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DRIVERS' ED.

Planning Ahead for Those Summer Sun-Day Drives

July 30, 1998|MICHELLE MALTAIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Well, the heat is certainly on--and it's on the streets. Ask any car on Southern California roadways.

And as we enter the dog days of summer, drivers might want to give some thought to their cars as they burn up the freeways.

"People think only cold weather affects" cars, said Jeffrey Spring of the Automobile Club of Southern California in Costa Mesa.

Not so.

"The temperatures, as they get higher, tend to stress the vehicle."

As sweltering as it is outside, it's several times hotter under the hood and near the exhaust.

Roads baking under the sun "cook" the air in the tires and make them more susceptible to blowouts. Such extreme heat can exacerbate even minor weaknesses. Whether it's a dead battery, broken belt or overheated engine, breakdowns increase as the mercury rises, said California Highway Patrol officer Evan Robinson.

And it's not just what's inside that is heat-sensitive: Bright sunlight and heat can cause the car's paint to oxidize, Spring said.

"That's why . . . it's always good to keep them under cover," he said--that is, out of the direct sun when not in use.

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When you do have to take the car out for a spin, here are some things you can do to minimize heat-related problems:

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Getting Ready: The most important advice is to plan ahead, Robinson said. Although spontaneity can be liberating, few people want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere under a blazing sun, cursing what seemed to be a harmless impulse.

First, recognize that your car can "feel" as rundown and drained as you do after a day in 100-degree heat.

Before a trip, check under the hood to make sure all fluids are at their proper levels. Coolant and water usually should be added in a 50-50 ratio. Some people mistakenly think that adding more coolant will keep the car from running hot, Spring said. Actually, coolant boils faster than water. It's a good idea to carry a gallon each of water and coolant in case of an emergency.

Belts that are soft or worn should be replaced, and the radiator hose should be in good shape--not spongy or thin.

And tires should get the once-over to make sure there are no cracks.

"If any walls of the tire are weak, or the tread is worn down to the thread, they could blow in [hot] weather," Spring said.

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Adjust Your Driving: In addition, drivers should note that the heat could affect stopping time.

"There's an increase in braking difference" because the tires tend to wear faster in the heat, said Robinson of the CHP.

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Know Your Vehicle: Along the same lines, it is important to know the vehicle you're driving and what its gauges indicate, Robinson said.

"When the car is about to break down," he said, "there usually is some kind of warning, so you have time to pull over."

If the car does shut down, pull over and call for assistance on a cellular phone or citizens band radio or at a roadside call box.

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Play It Safe: "Don't become a mechanic on the side of the road," Robinson said. Instead of popping the hood and trying to fix the problem, he said, drivers and passengers should wait inside the disabled vehicle with their seat belts fastened. (You can keep the car a bit cooler by putting a sunshade in the windshield and rolling down the windows.)

Speeding cars, only a few feet from the roadside, can make for a dangerous scene, as can an overheated radiator. It's best to wait until everything has cooled down--anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours, Spring said.

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Prepare for the Worst: In addition to maintaining the car properly, drivers should plan for a breakdown.

With summer vacation season well underway, the Auto Club suggests that travelers take along hot weather basics--a windshield shade, lots of water, a towel or blanket, nonperishable snacks--as well as a cellular phone or CB, a carbon-dioxide fire extinguisher and extra clothes (including sturdy shoes and gloves).

In addition to taking important phone numbers with you on the road, you might consider letting a friend know which route you plan to take, Robinson said, "so if something happens to you, they know to inquire."

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Times staff writer Michelle Maltais can be reached via e-mail at michelle.maltais@latimes.com.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

CAR CARE CHECKLIST / Hot-Weather Travel

The Automobile Club of Southern California cautions motorists to prepare for the effects of hot weather, whether your vehicle will be parked or on the road.

First, never leave children or pets inside a parked vehicle in the heat. Temperatures rise rapidly in a parked car, especially when the windows are closed, putting your child or animal at risk of serious injury, even death.

While driving, watch the temperature gauge. If the vehicle's temperature starts to climb, turn off the air-conditioning and turn on the heater to draw heat off the engine. The air-conditioning should also be turned off when you are driving up steep inclines such as the Grapevine. Doing so will decrease the demands on the engine and reduce the likelihood of overheating.

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