Summer driving tips

Clever ways to combat hot cars

The summer's brilliant for family fun - but not so great when you're stuck in traffic on the M1. Here are some quick and easy tips to keep everyone cool when the mercury rises. 

Simple, easy checks

Breaking down during a heatwave can be pretty uncomfortable, so give your car a quick once-over. Start with our checklist of 10 easy maintenance tips.

If you're planning a big trip, don't overload your car. If you can't see out of the rearview window, it's time for a rethink. Heavy loads damage your car's framework and increase braking distances - not cool. 

Our summertime driving guide to expecting the unexpected will help you stay chilled if there are any surprises en route. 

We provide 24/7 roadside assistance.

Car driving along a hot road

Dress for the occasion

What you wear is the single biggest comfort factor when driving in the heat. Ditch heavy denim, avoid acrylic and cut out corduroy; wear light coloured clothes that you can freely move in and can be layered on and off.

Don't let kids carry bags or laptops on their laps, they'll just trap the heat.

It's legal to drive barefoot, but it's not recommended, as you've got to be able to operate the pedals safely. If you've got sweaty feet (nice), you might not be able to grip the pedals properly, or push down with the right amount of pressure. 

Shoes with thin, flexible soles are ideal - try canvas pumps, running trainers or slip-on deck shoes. 

Before you leave the house

You can't stop kids squabbling over who's the better superhero (can Mr Freeze ever topple Heat Wave?) but maybe you can stop them getting grouchy in a hot car.  

  • Freeze bottles of water and make sure everyone has their own for car journeys. Passengers can press the bottle against their wrists or forehead - and there's no danger of brain freeze.
  • Take sealed ice packs or damp cloths into the car and get a front seat passenger to hold them a few inches away from the air vents - et voila, instant air conditioning.
  • Keep cooling sprays and handheld fan misters in the fridge, and top them up with chilled water just before you leave. They're lovely for babies in padded car seats.
  • Paper fans are the cheaper alternative to battery-operated handheld fans; stash some in the glove box. 

Pensive girl

How to stay chilled while you're on the road

If your car doesn't have arctic-strength air conditioning, you'll never be able to totally beat the heat while on a road trip - however, you can make life easier for everyone in the car with a bit of forward planning.

  • If you're not precious about missing your daily blow dry, drive with damp hair. Air rushing over it will cool you down. 
  • Distract kids as best you can by making sure they have enough to drink, they're entertained and you all take regular breaks.
  • Instant cold packs can be applied to wrists and foreheads - they don't need to be chilled, and can be kept in the car.

Air conditioning vs open windows

There's a decades-old debate about whether air con is more expensive than driving with open windows.

If you're driving slowly, like you would through a town or built-up area, open windows will keep you cool. However, when you're going faster, such as on a motorway, the wind resistance created by open windows will use more petrol than running the air con.

Keeping parked cars cool

Getting into a hot car can feel like a Bushtucker Trial - how long can you stand being stuck to a leather seat?

  • If you can, drive during cooler times of the day and avoid parking in direct sunlight. If you're not too busy (ha!), you could find a time to travel when traffic jams are less likely
  • If you have to park in the sun, pop a windscreen sun shade on your dashboard to reflect the sun's heat and pull down any window sun shades.
  • Cover your steering wheel with a spare tea towel or cloth to avoid your skin melting to the wheel when you get back, or spritz water onto it and let it evaporate to help cool it down.
  • Cover exposed metal on the seats, such as seat belt buckles and child car seat harness fittings.
  • Lose the worst of the heat by moving off with all the windows open. Close the windows and turn the aircon on once you get going.

Respect the sun and watch out for heat exhaustion 

Heat exhaustion is an issue to watch out for, especially for older passengers and younger kids who might not be able to tell you how they're feeling. If you spot any of the following symptoms, pull over when it's safe and check on your poorly passenger.

  • Increasingly thirsty
  • Fainting
  • Muscle cramps and headaches
  • Being sick/nausea
  • Increased sweating
  • Cool, clammy skin

If you think someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, try to find a cool place indoors. Remove as much clothing as possible and encourage them to sip fluids (sports drinks are best). Cool their skin down as best you can, and consult your GP and/or seek medical attention if you think it's needed.

For more info, check out the NHS advice for recognising and treating heat exhaustion.

Never, ever leave children or pets alone in a hot car to nap. Your car can act like a greenhouse and get dangerously hot in a short time. After a half hour at 21°C, the temperature inside a car can reach 40°C.

Little extras to remember 

  • Car windows don't block UV rays - keep suncream in the glove box
  • Pack some inflatable cushions and a picnic rug in the boot so everyone can properly relax if you're taking a break during a long drive.

Published: 12 August 2020 | Updated: 12 August 2020 | Author: The AA