Seasonal Summer Driving Tips

Protect yourself and your vehicle this summer season. Below you'll find several informative articles that will provide helpful hints to weather the summer.

Summer Car Care Kit

  • Spring Car Care Is the Key to Trouble–Free Summer Driving
  • Communication Promotes Quality Auto Repair
  • Warm Weather Drivers To Have New Challenges
  • Maintenance The Best Form Of Driving Vacation Insurance
  • Auto Checkup Eases Summer Driving Worries
  • Summer Storms Need Special Driving Skills
  • Don’t Get Burned By Summer Heat, Says AAA
  • AAA Offers Safety Tips For Summer Breakdowns
  • How To Keep Cars and Drivers From Overheating
  • Share the Road Safely With Large Trucks
  • Repair 101: Dealing With Today’s Rolling Computers
  • Hot Tips To Keep Cool This Summer

Spring Car Care Is The Key To Trouble–Free Summer Driving Spring is the perfect time to help your car recover from the brutal winter and prepare it for the rigors of summer driving, according to AAA Southern New England.

"After a long winter, most people are eager to get out and enjoy the warmer weather," said AAA Car Doctor John Paul. "The time spent preparing your car can keep your spring and summer road trips from being interrupted by expensive and inconvenient breakdowns."

To prepare for warm–weather driving, AAA suggests motorists have their cars thoroughly inspected by a certified technician. At minimum, you or your technician should:

  • Inspect antifreeze/coolant level and condition, making certain the proper 50/50 mixture of water and coolant is present.
  • Check your car’s owner’s manual to insure you are using the correct type of engine coolant. Today there are six different formula engine coolant and using the wrong one could spell trouble for your car’s engine.
  • Check motor oil and condition. If driving under extreme conditions – such as very hot temperatures or towing a heavy trailer – switch to a motor oil with higher viscosity. Check the owner’s manual for specific oil recommendations.
  • Inspect and replace worn or cracked belts as well as worn, cracked, blistered, or soft hoses.
  • Examine tires for uneven or excessive tread wear. Make sure all tires, including the spare, are inflated properly. Having the proper tire pressure will maximize your gas mileage and save wear & tear on your tires!
  • If the tires on your vehicle are more than six years old consider replacing them. Old tires can develop "dry rot" and are more prone to a blow–out.
  • Replace worn wiper blades.
  • Check the air conditioning for proper operation. If the system is operating poorly don’t "top off" the refrigerant. The system should be inspected and repaired by a qualified technician.
  • Hot weather can shorten the life of a car’s battery, so weak or old batteries should be tested and replaced if necessary.
  • Check fluid levels and tire pressure before, during and after a long road trip.
  • Keep a log book of maintenance items and fuel economy. A sudden drop in fuel mileage could indicate mechanical problems.
  • Once all this is completed, thoroughly wash your vehicle paying particular attention to the underside of the fenders where salt and sand accumulate and can rust away metal. Once the vehicle is clean a good waxing will help maintain your vehicle’s appearance.

Communication Promotes Quality Auto Repair
Even if you don’t know the difference between a fuel injector and an oxygen sensor, there are still things you can do to help your auto repair technician properly service your vehicle, according to AAA Southern New England.

"Consumers can help by accurately describing the problem and by asking questions until they understand the work being done on their car," said AAA Manager of Approved Auto Repair Alfred Ruggiero. "Accurate communication between the repair shop and the customer is one of the most important contributors to trouble–free auto service."

The first step is to make an appointment for repairs whenever possible. If the shop management knows you are coming and has an idea of the problem, they can assign the right person to the job and allow enough time to get it done properly.

When you arrive at the shop, don’t tell the service advisor what you think needs to be fixed or replaced unless it’s obvious. Instead, describe the problem and its symptoms. Let the technician determine what needs to be fixed.

To avoid misunderstandings, always get an estimate in writing. Oral estimates can be disputed or forgotten. Most written estimates contain a clause allowing the actual cost to exceed the estimate by a certain percentage, such as 10 percent or $10.00 in Massachusetts. Carefully read the work order before you leave your vehicle at the shop. Be wary of broad statements such as "check and correct transmission noise" or "repair engine." You could wind up with a new transmission or engine and a bill higher than you expected. Also, never sign a blank work order, and never tell the shop personnel to "do what’s necessary" or "just fix it," unless the problem will clearly be covered by warranty.

Make sure you understand the shop’s warranty. It should be printed on the bill. If not, ask for it in writing.

Finally, take a test drive. If the car isn't running right, don’t take it home. If you discover that the problem is not solved after you leave the shop, make an appointment to bring the car back as soon as possible.

To further ensure quality auto repair, AAA recommends motorists take their vehicles to shops recognized by AAA’s Approved Auto Repair program. These shops have met AAA’s rigorous standards for technician competence and customer satisfaction. AAA–approved shops are also equipped with the sophisticated equipment needed to service today’s high–tech vehicles.

Warm Weather Drivers To Have New Challenges
You've survived winter’s ice–covered roads and frigid temperatures, but spring and summer bring unique driving challenges. To help motorists handle the primary seasons of auto–travel, AAA Southern New England offers the following information:

Flooded Roads
The heavy rains of spring and summer can quickly lead to dangerous flood conditions. AAA offers the following tips for motorists dealing with such conditions.

  • Check traffic reports for the location of flooded roads.
  • Approach standing water with extreme caution. Do not attempt to drive through deep water or on bridges and roads that are heavily flooded.
  • Even if you are confident that your car can make it through the flooded area, it is still possible that water could be forced into your engine compartment, damaging or destroying your engine.
  • If there is a risk of flash flood, avoid traveling on roads that run along streams or drainage ditches.

Pothole Blues
With spring comes baseball, flowers, and potholes. A direct hit to a pothole can cause vehicle alignment to be thrown off and can damage steering components, tires, and wheels. To prevent or minimize damage from potholes:

  • Drive slowly on pothole–filled roads.
  • If there is sufficient time and space, maneuver around the pothole but do not swerve wildly.
  • Slow down as you approach a pothole, but when directly over the hole, do not brake. Applying the brakes causes the car’s weight to shift to the front wheels and can increase damage from the impact.
  • When driving on pothole–filled roads, hold the steering wheel firmly to avoid losing control.
  • Be aware that a puddle could be a pothole in disguise.

Construction Safety
Warmer weather signals the start of many road construction projects. To safely navigate through construction zones:

  • Slow to a safe speed, which is usually posted through the construction area.
  • Obey all signs and signals.
  • Watch for pedestrians and work vehicles.
  • Change lanes with caution.
  • Expect sudden stops.

Heat Dangers
Under extreme heat, the temperature inside a parked car can reach more than 190 degrees in just 30 minutes. When dealing with such dangerously high temperatures:

  • Don’t leave children or animals unattended in a car, not even for a short period of time.
  • When parked, use a sun shield to cover the windshield to minimize heat build–up and to help protect the car’s interior. Cover metal and plastic parts on seat belts and child safety seats to prevent burns.
  • Open the vehicle’s doors and let the interior cool off for a few minutes before entering.

Oil Beats The Heat
Motor oil does more than lubricate an engine’s moving parts. It also plays a significant role in helping beat the summer heat. As oil coats hot engine parts, it absorbs heat caused by friction and combustion. When the oil drains to the bottom of the engine, the heat is dissipated by air flowing under the car. Maintaining a proper level of fresh oil is essential to protect a car’s vital components.

Maintenance The Best Form Of Driving Vacation Insurance
Planning a successful summer driving vacation involves more than arranging overnight stays or knowing how many states will be visited on the journey. Attention to details, including preventative automobile maintenance, is the key to a stress–free driving vacation.

Before taking the trip, have your car inspected by a certified automotive technician. Things can go wrong no matter how well you prepare, so it’s a good idea to carry emergency supplies. If you expect to be traveling at odd hours or off the beaten path, consider carrying a cellular phone for summoning help, if needed.

Don’t overload your vehicle with luggage, AAA advises. A fully loaded vehicle can put excessive stress on tires, brakes, and suspension components, so pack as lightly as possible. When loading the car, position luggage so it doesn't obstruct the driver’s view or shift during braking or sharp turns. Keep in mind car top carriers can effect vehicle handling and significantly reduce fuel economy.

Check your route for food, fuel, and rest stops. Stopping every few hours will help fight fatigue. Make hotel or motel reservations beforehand.

It’s a good idea to carry as little cash as possible. A major credit card. ATM card and traveler’s checks are safer options. Take the telephone numbers of friends to call in case of emergencies, and let someone know your itinerary.

AAA offers its members route planning, reservations, traveler’s checks, car care advice, and roadside assistance. No one can be assured of a perfect trip, but proper planning can increase the odds.

Auto Checkup Eases Summer Driving Worries
A quick and easy automotive checkup can help prepare a vehicle for the stress of summer’s high temperatures and increase reliability on long road trips, according to AAA Southern New England.

"The cold temperatures may be far behind us, but the summer heat can be just as hard on automobiles as the fiercest winter weather," said John Paul, AAA’s Car Doctor. "A few minutes spent checking your car’s vital components can help you enjoy a summer of trouble–free driving."

To help prevent dangerous and inconvenient tire failure, examine tires for uneven or excessive tread wear. Make sure all tires, including the spare, are inflated properly.

With the engine off, look for worn or cracked belts and damaged, blistered or soft hoses. Inspect antifreeze/coolant level and condition, making certain the proper 50/50 mixture of water and coolant is present.

Check motor oil level and condition. If driving under extreme conditions – such as very hot temperatures or towing a heavy trailer – switching to a motor oil with higher viscosity may be recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Always check the owner’s manual for specific oil recommendations.

If you are not comfortable performing this inspection yourself, a qualified auto service facility, such as those recognized by AAA’s Approved Auto Repair Program, can conduct a thorough examination.

Because even properly maintained vehicles can break down, AAA urges motorists to equip their vehicle with an emergency kit containing at least the following items: flashlight with extra batteries, warning devices such as flares or reflective triangles, jumper cables, and a first aid kit. A mobile phone provides an easy way to summon emergency assistance.

Summer Storms Need Special Driving Skills
Motorists caught in a sudden summer thunderstorm will be safer if they learn and practice wet–weather driving skills, says AAA Southern New England.

"Knowing what to do is important because the odds of having a collision increase in wet weather," said David J. Raposa, Director of AAA’s Public Affairs. "A hard rain can limit visibility so that a driver can’t see the edges of the road, traffic signs, or other cars."

"Whether on vacation or running an errand, a driver who knows how to manage reduced visibility and slick pavement is more likely to stay in control," he said.

AAA offers the following tips to help motorists navigate their way through wet weather: Turn on windshield wipers as soon as rain begins to fall. If intermittent wipers are used, be certain they are set to a speed that will clear the windshield before visibility is compromised.

If the windows begin to fog, turn on the car’s defroster and air conditioner if equipped. Use fresh air setting as opposed to recycled, if available.

Use low–beamed headlights whenever you use your windshield wipers. This will help other drivers see your car and increase visibility.

Slow down and increase following distances. Speed limits are set for ideal road conditions. When it rains, visibility is reduced and braking distances increase.

If you are forced to stop in traffic due to poor visibility, turn on emergency flashers immediately and pull as far off the road as possible.

Preventative maintenance is also important in reducing wet–weather driving risks. AAA recommends the following equipment be inspected by a certified technician, especially before starting a long–distance drive: battery, ignition system, lights, brakes, tire pressure and tread wear, heating and cooling system, belts, hoses, defroster blower, windshield wipers and washer fluid reservoir.

Additional information on wet weather driving is available free from AAA Southern New England by asking for the pamphlet "Get A Grip, Wet Weather Driving Techniques."

Don’t Get Burned By Summer Heat, Says AAA
AAA reminds motorists that summer weather can cause temperatures inside a parked vehicle to reach levels that can be dangerous or even fatal, especially to children and pets.

"Temperatures inside a parked car can quickly soar to near 200 degrees," said John Paul, AAA’s Car Doctor. "Don’t leave children or animals unattended in a car, not even for a short time."

Before entering a vehicle that has parked in high temperatures, AAA says motorists should open the vehicle’s door and let the interior cool for a few minutes. A sun shield can be used to cover the windshield to minimize heat build–up and to help protect the car’s interior. Cover metal and plastic parts on safety belts and child safety seats to prevent burns.

Some motorists opt to leave a window partially open to keep their vehicle cool. This may be appropriate in some circumstances, but it could make your vehicle "hot" by being an easy target for car thieves.

A properly working air conditioning system also will help motorists keep their cool in summer heat. If needed, have the air conditioning serviced by a qualified technician. On car manufactured prior to 1995 repaired using the refrigerant R–12 or consider retrofitting to R–134a. Do not use non–approved substitute refrigerants.

AAA Offers Safety Tips For Summer Breakdowns
Because even the best maintained vehicle can develop a mechanical problem, it’s critical that motorists know how to handle breakdown situations safely, advises AAA Southern New England.

The first rule when your vehicle begins to malfunction is not to panic. Signal and pull completely off the road onto the shoulder. Avoid any sudden or panic maneuvers.

Once in the side of the road, turn on your emergency flashers. Use extreme caution when exiting the vehicle. If necessary, exit from the passenger side of the vehicle to avoid the risk of being struck by traffic.

As soon as possible, set up reflective triangles, flares, or other signal devices to alert passing motorists. Place warning devices at least 100 feet from the disabled vehicle.

If waiting for assistance and the temperature permits, return to your vehicle and lock all doors and roll up windows. If someone other than a uniformed police officers stops roll down the window only enough to ask them to telephone the police, AAA or a service station.

Since surroundings and hazards vary, use your best judgment in deciding whether to stay with your vehicle or go for help.

A cellular phone is a good investment that can be used to summon help in the event of a breakdown or emergency.

How To Keep Cars and Drivers From Overheating
Hot summer temperatures can be as brutal on a poorly maintained automobile as the most chilling winter weather.

When the temperature rises above 90 degrees, trouble begins for many motorists. Vehicles with weak batteries may have difficulty starting, air conditioning systems can fail, and poorly maintained cooling systems can leak and overheat.

Cracked belts may snap and worn hoses can burst and begin leaking as temperatures rise inside and outside the engine compartment.

"While many motorists know the approach of cold weather signals the need for preventative maintenance, hotter temperatures also require special attention for motor vehicles," said Alfred Ruggiero, AAA’s Manager of Approved Auto Repair.

To keep vehicles free from heat–related problems, AAA recommends a complete inspection by a certified technician. At a minimum, the following maintenance items should be checked:

  • Inspect antifreeze/coolant level, making certain proper 50/50 mixture of water and coolant is present
  • Most motor oil is suitable for year–round use. If you and towing a heavy trailer or driving in very hot weather, check the vehicle’s owner’s manual for a recommendation to switch to a heavier weight oil.
  • Inspect and replace worn or cracked belts as well as worn, cracked, blistered, or soft hoses.
  • Check the air conditioning system for proper operation. If repairs on a 1995 are needed have consider retrofitting to the more environmentally friendly refrigerant HFC134a. Do not substitute non–approved refrigerants.

It is also important to know that battery performance is compromised by extremes in temperature, whether hot or cold, so old or weak batteries should be tested and replaced if necessary.

Because even a well–maintained car can break down, it’s a good idea to carry drinking water and a windshield shade that will reduce heat build–up inside a vehicle. A mobile telephone or a citizens band radio can be used to summon help.

"Becoming stranded by a breakdown on a summer day may not seem threatening," Mr. Ruggiero said. "Yet, a hot day on the side of the road without water or shade can become a motorist’s worst nightmare. To help prevent a breakdown, inspect your vehicle before warm weather hits and monitor its condition throughout the summer driving season."

Share the Road Safely With Large Trucks
Motorists traveling this summer should remember that special precautions are needed to safely share the road with large trucks that also use the nation’s highways, according to AAA Southern New England.

There are more than 250,000 crashes annually involving at least one passenger vehicle and one large truck. In more than 70 percent of all fatal crashes involving autos and big trucks, police report that the auto driver contributed to the crash.

"While truck operators have an important obligation to operate their vehicle in a safe manner, passenger car drivers are often in a position to avoid dangerous situations," said John Paul, AAA’s Manager of Traffic Safety. "It’s in everyone’s interest for motorists to share the road safely."

One key to driving safely near large trucks is to avoid the "No–Zones" – areas around trucks and buses where crashes are more likely to occur. Some No–Zones are blind spots or areas around trucks and buses where your car "disappears" from the view of the drivers. There are No–Zones to the side, rear and in front of trucks. To avoid danger in the rear No–Zone, don’t tailgate. Always maintain two to four seconds of following distance behind a truck. To stay out of a truck’s large side blind spots, make sure you see the driver’s face in the side mirrors. If you can’t see his face, he can’t see you.

Exercise extreme caution when passing a truck. Trucks take twice as long as cars to stop. When passing a truck, don’t get back into the truck’s lane until you can see the whole cab of the truck in your rear view mirror.

Trucks also sometimes need to swing wide to the left to safely make a right turn. Never cut between a turning truck and the right curb or shoulder.

Repair 101: Dealing With Today’s Rolling Computers
Microprocessors. Sensors. Circuits. Stored data. Typical computer jargon, right? Surprisingly, these are also typical topics for today’s automotive technicians.

Vehicles have grown more sophisticated over the past two decades. The wonderful options and systems we love – electronic seats, climate control, anti–lock braking systems, remote door unlock – require computer processing and monitoring. In order to meet changing customer expectations, automakers now must design sophisticated vehicles that are run by small but powerful computers. In fact, new vehicles have computing power sufficient to fly a 747 airplane.

And it’s not just this year’s models. Any vehicle manufactured since the 80’s has computerized components. Even "basic" models, without many options or extras, rely on computer circuits to operate efficiently.

An advantage to this new technology and engineering is that many of the maintenance and repair intervals have been extended. Increased quality and better–designed engine systems combined with refined oils and lubricants have reduced the recommended replacement schedule for engine coolant, transmission fluid, and engine oil. However, exceeding these intervals can result in premature failure and damage to very expensive parts, so it’s more important than ever to follow the recommendations in your vehicle owner’s manual.

However, the savings, money and time – of less frequent maintenance and repairs is offset by the cost of individual repairs. Automotive diagnosis, parts, and repair are now more costly. The old–fashioned diagnosis techniques are now supplemented by computer reports that alert the technician to engineering improvements and upgrades recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Additionally, a vehicle’s on–board computer stores information concerning sensor and component failure in the form of trouble codes. Replacing parts is now more complex and time–consuming. Plus, as college graduates with additional investments in certification testing and specialized training, the small population that becomes vehicle technicians can command higher salaries. So, how can you manage the costs and care for your rolling computer?

Check technician certifications. With all of this high–tech equipment under the hood, make sure you’re working with a technician who is trained for today’s vehicles. The two most common forms of technician certification comes from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), which offers certification on 46 different automotive repairs. Technicians must re–certify every five years. Facilities usually post their technicians’ ASE credentials, though it’s always appropriate to ask if the shop is ASE–certified in your particular repair need. Car manufacturers also have extensive training programs to certify technicians in specific years, makes, models, and vehicle systems.

Know the habits of your vehicle. Think of your vehicle’s problem as a mystery: what is wrong is the puzzle you and your technician must solve. You must piece together the details of when the problem occurred, if it is ongoing and under what circumstances, and any sounds, smells, and handling changes. Before you get to the repair facility, jot down everything you can think of to help the technician solve the problem. You may not think a small detail is relevant, but it could shave an hour off the diagnosis time by pointing the technician in the right direction.

Is specialization better? Autos are so complex it can be difficult and expensive for a repair facility to stay on top of all types of repairs needed for all the vehicles on the road. That’s why some shops specialize in one type of repair, such as transmissions or brakes. Generally, these facilities would be an excellent resource for the specific repair or maintenance need. However, if you aren't certain which repair your vehicle needs, a facility that covers all general repair needs would be a good first stop for diagnosis. You than may elect to have the specialist perform the work, or you may even be referred to one by your general technician.

Ask for an estimate. Facilities will gladly provide an estimate; however, the format may differ from your past experiences. For example, many repairs require more diagnostic time than actual repair time – testing computer wires to find a short circuit or corroded connection, for example. You’ll also see some new charges, such as a computer diagnostic fee or hazardous materials charge. These are not unusual in today’s high–tech automotive world. However, discuss any questions you may have with your technician for a better understanding.

Look for the AAA sign. For more than 25 years, AAA has helped consumers with their repair needs by inspecting and certifying quality repair facilities. When you see the AAA sign, you know the repair shop has met AAA’s strict standards for training, equipment, and customer service. AAA members also know that AAA–approved facilities agree to abide by AAA’s decision in case of a dispute, and they offer members special warranties and free safety inspections during scheduled service visits. AAA is there to help resolve the complexities of today’s rolling automotive computers.

Hot Tips To Keep Cool This Summer
In the heat of summer, there is never a good time for your car’s air conditioner to stop cooling. It can ruin a great vacation and is especially important when traveling with elderly or very young passengers. Here are a few tips to make sure that your car’s air conditioning will not cause you discomfort this summer.

First, it is important to understand how air conditioning works. Your car’s system works in the same manner as your home’s refrigerator and air conditioning system. Basically, refrigerant is pumped through the system by a compressor and reduced to a low pressure and temperature inside the passenger compartment. Then the refrigerant is squeezed to a high pressure and temperature outside under the hood. Inside the car, the "blower" or fan forces air over the cold part of the system, and heat from the air is transferred into the refrigerant. Moisture is also removed from the air as it clings to the cold cooling surfaces and is discharged outside through a drain tube. Under the hood, air is also forced over the hot part of the system by the cooling fan (in some cases the same one that cools the radiator), and heat is transferred out of the refrigerant into the atmosphere. The refrigeration cycle is repeated over and over.

How well the system cools your car depends on the efficiency of the above components and also on having the right amount of refrigerant in the system. Maintaining your air conditioner actually begins by careful attention to the engine’s cooling system. If the engine is running hotter than normal, or if the cooling fan is turning too slowly, it will be harder for the refrigerant to give up its heat under the hood, resulting in poor cooling inside the car. If the belt that drives the compressor slips or breaks, the refrigerant cannot be pumped through the system properly. Inside the car, a poorly functioning blower or blocked air–conditioning outlets will decrease cooling efficiency.

This leads to the refrigerant itself. Too much or too little in the system will result in poor cooling, because the pressures and temperatures will not be correct for good heat transfer. But there are problems other than refrigerant level that can cause system pressures and temperatures to go haywire, so it is dangerous to just have refrigerant added to a poorly cooling system. Overcharging could actually decrease the cooling efficiency even more and could also cause major damage. It is best to have the refrigerant level professionally checked and adjusted, if necessary, using only the type of refrigerant designed for your car’s system.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a normal refrigerant leak. If the system requires periodic recharging or "topping off", there is a leak that needs repair.

To Keep Your Air–Conditioning Working at its Best:

  • Have the engine cooling system maintained and inspected regularly.
  • Have drive belts inspected and adjusted.
  • Check for good airflow at the air–conditioning outlets.
  • Refer all air–conditioning system service to qualified personnel.

However, You Should Not:

  • Have a leaking air–conditioning system recharged or "topped off."
  • Try to add refrigerant yourself.
  • Attempt to open or disconnect air–conditioning hoses or lines. Serious frostbite or eye injury can result from escaping refrigerant and oil. Discharging refrigerant into the atmosphere is illegal in the United States.