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8 Summer Car Tips and Tricks Every Driver Should Know

Sweltering temperatures can mean trouble for your ride, but these tricks can help you keep your car cool

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car on a road trip in the summer with mountains in the background
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Summer car care and driving tips

There’s no better time than summer to hit the open road, especially if you’re behind the wheel of one of these best cars for a road trip. Whether you’re heading from Maine to Florida on an Atlantic Coast road trip, traversing the United States on historic Route 66 or meandering down the Great River Road, one thing remains the same: You won’t get very far without these road trip essentials. You’ll also want to know these car tips and tricks for safe and smart driving all summer long, plus we’re sharing some tips for off-roading the safe and fun way, which we learned from Land Rover Experience Centers.

@annefritzlinval Got stuck in the sand, so needed a tow. #landroverdefender #d130 #Dubai ♬ original sound – annefritzlinval

sun reflector in the windshield of a car
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Block the rays

Spending time in the sun is just as bad for your car as it is for you, as sun damage can cause paint and interiors to fade. To prevent problems, park in a garage when possible and invest in a sunshade. Oh, and here’s why it’s critical to wear sunscreen while you drive.

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testing tire treads with a penny
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Test your tires

Be prepared. Tires are more prone to blowouts in the hot summer months, because drivers are often on a sizzling road with heavier loads for longer periods of time. Underinflated tires are most at risk, since the lack of air pressure puts the tires’ components under increased strain; overinflated tires, however, are more likely to hydroplane in a summer rainstorm. Periodically check your tread by sticking a penny into the groove of the tire with Lincoln’s head facing inward. If you can see the top of Abe’s head, it’s time for a new set.

woman's hands near the Steering Wheel
Catherine Falls Commercial/getty images

Hands off

Prevent burning your hands with this trick: Turn the wheel 180 degrees before getting out of the car. That way, the side you touch is safely in the shade while you’re out and about. Just remember to straighten your tires before pulling out of your parking spot.

Husky looking out from vehicle window
Westend61/Getty Images

Cool off quickly

Cool down more quickly by driving with the windows rolled down and the air cranked up, which forces out the hot air and allows the cool air to circulate. In a few minutes, when the air inside the car should be about the same temperature as the air outside, you’re ready to roll up the windows. If you have air-conditioned seats, be sure to engage those too. If you’re looking to upgrade your vehicle for your next adventure, you’ll want to know the best time to buy a car.

Defender 130 Sedona Red Dubai Interior
Courtesy Land Rover

Go off-roading

If your car is equipped for off-roading and you’re in an area where it’s allowed, going for a spin in the sand or tackling mud and ruts can be exhilarating—provided you know what you’re doing. For starters, use the vehicle settings to your advantage—that’s what they’re there for. The Land Rover Defender 130, for example, has a terrain response system that will do the work of adjusting the suspension and vehicle height for you to suit a number of different driving surfaces. It’s also helpful to pay attention to your tire placement, but that can be easier said than done when you’re mid joy ride. Use the vehicle information screen to see which way your tires are facing and which way the vehicle will be driving if you continue on that path. Taking a class somewhere like Land Rover Experience Centers can boost your confidence in a safe setting before you try driving in the wilds on your own. Find out other car features you never knew you had.

Defender 130 Fuji White in Dubai Dunes
Courtesy Land Rover

Play in the sand

Off-roading in sand dunes requires even more know-how. To start, let a bit of air out of your tires when driving on sand so they are wider and better able to grip, suggests David Sneath, lead Land Rover drive instructor. (Remember to fill them up when you’re back on regular pavement.) To get up a sand dune, give the car some passion, aka gas—don’t be afraid to push on the gas pedal with gusto. If you do start to skid on sand, steer into it,  just like you would in the snow. It’s OK to get stuck, knowing that you have the skills to get unstuck—just back up, leaving yourself room to generate plenty of momentum, and try again, Sneath says. If all else fails, a shovel and a tow line can get you out of a bind (see the video above). Learn how to handle other scary driving situations too.

dryer sheet taped to a car AC vent
Justine Valentine/RD.com

Freshen the seats

A hot car can also mean a smelly car. To get rid of the stench, tape a dryer sheet onto the air conditioning. When you blast the AC, your ride will get a refresher too. Stash a box of dryer sheets under the passenger seat for maximum deodorizing as you travel. There are even more uses for dryer sheets you probably don’t know about.

Car engine temperature sensor close up arrows
Yaraslau Mikheyeu/Getty Images

Know the signs your engine is overheating

Hot temperatures and low coolant levels increase the risk of your engine overheating and your AC working overtime. If you see symptoms of an overheated engine—temperature gauge rising, warning lights, steam billowing out from the hood—pull over to a safe place, turn off the engine and wait at least a half hour for it to cool down fully before opening the hood. If your coolant levels are low, topping off the tank (it’s the translucent plastic one) could do the trick, but if the tank is empty you might have sprung a leak and will need pro help. Speaking of the pros, here are the secrets car mechanics don’t want you to know.

Additional reporting by Chelsea Stone.

Anne Fritz
Anne is a seasoned lifestyle journalist with more than 20 years of experience in content creation and planning. A former Fashion & Beauty Director at Life & Style, she has written and edited for top publications including Everyday Health, The Spruce, What to Expect, Seventeen, Woman’s Day and more. She’s the mom of two elementary-school kids and the owner of a pandemic pup—all three keep her on her toes.