Keeping your cool on the road: how to take care of yourself and your car during a heatwave

Tips on how to deal with soaring temperatures when you hit the road

Tuesday, 20th July 2021, 12:56 pm

For the first time in its history the Met Office has issued an amber warning for “extreme heat” in parts of England and Wales.

Temperatures are expected to reach as high as 33C in some areas, with the whole of the UK experiencing high temperatures just as millions of schoolchildren break up for the summer.

Millions of families are expected to take to the roads in coming days and the combination of heavy traffic and high temperatures are likely to pose a real risk to passengers’ health and the wellbeing of vehicles.

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How to stay cool in a heatwave

Here’s how to keep yourself and your car cool and safe in the coming days.

Cool your car before you go

If it’s already hot before you start your journey or you’ve taken a break along the way then it’s a good idea to let your car cool down before you climb in and head off. Open the doors and windows and let air circulate around the car before you get in.

You should also check how hot things like seat upholstery and buckles are, especially on child car seats. Leather and metal components can get painfully hot in the sun. Wiping hot surfaces down with a damp cloth can help cool them quickly.

It's important to stay hydrated when travelling in hot weather

Stay hydrated

Dehydration is a real risk in the sort of temperatures we’re currently experiencing and in some cases can cause a loss of concentration, dizziness and even fainting. Make sure you take plenty of water with you and keep topping up as you go to help stay alert and in full control of your vehicle.

Use your air con

It sounds obvious, but if your car has air conditioning, make sure it’s been recently serviced and make use of it. Directing the vents upwards will help circulate air around the whole car, not just blasting it at the driver, while using the foot vents and opening the windows a little can help force hot air up and out of the car more quickly.

Make sure your air con is in good working order before you set off

If you don’t have air con, you could try dipping a cloth in cold water then hanging it over an air vent. Just make sure you thoroughly wring it out before putting it in the car. Alternatively, invest in a small dashtop fan that can add some extra cooling if your car’s system is struggling.

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Look out for your pets

If you’re travelling with pets it's important they get the same care as your human passengers. Try to keep them in the shade as much as possible to keep them cool and stop to give them regular water breaks. If they show any signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, take action immediately. And never leave them alone in a car, even for a short time.

With soaring temperatures it's vital to check your car's coolant is at the correct level

Park in the shade

The inside of a car can get unbearably hot very quickly - rising by up to 10 degrees in 10 minutes - so if you’re stopping for even a brief time try to park in the shade. If it’s safe to do so, leave windows or a sunroof open a crack (around a finger’s width) to let hot air escape. And think about investing in a windscreen shade to reflect back the worst of the sun’s rays off.

If you’re parking up for a prolonged period, it’s also worth throwing a cover such as a towel over your seats and steering wheel, especially if they are leather, to absorb some of the heat.

Prepare your car

Hot weather inevitably brings a rise in breakdowns but a few simple checks will stop you adding to the statistics and delays.

The most obvious is checking the coolant level. Hot weather and a lack of coolant can equal disaster so check and top up with the appropriate fluid before setting off.

Tyres are also vulnerable to the heat, especially if they’re in poor condition. Check for any cuts, bulges or other damage as high temperatures can see these weaknesses cause a dangerous failure. Driving with under- or overinflated tyres is also more likely to cause damage in hot weather so check your tyre pressures are correct for the load before setting off.

It’s not likely to rain during a heatwave but summer brings lots of dust and bugs, so make sure your windscreen wiper fluid is topped up and your blades are in good condition to help clear any dirt or splatter from the glass.