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THE SAFETY ZONE

Today's Tips

August 21, 2000

Summer vacationers and commuters traveling by auto can avoid inconvenient and sometimes dangerous breakdowns by ensuring their cars are in reliable running condition.

When the temperature rises above 90 degrees, trouble may increase for motorists. Vehicles with weak batteries may have difficulty starting, air-conditioning systems can fail and poorly maintained cooling systems may overheat. Cracked belts may snap and worn hoses can blister and begin leaking as temperatures rise inside and outside the engine compartment.

On days when temperatures exceed 90, the number of Automobile Club of Southern California members reporting vehicle breakdowns increases by 50%.

The Auto Club recommends that motorists perform the following maintenance tasks:

* Inspect the antifreeze/coolant level, making certain the proper mixture of water and coolant is present according to specifications in the vehicle's owner's manual. Check also for the appropriate coolant flush and change frequency.

* Inspect and replace worn or cracked belts, as well as hoses that are worn, cracked, blistered, brittle or too soft.

* Check tires for uneven or excessive tread wear and make sure all tires, including the spare, are inflated properly. Under-inflated tires are a hazard and can cut fuel economy by as much as 2% per pound of pressure below the recommended level.

* Check the level and condition of engine oil. When driving under extreme conditions, such as temperatures above 90 degrees or towing a heavy trailer, switch to heavier motor oil.

* Check the owner's manual "severe driving conditions" section for oil recommendations.

* Because high temperatures compromise battery life, test and replace old or weak batteries.

* Heat can affect transmission fluid by making it thinner and less effective. Check the transmission fluid to be sure it is at the proper level and doesn't smell burnt or look dirty. This is especially important for vehicles that are used for towing. Check the owner's manual for the proper fluid.

* High temperatures also can lead to pinging in the engine. If pinging continues, the Auto Club recommends using a higher-octane fuel to eliminate the noise. When temperatures become cooler, return to using the lower-octane gas. If changing to a higher-octane fuel doesn't eliminate the pinging, have the engine checked by a mechanic.

Source: Auto Club

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