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Preparing cars to withstand hot weather

Wednesday - 7/17/2013, 9:22am  ET

WASHINGTON - The heat wave in the Washington, D.C., area can take a toll on our bodies, but it can also have an impact on cars.

As temperatures reach more than 90 degrees Wednesday, AAA reminds drivers of some of the precautions they can take to keep cars dependable in extreme heat.

In heavy traffic during heat waves, drivers shouldn't tailgate the car ahead. Tailgating can stress a car's cooling system when it sucks in hot exhaust fumes, said AAA Mid-Atlantic Chief Spokesman Lon Anderson.

Also, drivers should check fluids, tires, belts and hoses of the vehicle, Anderson says. The heat's impact on cars is cumulative, he says.

"Just because your car survived the first day or two of this heat wave doesn't mean you'll survive it successfully all the way through," Anderson says.

Car batteries are extremely vulnerable to heat, he adds. Of the 81,000 service calls AAA Mid-Atlantic handled the first two weeks of July 2013, "batteries issues were the largest culprit," says Anderson. Car batteries more than three years old might need to be checked for reliability.

Driving on under-inflated tires can cause tires to overheat and be more susceptible to blowouts, Anderson says. Tire pressure should be checked when they are cool.

To keep a car's air conditioner working efficiently, AAA Mid-Atlantic recommends changing cabin filters every year or 15,000 miles. Although "most cars are made to be able to take the strain of running the air-conditioner," says Anderson.

The interior of sweltering hot cars can be cooled off most quickly by opening windows initially to let hot air escape, AAA recommends. Set air conditioner controls to "re-circulate" to keep hot air out and cool air in.

In case of a breakdown, a car's emergency kit should be stocked, AAA says. Items should include water, a first aid kit, non-perishable food items, a flashlight with extra batteries, and road flares or reflective triangles.

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