Two women driving down a road in summer

Your complete guide for safe summer driving

Driving in hot weather – particularly heatwaves – brings with it certain challenges that all motorists and passengers need to be aware of. As the temperature rises, cars and passengers can quickly overheat, visibility can become an issue, and staying in full control of your vehicle can become challenging.

Of course, it is safe to drive in hot weather – you just need to make sure you are well prepared. Here are some things to consider before, during and after your drive, to make sure you stay safe on the roads this summer.

Before you set off driving

Bring the essentials with you

Make sure to pack enough cold water to last the entire journey, to ensure you don’t get dehydrated. The side effects of dehydration can include tiredness, fatigue and lower concentration – a dangerous combination if you’re behind the wheel of a car. 

It’s also wise to pack sunglasses, a hat and sun cream – the sun’s harmful UVA rays can easily penetrate the windows of your car and cause skin damage.

But because hot conditions can easily and quickly bring rain and storms, it’s a good idea to prepare for wetter conditions too – pack an umbrella and an appropriate change of clothing.

For your safety: stay fully charged

Particularly on long journeys, make sure your phone is fully charged and you have the ability to charge it further as you drive – a portable power bank is always a good idea. If your car breaks down or you have any other kind of emergency, having a fully charged phone will allow you to call for assistance.

Plan your route

Traffic jams and long lines are often inevitable, but you can minimise the time you and your car spend overheating in queues by planning your journey carefully. Particularly if it’s a journey you’re unfamiliar with, check route planners to establish the quickest route, and make a note of where petrol stations or recharging points are along the way.

Try to avoid city centres and driving during busier periods, if possible, and always have a Plan B should your route throw up any unexpected problems.

Car checks: consider your FORCES’

It’s important you check that your car is in good working order before you set off on any journey, particularly during hot weather. The RAC recommends that all drivers consider five key factors before any trip in hot weather, which you can remember by the acronym ‘FORCES’ – this stands for Fuel, Oil, Rubber, Coolant, Electrics and Screenwash. Get into the habit of checking those five areas before any journey.

  • Fuel: make sure you have enough fuel in your tank (or charge in your battery, if you drive an electric car) before setting off on your journey. 
  • Oil: Make sure you do a quick check of your engine oil before setting off, to reduce the risk of a potential breakdown when you’re out and about
  • Rubber: Check your tyres are inflated to the correct pressure and that the tread depth is at least 3mm. You can find some top tips for looking after your tyres by our Scheme partner, Kwik Fit, here.
  • Coolant: This is particularly important to make sure that your car engine doesn’t overheat – so make sure you do a quick check of the coolant levels before setting off, and if needed, top it up so that it is somewhere between the ‘min’ and ‘max’ levels that you’ll see marked.
  • Electrics: Make sure your windscreen wipers, indicators and windows are all working as they should – and if you notice any issues with them before setting off, be sure to get them checked out.
  • Screenwash: Keep your screen washer fluid topped up, to make sure that you have good visibility on your longer drives.

If you do encounter problems on your journey, be aware that your Motability Scheme vehicle has RAC breakdown cover for the whole of your lease – to give you peace of mind.

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Improve your visibility

Visibility can be a significant issue when driving in bright conditions. Sunlight hitting the dirt and accumulated debris on your windscreen can cause dangerous glare, reducing your visibility. If this occurs, do not push down hard on your brakes; slow down in as safe and controlled a way as possible.

To minimise glare, make sure the glass is clean and free from any glare-inducing cracks or scratches before you set off, and check that your windscreen wipers are in good condition. If you do notice a chip or a crack, be sure to book a repair as soon as possible.

Get into a cool car

It’s much more pleasant to get into a cooled car, so do whatever you can to lower the temperature before you get in and set off. Many modern cars give you the option to cool the cabin remotely using an app. If you don’t have that option, open windows or use the air conditioning to bring the temperature down to a manageable level.

During your journey

Keep the cabin cool

Windows or air conditioning? It’s a common quandary. One school of thought suggests that if you’re travelling below 45mph, you should open the windows to keep cool. At over 45mph, and due to the additional drag caused by those open windows, it’s better to turn the air conditioning on and wind the windows up.

Either way, it’s worth remembering that running the air conditioning while the windows are open makes the air con less efficient. If you do choose to use the air conditioning, just be aware that this will use additional fuel in petrol/diesel cars, or will run your battery down more quickly in an electric car, which makes it less economical to run.

If using the air con, look out for the air recirculation button, which cools air from within the cabin, rather than pulling warm air in from outside. This puts less strain on the engine/battery and is more fuel efficient. The button, usually on or near the air con dial, will often have a picture of a car with an arrow inside it.

Check your medication

If you suffer from hay fever and need to keep pollen out of the car as much as possible, you may have no choice but to keep your windows closed and the air conditioning on. If you take hayfever medication, do not drive if it makes you drowsy.

And if you have to sneeze when driving, reduce your speed as soon and as smoothly as possible to make sure you stay safe. The AA says that if you sneeze while driving at 70mph, you can lose vision and control for up to 100m.

Drive more cautiously

Hot weather usually means more traffic on the roads. This can mean more cars and motorbikes, but also a higher number of cyclists – and even horseriders in more rural areas.

You should of course drive cautiously at all times, but be even more vigilant if the traffic increases. Give cyclists more space, reduce your speed around them, be aware of them turning, and always overtake with caution.

Understand your dashboard’s warnings

If your car was roadworthy before you set off, you hopefully shouldn’t encounter any issues during your journey. But because your car can easily overheat in hot weather, it’s wise to understand your dashboard’s warning lights. They will give you an early warning of any problems – consult your car’s handbook or owner’s app to familiarise yourself with the symbols.

After your journey

Find shade for your car

At the end of a long, hot, tiring journey, your car will be keen to cool down – just like you. Try to park it in a garage or in as much shade as possible. This is particularly important if you are driving again within the same day – a day trip to the coast, for example. Give your car time to cool down effectively and be ready for its next journey.

Keep the heat out

If you’re not able to park in the shade, you can use windscreen sunshades to keep the heat out. If you’ll need to use the car again within a few hours, keeping the car’s interior cool will benefit you when you set off.

Check for warnings

Even if you’re not planning to drive the car again for a while, it’s wise to check the dashboard for any warning signs and go through the FORCES check again to make sure you have no issues that need to be addressed.

Related articles

How to prevent your car from overheating this summer and beyond

Top tips for looking after your tyres 

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