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Hot Wheels: Is your car ready for summer?

As summer heats up and the beach and other vacation destinations beckon to motorists, the AAA Mid-Atlantic auto club is reminding drivers to make sure their vehicles are weather and road trip ready. The auto club assisted near record numbers of motorists -- 7,500 in the first week of January alone -- in distress due to cold weather this winter and according to Spokeswoman Christine Delise, preparing for heat is as important as preparing for cold.

"Extreme heat can take its toll on vehicle parts such as batteries and hoses, just as cold weather does," Delise said. "Before the summer heat, we're just reminding motorists to get their car ready for now, particularly as families plan for summer road trips."

There are three major areas of a vehicle that tend to fail and cause breakdowns during the summer, according to Ben Perricone, approved auto repair territory manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic: Belts and hoses, tires and batteries.

"Strange as it may sound, heat is a bigger killer of batteries than cold -- under the hood temperatures can literally boil the life right out of a battery so it's important to make sure that the battery and the charging system is working properly, that the cables are clean and protected," Perricone said. "A good general rule of thumb: If the battery in your car is more than four years old, have it tested by your mechanic."

Summer road trips, with the air conditioning and radio blasting, can put as much of a load on a car battery as the heater in the winter, making a weaker battery likely to fail. It's a similar story for belts and hoses, Perricone said, which after all, are made of rubber.

"[Belts and hoses] are susceptible to heat, ozone and ultra violet radiation -- they will degrade over time," he said. "Hoses will deteriorate from the inside out -- You may have a hose that looks fine on the outside, but it is moments away from exploding ... belts and hoses should be changed every two or three years."

Tires also share the potential for exploding, according to Perricone: Under-inflated tires can become over-heated and blow out, while over-inflated tires present less tread to the road and can drastically reduce a vehicle's grip on the asphalt, a bad scenario during a summer thunderstorm.

"[Tires] will gain and lose pressure as the temperature changes -- for every 10 degrees a tire will gain or lose about a pound of air. If we are adjusting the tires at 40 and 50 degrees, they will now be overinflated at 80 or 90 degrees," Perricone said. "Tires should be checked when they are cold, meaning the vehicle has not been driven for three hours. Saturday or Sunday mornings are the perfect time to check."

One other important thing to check before hitting the road in the summer time is a vehicle's fluid levels, according to Perricone.

"We stay hydrated in the summertime and a vehicle is very similar in that the fluids are very important to deal with the heat," he said. "It's important to have regular oil changes and the correct coolant levels so your car can tolerate the extreme heat that will be generated. Your antifreeze, the coolant, will be asked to keep the engine at operating temperatures so it needs to be a good mix 50/50 of water and antifreeze."

While preparing your vehicle to avoid breaking down on the roads this summer, Delise suggested also preparing for the possibility of an unexpected breakdown by including an emergency kit in your vehicle.

"For the summer, you want to have extra drinking water, snacks and food for passengers as well as your pets," Delise said. "Also, whether it's winter or summer, make sure to have flares or triangle reflectors so you can warn oncoming motorists."

The Maryland State Police tend to see breakdowns due to a lack of attention to all of the issues Perricone addressed, according to spokesman Sgt. Marc Black. He said that ultimately, paying attention to vehicle maintenance and one's actions on the road, especially given the large number of people on the highway for summer trips, is extremely important.

"In the summer months, people are thinking about traveling to the destination they want to get to and not paying attention to how to get there," he said. "We want to make sure people are prepared to get out on the roadway just like they prepare for the fun at their destination."

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