Driving in a heatwave: how to stay safe, avoid overheating and what to do if you break down in hot weather

Tips on how to prepare yourself and your vehicle for travelling during record-breaking temperatures

Monday, 18th July 2022, 3:26 pm

Red heat warnings have been issued for some parts of the UK as a heatwave brings temperatures of over 40 degrees this week.

As the Met Office issues the rare warnings, drivers are being urged to make sure they and their vehicles are prepared for the heat.

Soaring temperatures bring an increased risk of vehicle breakdowns as well as making car journeys uncomfortable for drivers and passengers, so follow our advice to make sure you and your car can cope with the heatwave.

Check your car

High temperatures can play havoc with your car so checking key components before you head off could prevent a breakdown or difficult journey later. Breakdown service the AA has even suggested that owners of older cars which haven’t been serviced recently should consider avoiding travel to avoid the risk of a heat-related breakdown.

Check fluid levels, paying particular attention to your car’s coolant level - this is what will stop your engine overheating. Also check your oil level and screenwash - a dirty windscreen and bright sunlight can restrict your vision - and check your windscreen wipers for the same reason.

Check your tyre pressures and overall condition. Under- or over-inflated tyres are more vulnerable to damage in high temperatures and the heat can also quickly make existing damage worse, potentially leading to a dangerous blow-out.

Broken or underperforming air conditioning can also make long journeys uncomfortable so check your system is working before setting off.

Plan and prepare

Air your car before travelling. Even with high temperatures outside the car, it pays to open the windows for a few minutes to let trapped hot air escape before you set off.

Avoid travelling in the middle of the day, when temperatures are highest. If you can, aim for early in the morning or later in the evening when the air and road temperatures will be lower and traffic is likely to be quieter.

Pack a basic travel kit with plenty of fresh water to keep you and your passengers hydrated and snacks. Take sunglasses and make sure you have a mobile phone and charger, just in case you break down. If you do break down you could be stuck outside in high temperatures so also make sure you’ve also got suncream, hats and long-sleeved tops to protect you from the sun.

(Photo by DAMIEN MEYER/AFP via Getty Images)

Take regular breaks to avoid heat-induced drowsiness and when you stop, park in the shade. Not only does this keep the interior of the car cooler for when you return but it can also help protect your car against overheating components. Invest in a windscreen shield to reflect some of the heat away from your car.

Look after children and pets

It should go without saying but never leave children or pets in a car on a hot day. Temperatures in a stationary car can rocket to dangerous levels in a matter of minutes, creating the risk of life-threatening heatstroke for human and animal passengers.

Even when you’re on the move you should take additional care to make sure the very young, very old and animals are comfortable and hydrated. If any passengers show signs of distress, stop somewhere cool and shaded.

Dealing with a breakdown

Basic checks will help reduce the chances of your car breaking down but if your vehicle does develop a problem you should try to get off the road and stop somewhere with plenty of shade where you can wait for a recovery service.

AA president Edmund King has the following advice: “The extreme temperatures could be dangerous if you break down or get stuck in congestion. Ensure you have enough fuel or electric charge to keep your air conditioning running.

“If your car breaks down when temperatures are high, it’s even more important than usual that [breakdown services] get to you as quickly as we can. Knowing your exact location is vital, so downloading the what3words app and reporting your unique location can help us to reach you faster. Try to wait in the shade in a safe place.

“Carry plenty of water – at least one litre per person travelling. If the worst should happen, you can keep yourself and those with you topped up with cool water while waiting for help to arrive.”

If your car starts to overheat, you can temporarily deal with the issue by turning up the car’s heating to draw some of the heat out of the engine bay. This is only a temporary solution, however, and you’ll need to top up the car’s coolant (once the system has cooled down) or have it checked by a mechanic as soon as possible.