level for your tire pressure. You should also visually inspect your tires for irregular wear, low tread, and other problems.
- Look for potholes: After the winter season come potholes, and those that haven't been repaired in the spring can cause trouble in the summer. Know the roads you're on and keep an eye out for dangerous potholes.
- Watch for battery strain: Hot weather is tough on batteries. Look for signs of a failing battery, including dim lights when you start up, power drains when you turn on your air conditioning, and slow cranking on startup. If you're seeing these signs, take your battery to an auto parts store that offers free battery testing.
- Avoid overloading your car: If you're headed out on a road trip, you may be ready to throw lots of luggage and gear on top and in the back. Be careful not to exceed your vehicle's acceptable load limit. Check your driver door jamb to find out how much weight your vehicle can hold.
- Watch for construction projects: Road construction work often increases in the summer months. Keep a watchful eye out for construction zones and be careful to obey all signs and watch for workers on the road.
- Watch for motorcycles and bikes: Bikes and motorcycles often come out more frequently in the summer months as well. Keep an eye out for them and give them plenty of space.
- Check for children and pets: Children can die within minutes if left inside a parked car during the summer. Never leave children alone in parked cars, even if your windows are rolled down and their conditioning is on. Check the front and back of your vehicle before leaving, every time, even when children are not present so that you can get in the habit of looking. Keep your doors locked and keys out of the reach of children.
- Use a windshield sun shield: Keep your car's interior heat lower and protect your dashboard surface from the sun's harsh rays with a sun shield. It's also a good idea to park in shady areas.
- Put together an emergency repair kit: Be ready to do quick repair jobs for roadside emergencies with basic supplies. Add a roll of duct tape, a screwdriver, flares, pliers, and vise grips. Be sure you know how to use your vehicle's jack and spare tire.
- Clean out your vehicle: Summer heat can melt or explode items in your vehicle that were once fine -- until your car's interior reaches triple digits. Disposable lighters, batteries, and aerosol cans can be a hazard in a hot car. You should also watch out for messy items like chocolate or crayons.
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