How to Prepare for Driving in Extreme Heat
June 19, 2022
More than 50 million Americans will experience temperatures above 100 degrees next week, according to the Washington Post. As extreme heat becomes more common, it’s important to stay aware of how heat can affect your driving environment and what you can do to prepare for it.
How Does Heat Affect Your Driving Environment?
Heat affects your driving environment in some more obvious and some more subtle ways:
- The interior of the passenger compartment.
- The vehicle’s mechanical workings.
- The road itself.
Discomfort Inside the Vehicle
According to weather.gov, a dark dashboard or seat can easily reach 180-200 degrees Fahrenheit. This can make contact with different surfaces very uncomfortable. Passenger seats, child car seats, the steering wheel, dashboards, and center consoles... Even seat belts or gear shifters can become too hot to touch easily.
Never, ever leave children or pets unattended in a vehicle, but especially not when temperatures outside are scorching hot!
Stress on the Vehicle Itself
Your vehicle needs coolant to stay properly regulated! If your coolant and fluids are not well maintained and kept at appropriate levels, many parts of your engine can malfunction.
Batteries suffer from extreme heat just as much as in extreme cold. Be aware of any cracks or leaks and clean any corrosion off of the terminals. Belts and hoses can also lose flexibility and crack in hot weather.
Another thing to keep an eye on is tire pressure. Heat will cause the air in your tires to expand, so it is important to check the tire pressure before your trip. Over-inflated tires can potentially burst. Under-inflated tires are also at risk of blowing out; they experience more road friction, which generates more heat.
In older, carbureted vehicles, it’s also possible to experience “vapor lock”. This is when gas vaporizes from extreme heat before if can reach the engine, causing the vehicle to sputter and lose power.
This article from ePermitTest contains more tips on how to maintain your vehicle for hot weather conditions.
Heat Damage to the Environment
Extreme heat even causes damage to the road! It’s not uncommon for roads to buckle and twist from high heats. This might simply feel like "rolling hills" on the road. Or, it may be something more dangerous, like the road itself cracking apart from moisture expanding in the heat.
Different US states even use different road materials, which can cause roads to behave differently in the heat as you cross state lines.
Personal Safety for Driving in Extreme Heat
The most important thing is to look out for your personal safety during the trip.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids.
- Wear light, loose-fitting clothing, a hat, and sunscreen.
- Wear gloves while driving! Even if they look silly, they can keep you from burning your hands on hot surfaces (including the steering wheel) while you’re trying to drive.
When the vehicle is parked, there are additional safety precautions you can take:
- Never, ever leave a child or pets unattended in a vehicle!
- Use window shades and park at an appropriate angle to minimize direct sunlight on seats and other surfaces.
- Carry blankets or sheets that can be used to prevent surfaces from getting unbearably hot.
If your vehicle breaks down, be aware of how heat can affect your ability to self-repair the vehicle. If you have to contact emergency services, exit the vehicle and find shade while you wait. If other shade is not available, fully open all the windows and doors to keep the vehicle well-ventilated.
Check the Heat Weather Forecast for the Drive Ahead
Be sure to check the weather forecast for the trip ahead! Our app, Highway Weather, can help you plan for extreme heat on the road ahead.
- Keep an eye out for severe weather alerts in areas you’re driving through.
- Plan ahead to avoid getting stuck in gridlock during rush hour traffic.
- If your plans are flexible, set rest stops to avoid driving through the most extreme temperatures.
Prepare Your Vehicle for Emergencies
Besides the tips mentioned earlier about maintaining your vehicle, there are extra precautions you can take while on the road.
- Reduce your speed to better keep an eye out for road damage.
- Avoid driving on secondary roads, as highways are often better maintained and designed for high heat conditions.
- Carry an emergency kit, plenty of extra water, and window shades.
- Avoid opening the radiator cap in extreme heat! Steam and boiling water can be released, causing severe burns.