AAA: 10 tips for drivers before hitting the road in extreme heat

AAA: 10 tips for drivers before hitting the road in extreme heat

Crystal Graham
Young woman taking photos in the red car
(© AboutLife –

Extreme heat is back in the Virginia forecast today with feel-like temperatures headed into the triple digits in some areas. The National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory for parts of central and southeastern Virginia.

“As temperatures continue to spike across the region, commuters and travelers need to be aware of the added stress high temperatures place not only on the human body, but on vehicles, as well,” said Morgan Dean, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic in Virginia.

From July 17-23, AAA responded to more than 8,500 calls in Virginia, including more than 4,100 calls for towing (49 percent), nearly 2,000 battery-related calls (23 percent) and more than 1,100 tire-related calls (14 percent).

AAA is reminding drivers to take a few precautions to prepare their vehicles – and themselves before hitting the road.

“Whether you are heading across the country or across town, drivers need to make sure their vehicles are road-ready and up-to-date on maintenance,” said Raymond Elkins, manager of AAA Fleet Operations in Richmond.  “The effect this kind of weather can have on your car is cumulative.”

Four summer vehicle maintenance tips

  • Batteries – Heat kills batteries. Car batteries rarely give advance notice before they fail. Batteries three-to-five years old are most likely to succumb to extreme temperatures.
  • Tires – Keep your tires at normal pressure. Driving on under-inflated tires can cause them to overheat and increase the likelihood of a blowout. This problem becomes even more of a concern when road temperatures are extremely high. Tires should be inflated to the pressure recommended by the vehicle manufacturer – not the number molded into the tire sidewall. Recommended tire pressures can be found in the owner’s manual or on a sticker normally located on the driver’s door jamb or the inside of the glove compartment door.
  • Fluids – When fluid levels are low, the possibility of overheating increases. Drivers should check all vehicle fluids including motor oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid and brake fluid to ensure they are filled to the appropriate levels.
  • Coolant – Motorists should check the coolant level in the overflow tank and top off as needed. If the engine is cool, check the level in the radiator as well. Never remove the radiator cap when the engine is hot, you can be seriously scalded. Have the cooling system flushed and new coolant installed when recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.

Even with proper preventive maintenance, summer breakdowns can still occur. That’s why having a “Plan B” for vehicle breakdowns is critical.

“While the overall lifespan of vehicles has increased over the years, AAA research has shown that older vehicles are four times more likely than newer vehicles to encounter a problem serious enough to require a tow to a repair facility,” said Elkins.

Six more tips for summer

  • Prepare before hitting the road. During the summer months, drivers should carry an emergency kit, including a fully charged cellphone and charger, extra water and snacks, jumper cables and a flashlight. Drivers should also have coolant with them. “Just as drivers place an emergency kit in their cars during winter months, they should do the same in the summer,” Dean said. “With extreme temperatures, such as the ones we are experiencing, an inconvenience can quickly escalate to an emergency if motorists are not prepared.”
  • Spare your battery. If traffic is not moving, do not use the accessory setting, listen to the radio or use any other devices that could drain the car battery.
  • Avoid overheating. While running the air conditioner, drivers should keep an eye on the control panel. If the vehicle starts to overheat, shut it off immediately and open the hood to allow the engine to cool off. The vehicle may need to be off for a minimum of 45 minutes. When restarting the vehicle, leave the hood open.
  • Keep air flowing. If you cannot operate the vehicle’s air conditioning, open windows on both sides of the car to cross ventilate.
  • Seek shade when parked. Carry a windshield sunshade in your vehicle to provide some protection from the sun when your vehicle is parked.
  • Stay safe during standstill traffic. Staying in your vehicle is usually the safest option. If, however, the heat becomes too oppressive and traffic shows no signs of moving, consider seeking shelter in the shade. If there are trees or an overpass nearby that would provide shade, take a break and give your body time to cool off, but stay safely away from traffic.

At the first sign of a mechanical problem, drivers should try to safely move their vehicle as far off the shoulder or road as possible and turn on their flashing hazard lights. Distracted drivers often disregard vulnerable vehicles on roadsides and those inside them.

Hot car deaths

In addition to wreaking havoc on your car, high temperatures can quickly claim lives. On a 95-degree day, a car can heat up to over 180 degrees. Nationwide, more than 1,000 children have died in hot cars since 1990 – that’s an average of 38 fatalities per year.

Studies have shown about 56 percent of child hot car deaths were caused by adults forgetting the children, and 26 percent of victims were playing in an unattended vehicle.

“In the summer heat, a vehicle’s interior can reach lethal temperatures very quickly. In fact, a car can heat up by 20 degrees in as little as 10 minutes and become deadly, causing a child’s internal organs to shut down if left unattended inside,” said Dean.

To date, 12 children have died from vehicle heatstroke in 2022, according to

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.