Every summer brings a certain amount of heat, but when the heat is accompanied by drought, driving conditions can become more hazardous than usual. Being prepared for summer driving, a good idea in any year, is even more important in times when rainfall is scarce.
Heat takes a toll on vehicle components. While engine oil and coolant siphon excess heat from the power plant, tires, belts and everything else takes the full brunt of the extra degrees.
Bruises and cuts can weaken tires and lead to blowouts. Underinflated tires generate heat even in the best of conditions. In tandem configurations, when one tire is underinflated, the other tire bears more of the weight, which also causes heat buildup. The result can be a detour to the shoulder of the highway to wait for a service truck — and a citation for the tire or tread fragments scattered on the highway.
The fluids that keep the engine lubed and cooled are critical, too, and should be checked often. Modern trucks are designed to shut down when these critical fluids are low. Keeping extra oil and coolant in the side box can mean the difference between a quick top-off and an expensive service call.
Blowing dust, dirt or smoke from wildfires can obscure vision and clog air filters. Severe or prolonged episodes can leave a film on plastic or glass surfaces, including mirrors and lights. In some cases, air flow through air coolers, radiators and air conditioner condensers can be restricted by dust buildup or blocked entirely. Cleanliness becomes important, whether it’s carrying extra washer fluid, wiping off tail light lenses during a break, having the truck washed or occasionally spraying out the radiator area with a garden hose.
Preparing yourself for the severe driving conditions that can accompany hot weather is as important as preparing your vehicle for the cold. As mentioned earlier, hot weather often results in blowing dirt, sand or dust, which can impair visibility. When it settles on the road, traction and control could be compromised. Hot weather can dry out vegetation, increasing the risk of wildfires and smoke.
Even when the air is still, shimmering heat reflecting from the earth’s surface can create a mirage, the appearance of a body of water ahead that can temporarily confuse a driver who isn’t prepared.
Severe heat can impact the road surface, too. Concrete and asphalt can expand under the relentless rays of the summer sun, causing the pavement to buckle and shatter in extreme cases. In areas prone to sinkholes, the receding water table can leave the surface unsupported, causing it to cave in.
Summer heat means summer storms in many parts of the country. Heat waves reflecting from the ground can create updrafts that can sometimes result in violent storms producing rain, hail and even tornadoes. Staying aware of weather conditions is important, especially when those conditions are changing rapidly.
When the rain falls, the oils drawn out of the road surface by the hot sun can float on a thin film of water, causing a driving surface that can be as slick as ice. Traction improves as the oil is washed away, but can be especially treacherous when the rain first arrives.
The temperature isn’t the only thing that rises in the summer sun; tempers can escalate as well. Young drivers out of school are likely to be on the road in summer, as are motorists who have celebrated the season with alcoholic beverages. When other motorists are frustrated by the heat, summer traffic or other issues, the driver that can keep cool mentally and physically will be miles ahead. Those who aren’t prepared for the unique conditions that come with summer heat can try the patience of the most seasoned professional.
Drivers who prepare themselves and their equipment for the unique challenges of hot-weather driving improve their chances for an incident-free summer, and that’s pretty cool.