Editors: Kids and pets in hot cars b-roll: https://vimeo.com/436210148
As a significant heatwave approaches Southern California, the Automobile Club of Southern California reminds drivers about the dangers of hot cars and the importance of maintaining vehicles to prevent heat-related breakdowns. The National Weather Service has issued excessive heat warnings and watches across much of Southern California this week.
The potential for hot or warm days throughout most of the year in Southern California can lead to danger for kids. AAA research shows that heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash vehicle fatalities for kids 14 and younger. In 90-degree weather, the inside of a vehicle, in direct sunlight, can exceed 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Even on a mild, sunny day, temperatures inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in just 10 minutes.
Children are particularly susceptible to heatstroke because their bodies can heat up to three to five times faster than adults. Heatstroke deaths have been recorded in 11 months of the year in nearly all 50 states. More than half of heatstroke deaths occur when a distracted caregiver forgets about a quiet child in the vehicle. A quarter of vehicle heatstroke deaths occur when a child crawls inside an unlocked vehicle and becomes trapped. According to KidsandCars.org, more than 1,050 children have died in hot cars since 1990. On average there are 39 deaths each year in the U.S, which is about one every nine days.
“These are not typically intentional deaths, but rather happen when parents or guardians make a change in their routine or neglect to properly lock cars and trucks,” said Auto Club Traffic Safety and Community Programs Manager Anita Lorz Villagrana. “The result of these tragedies can forever change families.”
Animals are equally impacted by summer heat. Dogs are not able to sweat like humans do, but instead cool themselves by panting and by sweating through their paws. If they have only overheated air to breathe, they can collapse, suffer brain damage and die of heatstroke. Dogs in hot cars can suffer from potentially fatal heat stroke in as little as 15 minutes, even when a window has been left open and water left in the car. While you can’t control the heat, you can protect the youngest passengers. The Auto Club recommends the following precautions:
- Never leave children or animals unattended in a car, not even for a short period of time.
- Create reminders and habits that give you and other caregivers a safety net. Leave an item needed at your next stop in the back seat so you don’t forget about loved ones.
- Take action if you see an unattended child or pet in a vehicle. Dial 911 immediately and follow the instructions of emergency personnel.
- Make sure all children have left the vehicle after it is parked.
- Always keep vehicles locked, even in the garage or driveway.
- Never leave keys and/or remote openers within reach of children.
- When parked, use a sun shield to cover the windshield to minimize heat buildup and to help protect the car’s interior. Cover metal and plastic parts on seat belts and child safety seats to prevent burns.
- Open the vehicle’s doors and let the interior cool for a few minutes before entering.
The Auto Club also reminds drivers that a 2021 California law protects Good Samaritans who break windows to rescue kids. The law provides people with immunity from liability for damage to cars and trucks when someone is rescuing children aged 6 and younger trapped in a vehicle.
Extreme Heat Can Push a Car Past Its Limits
Summer’s high temperatures can take a toll on everyone – and everything, including your car.
“Extreme heat can push a car past its limits, and that can lead to some drivers finding themselves stranded at the roadside,” said Megan McKernan, manager of the Auto Club’s Automotive Research Center.
The following tips can help you avoid becoming one of those drivers:
- Make sure your battery is prepared for high temperatures. Battery problems don’t always occur in the winter. In fact, summer heat can have a more negative impact on your battery than freezing winter temperatures. Heat and vibration are a battery’s worst enemies, leading to internal breakdown and eventual failure. While you can’t do much about the heat, you can make sure your battery is securely mounted to minimize vibration. Another potential problem is faster evaporation of battery fluid, which leads to corrosion on terminals and connections. Clean any corrosive buildup from battery terminals and cable clamps, and ensure the clamps are tight enough that they will not move. If a battery is more than three years old, it’s a good idea to have it tested by a trained technician to determine how much longer it will last.
- Keep your engine cool. Cooling systems protect engines from overheating and should be flushed periodically, as recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Between flushes, make sure the coolant is filled to the proper level by checking the overflow reservoir. If necessary, top off the reservoir with a 50/50 mix of water and the coolant type specified by the vehicle manufacturer. CAUTION! – Never remove the radiator cap when the engine is hot – boiling coolant under pressure could cause serious burns. Rubber cooling system components are susceptible to heat-related deterioration, so periodically inspect hoses and drive belts for cracking, soft spots or other signs of poor condition.
- Keep your tires properly inflated. Driving on under-inflated tires can cause tires to overheat and increase the likelihood of a blowout, especially when road temperatures are extremely high. Check your car’s tire pressures (including the spare) at least once a month, because tires typically lose about one pound of pressure per month through normal seepage. For the most accurate reading, check tire pressures when the tires are cool. Always follow inflation pressure recommendations in your vehicle owner’s manual or on the tire information label located in the glove box or on the driver’s door jamb. Do not use the inflation pressure molded into the tire sidewall, which may not be the correct pressure for your particular vehicle.
- Make sure fluids are at appropriate levels. Most engine fluids lubricate and serve as coolants by helping carry heat away from critical components. When fluid levels are low, the cooling effect is reduced, which increases the possibility of overheating. Periodically check all vehicle fluids, including motor oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid and brake fluid, to ensure they are at appropriate levels. If any fluids need to be topped off, be sure to use the type of fluid specified in the owner’s manual.
- Maintain a comfortable driving environment. During extreme summer heat, an air-conditioning system can be more than just a pleasant convenience. It can reduce fatigue, which plays an important part in driver alertness and vehicle safety. If a car’s air conditioning is not maintaining the interior temperature as well as it once did, it may mean the refrigerant level is low or there is another problem. Have the system checked by a certified technician. In addition, if your car has a cabin filter, it should be inspected and replaced as needed to ensure maximum airflow and cooling during the summer months.
- Be prepared for summer breakdowns. Even with preventive maintenance, summer breakdowns can still occur, so AAA recommends drivers have a well-stocked emergency kit in their cars. The kit should include water, non-perishable food items, jumper cables, a flashlight with extra batteries, road flares or an emergency beacon, basic hand tools and a first aid kit.
Many maintenance tasks needed to prepare a car for extreme summer heat are relatively simple and can be performed by the average driver, but some are best left to a trained automotive technician. AAA offers a free public service to assist motorists seeking a qualified auto repair facility. AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities must meet stringent professional standards and maintain an ongoing customer satisfaction rating of 90 percent or better. To locate a AAA approved repair shop, visit AAA.com/Repair.