Summer driving seems like the easiest season for driving, right? You can avoid spring rains and winter snow, there are fewer holidays, and there’s no weather more visible than a sunny summer afternoon. Unfortunately, the data doesn’t support our laxity about summer driving. In 2013, August had more fatal car accidents than any other month. Summer isn’t the time to loosen your driving standards—it’s the season to get prepared.
Below, we’ve prepared 12 tips for safe driving this summer. If you are commuting to work, driving around town, or planning a cross-country trip, you’ll want to reference our list before reaching for the keys.
#1: Towing a Trailer? Use Thicker Oil.
Most drivers of passenger vehicles put 5W30 oil in their engines. The rating of the oil describes its maximum and minimum viscosity (thickness). When an engine runs hot, it needs a highly viscous oil that won’t wear out quickly.
Normally, your engine won’t run hot enough to require a thicker oil, not even in summer. However, if you’re planning on towing a trailer or a camper this summer, you may want to switch out your engine’s oil for a more viscous variety. This keeps your engine from wearing itself out and overheating during the worst possible circumstances.
#2: Pack a Phone Charger
Phones have become a driver’s emergency flare, map, navigational device, flashlight, and countless other items necessary for a long drive. These are things every driver needs. Your phone is too important to not keep charged.
AmazonBasics sells dual-USB car chargers that will suit virtually all phone charging cables. These are affordable, useful on a daily basis, and provide an extra layer of preparation should you require a full battery if stranded on the road.
#3: Test Out Your Tire Jack
This tip will take you 10 minutes max, and it’ll give you a whole lot of peace of mind in the process. Go outside and take out your car’s tire jack. Set up the jack and position it underneath the metal frame of the car. It should be a foot or so from the door panel, depending on your vehicle. Putting it under anything less sturdy than your frame (like a piece of plastic molding) would cause the car’s weight to crush it. Watch it closely to make sure you're not damaging your car.
If the jack works, perfect! You now know you’re prepared for a flat tire. If it doesn’t, invest in one as quickly as possible.
#4: Pack a Gallon of Water (or Two)
Imagine you’re cruising down a desert road, enjoying the beautiful, barren scenery. We don’t think about how vulnerable we truly are in situations like these. One small mechanical failure later, and you’d realize that you’re hours away from help with the summer sun beating down on you in the meantime. That's when inconvenience becomes life-threatening.
This is why you always keep a couple gallons of drinking water in the car:
According to the CDC, roughly 600 people a year die from excessive heat, and even more die from dehydration. Staying cool and hydrated is crucial during the summer months. Even normal summer heat is enough to severely injure us.
If you’re driving around town or going on a trip, having the water will never hurt. It’s cheap, it takes no effort, and it takes up very little space—but it could save your life if you find yourself stuck in the heat of the day.
#5: Check Your Tire Pressure & Wear
Your vehicle offers a factory-recommended pressure level for your tires. Making sure your tire pressure is correct can add as much as a mile per gallon to your car’s mpg. Gas prices tend to go up in summer, so that’s high-value savings.
More importantly, optimum tire pressure keeps your tires from prematurely wearing, which lowers the likelihood of getting a flat tire. Why does that matter in the summer? Because heat causes air to expand, increasing the tire pressure. A tire at 30 psi in January can be as high as 40 or 45 psi in August just due to the higher temperature.
Signs that you need to replace your tires include:
- Less tread on the outside edges of the tire
- Less tread on the center of the tire
- Tread less than half the height of a penny
- Lumps on the treads
#6: Keep Sunglasses in the Car
The increased amount of daylight and the brightness of summer weather can make it more difficult for drivers to see. Squinting or averting your gaze due to the sun can actually leave you blind to obstacles or pedestrians on the road.
This has the easiest fix: go buy sunglasses and keep them in the car. If you often travel with sunglasses, consider having a spare pair in your glove box just in case. Spare yourself burned corneas and poor vision that comes from direct sunlight.
#7: Replace Your Windshield Wipers
It’s been a few months since the last rain and it’s been over a year since you last replaced your windshield wipers. The sun has likely dried up the wipers, make them far less effective.
Of course, you won’t notice that until a summer thunderstorm hits and you really need them.
If you can’t remember the last time you replaced your windshield wipers, spend about $15 to change them out. It takes about 10 minutes or less to change them, and you won’t be caught flat-footed during the next sudden downpour.
#8: Arrange Roadside Assistance
Many insurance companies offer roadside assistance as part of their services. If you’re not particularly handy (or you don’t carry a toolbox around with you), having roadside assistance is a great way to ensure your peace of mind. You might be left waiting on the side of the road if your car breaks down, but at least you know there’s someone you can call 24/7.
Before you go on a trip (or if your car is starting to give you trouble), double-check that you have access to roadside assistance. Aside from insurance, there are memberships (like AAA) that offer roadside assistance plans.
#9: Leave Your Phone in the Backseat
This one is fairly straightforward:
Do not ever touch your phone while driving. It’s as much a tip as it is a moral imperative. Summer brings increased traffic of all kinds—cars, trucks, and pedestrians. As a result, your focus should be sharp and constant throughout every drive.
Enjoy playing music while driving? Set up a playlist before you leave your driveway.
Need to a question on your way to the store? Wait til you get to the store.
Need to answer a question asap? Get your passenger to write a reply.
Summer safety takes all of our efforts. The minor inconvenience of leaving your phone alone for a few minutes is nothing compared to what might occur if you are distracted at the wrong moment.
#10: Refill Refrigerant in AC System
It’s as much a safety issue as a comfort one: keeping cool is vital for moderating your body temperature. In the blistering heat, having functional AC can keep your passengers happy while helping them avoid heat stroke. You can refill your refrigerant on your own (the internet has countless instructional videos on every car chore imaginable), but you can always ask a mechanic to do it for you. In either case, recharging your AC system is a great way to prepare for summer.
#11: Bring a First Aid Kit
In general, having a first aid kit in your car is a good idea. It’s small, it’s easy to carry, and they’re fairly inexpensive. During the summer, however, it might be even more crucial for you and your family to have a first aid kit.
One, summer activities lend themselves to injury. Skateboarding, swimming, running, sports, hiking, and other outdoorsy pastimes require some first aid every once in awhile.
The other reason is this:
If you have kids, they spend most of their time being supervised by teachers, administrators, etc. These people know CPR and have protocols in place to handle medical emergencies (as well as cuts and scrapes). Now that it’s summer, you’re going to have responsibility for your kids all day. Being prepared in a similar fashion would be prudent.
#12: Get a Rear View Camera
If you’re a driver, you have to prepared for a high amount of pedestrians on the road in the summer—especially children. Skateboarding, bike riding, and even just playing sports in the street forces drivers to be more attentive. Even backing out of your own driveway carelessly can lead to a tragic accident, especially if you have kids or joggers in the neighborhood.
If you want to increase your situational awareness, a rear view camera is one of the best ways to do it. While a top-of-the-line model can cost several hundred dollars, there are models as low as $50 available.
There you have it! 12 summer driving tips to help you have a safe, fun, and memorable season. Whether you listen to all 12 or grab a handful that you need, you’re a few minutes away from making your trips just a little bit safer.