8 Cheap Ways to Keep Your Car Running Cool in the Summer Heat

What's Hot

2 Types of Black Marks Might Vanish From Your Credit File SoonBorrow

6 Ways the Obamacare Overhaul Might Impact Your WalletInsurance

7 Dumb and Costly Moves Homebuyers MakeBorrow

This Free Software Brings Old Laptops Back to LifeMore

Obamacare Replacement Plan Gets ‘F’ Rating from Consumer ReportsFamily

Beware These 12 Common Money MistakesCredit & Debt

21 Restaurants Offering Free Food Right NowSaving Money

17 Ways to Have More Fun for Less MoneySave

House Hunters: Beware of These 6 Mortgage MistakesBorrow

30 Household Uses for Baby OilSave

25 Ways to Spend Less on FoodMore

Nearly Half of Heart-Related Deaths Linked to These 10 Foods and IngredientsFamily

5 Surprising Benefits of Exercising Outdoors in WinterFamily

10 Ways to Save When You’re Making Minimum WageSave

Boost Your Credit Score Fast With These 7 MovesCredit & Debt

7 Painless Ways to Pay Off Your Mortgage Years EarlierBorrow

The Most Sinful City in the U.S. Is … (Hint: It’s Not Vegas)Family

The True Cost of Bad CreditCredit & Debt

10 Companies With the Best 401(k) PlansGrow

This Scam Now Tops ID Theft as the No. 2 Consumer ComplaintFamily

6 Stores With Awesome Reward ProgramsFamily

6 Ways to Save More at Lowe’s and The Home DepotSave

6 Healthful Treats for Your DogFamily

New Study Ranks the Best States in the U.S.Family

Thousands of Millionaires Moving to 1 Country — and Leaving AnotherGrow

Strapped for College Costs? How to Get the Most From FAFSABorrow

6 Overlooked Ways to Save at Chick-fil-AFamily

Ask Stacy: What’s the Fastest Way to Pay Off My Mortgage?Borrow

Where to Sell Your Stuff for Top DollarAround The House

8 Ways to Get a Good Price on a Shiny New AutoCars

Ask Stacy: How Do I Start Over?Credit & Debt

Secret Cell Plans: Savings Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint Don’t Want You to Know AboutFamily

30 Awesome Things to Do in RetirementCollege

14 Super Smart Ways to Save on TravelSave

The Rich Prefer Modest Cars — Should You Join Them?Cars

You’ll Soon Pay More to Shop at CostcoSave

10 Ways to Save When Your Teen Starts DrivingFamily

We're in for another super-hot summer. Here are some smart ways to prevent your car or your wallet from overheating.

The weather’s warm and getting warmer. Forecasters are predicting a hotter-than-usual summer for most of the United States, including the northern states. You’re probably already thinking about how to keep your home cool. But have you considered that your car, too, needs protection from the heat? Most vehicles aren’t designed for extreme temperatures. They need special care when the mercury rises, particularly during summer road trips.

Overheating causes costly damage

Driving an overheated vehicle can cause expensive damage. Cars and trucks that can limp around town for short runs in the cooler months are prone to breakdowns when it’s hot. But even well-cared-for vehicles can be laid low, if you don’t heed warning signs and stay on top of hot-weather maintenance. Running too hot can degrade engine oil, ruin gasket seals and even melt the vehicle’s engine block.

Have a carefree summer by keeping your coolant system topped off when it’s hot. Pull off the road if the vehicle’s temperature gauge gives you a warning. And follow these eight tips for keeping your vehicle running cool:

1. Radiator


Photo (cc) by Winona Hot Rods 12

The point of a radiator is to keep your engine running cool. So make sure it’s functioning at its best. Check the coolant level at least every oil change, and have the system flushed every 24,000 miles or two years. Radiator fluid can come in several colors — most commonly orange or green — but should not look milky or rusty. If it does, have the system flushed and inspected by a mechanic.

Never remove the radiator cap when the engine is hot — the coolant could be boiling under pressure and gush out, burning your face or arms.

(Forgetting the pre-trip check up is just one of the “5 Careless and Costly Summer Travel Mistakes” we reported on recently. Check it out for more.)

2. Hoses


Photo (cc) by JPC24M

Your coolant’s not doing much good if it’s not properly circulating through the hoses, and extreme heat can damage a worn hose. Hoses are usually good for at least four years, but not always. Check them visually for leaks, cracks and peeling. While the engine’s still warm, squeeze along the hose’s length — it should feel firm, but not hard. If the hose is spongy or soft in even one section, replace it before it fails and causes bigger problems.

3. Oil

motor oil

Photo (cc) by Mike Mozart

Oil lubricates lots of moving parts and helps prevent overheating. Without it you’ll blow up your engine and your budget. It’s easy to check, so make a regular habit of it.

Here’s how: After the car’s been running for a few minutes, shut off the engine, pop the hood, pull the labeled dipstick out, and wipe it off completely with a paper towel so you can get a clear reading. Slide it all the way back in, then remove it again. Near the bottom, you’ll see two marked lines, pinholes, crosshatching or “min/max” labels.

As long as the oil is a yellowish brown (dark oil “needs a change,” milky oil “needs a mechanic”) and stays between those two lines, you’re OK. If it’s low, add a quart or two of the grade your owner’s manual recommends, through the oil cap. Oil should be changed roughly every 5,000 to 7,500 miles, depending on your driving and your owner’s manual.

By the way, to make sure you don’t spend money on unnecessary car maintenance, check out: “How to Save $1,000 a Year on Car Maintenance.”

4. Battery


Photo (cc) by Rich Moffitt

Battery problems are often associated with winter, but AAA says summer is actually worse: “Heat and vibration are a battery’s two worst enemies leading to internal breakdown and eventual failure.”

Many auto places will check your battery free of charge, and they’ll recommend you replace it every three years. If you want to check it yourself, start by seeing if your battery has removable caps on top — if so, peek inside and see if the water level looks low. Add distilled water to every cell that needs it.

With the engine off, check for frayed wires and corrosion (a powdery buildup) around the terminals, where the cables are clamped to the battery posts. Make sure the clamps are firm, too. If there is corrosion, don’t clean it with your bare hands — it’s acid. You can scrub it off with a disposable toothbrush and a mixture of baking soda and water.

If you have to disconnect the cables, always disconnect the negative (-) wire first and reconnect it last to reduce the chances of a short circuit and serious injury.

5. Air conditioning

air conditioning

Photo (cc) by Bill McChesney

For obvious reasons, you want your air conditioning at its best in the summer. An easy way to check is to stick a thermometer through the vent to see how cool the air is getting compared with what temperature the car says it is. If it’s not as cool as you’d like, the first thing to try is checking and replacing your car’s cabin air filter — it’s a $10 job you can handle yourself that should be done every 20,000 miles.

If that doesn’t help, you may need more refrigerant, have leaks, or suffer from bigger problems. Time to see a mechanic.

6. Temperature gauge


Photo (cc) by Andrew E. Larsen

Keep an eye on your temperature gauge and make sure it registers cool.

High speeds, idling in traffic, running the AC or pulling a heavy load will cause your car to heat up faster. If you’re worried you may be close to overheating, here is a trick to try: Turn the air conditioning completely off and put the heater on max. This will vent some of the engine heat — right in your face, but it’s better than the alternative.

Roll the windows down and pull over to a safe place. Don’t keep driving while your temperature gauge is in the red zone. Give the vehicle time to cool down, and phone for help. Driving your overheated car can result in repairs that can cost in the thousands.

7. Tires

blow out

Photo (cc) by Jeff Hanson

Heat affects tire pressure, so under-inflation or over-inflation are risky in extreme weather. Use a hand pressure gauge to make sure your tires’ pressure matches what the owner’s manual or the specs listed on the side of your tire say it should be. Fill up with air at the gas station. Check tire tread with a penny: if you can see all of Abe’s head, you don’t have enough tread. That means it’s time to replace those tires to stay safe on the road.

You can get your mechanic to check all this, too, as well as alignment and balance. You can also usually get your tires rotated for free along with any other service.

8. Emergency kit

highway kit

Photo (cc) by Highways.gov.uk

Sometimes even a reasonably well-maintained car will break down. Be sure you’re prepared for an emergency, with some basic supplies, including water for the radiator and yourself, jumper cables, a flashlight and batteries and a first aid kit.

What’s your experience driving and maintaining your car in extreme heat or cold? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

I know... every site you visit wants you to subscribe to their newsletter. But our news and advice is actually worth reading! For 25 years, I've been making people richer without making their eyes glaze over. You'll be glad you did. I guarantee it!


Read Next: 12 Cheap Summer Projects That Make Your Home Feel New

Check Out Our Hottest Deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 2,010 more deals!