College Times

Larry Printz: Car failure in summer heat all boils down to neglect

By Larry Printz, The Virginian-Pilot

Published: Friday, July 27, 2012

Updated: Friday, July 27, 2012


In the past few weeks, I have been driving further than usual and, as a consequence, have seen a fair number of motorists stranded by the side of the road.

For the most part, it's tied to one thing: neglect.

People have come to view their cars as appliances, like a refrigerator with tires. But heat can exact a toll on the automobile and it's worth keeping in mind that regular maintenance can prevent an unexpected stop by the side of the road.

Let's start with starting your car.

To get an engine cranking, you need a strong battery. Many people think batteries fail only in winter, when it's cold. But batteries can fail in the summer as well. Here's why: Batteries are like people. They perform best when it's not too hot and not too cold.

AAA suggests that if your battery is more than three years old, have it checked to determine how much life is left. Better yet, if it's more than three years old, replace it.

Of course, once the engine starts, you want to prevent it from overheating. This is where your car's cooling system comes in. It's a good idea to regularly flush your car's cooling system and replace the coolant. As it ages, the coolant's protective properties weaken. This means you'll be at the side of the road, steam pouring out of your car's engine and your ears. So check your vehicle's owner's manual for recommended change intervals.

Also, be sure to examine all of the rubber hoses and belts under the hood. Heat can turn them brittle, which can cause them deteriorate and snap, leaving you stranded.

Of course, you know to change your oil and have your air-conditioner coolant charged up.

And let's not forget to check your tires. Running on an under-inflated tire can heat it up and lead to a blowout, especially if your car is overloaded.

Make sure the tires are inflated according to the tire pressure recommended by the automaker on the placard fixed to the car's door jamb or glove box. Check the tires when they haven't been driven for at least three hours or more.

And remember to check your spare tire, to ensure that it has enough air. If the spare is more than six years old, replace it.

All of these tips can help ensure that you don't have any unexpected stops. But I would add one more: Clean the interior of your vehicle.

This is a time of year when you'll be traveling more than ever. Empty the trunk, glove box and any storage areas. Wipe everything down. Be sure to hit your leather seats with a moisturizer to prevent cracking.

A clean car, not to mention a well-maintained one, will be one less thing to think about during the summer months.


Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at


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