Burning questions: How to deal with 157-degree dashboards, dead batteries and blowouts

PHOENIX – Drivers are donning oven mitts to grip steering wheels, wildfires are burning and all the winter visitors have flown away for greener, possibly Canadian, pastures. Yes, it’s summertime in the inferno Arizonans call home.

Whether you’ve lived here forever or are a recent transplant, you’ve probably noticed the effects of the heat on other things, too – especially on our cars. Wonder why your car needs a new battery every couple of years? Why tire stores thrive here? Why every car seems to be white?

Click on the car’s plus signs to find out what happens to vehicles under the Phoenix sun – and what you can do about it.

Your car under the Phoenix sun

Preview image
  • More

    Tire blowouts

    The problem: Tire blowouts are more likely in summer. Summer temperatures increase tire pressure, which puts you at risk if your tires are overinflated. For every 10 degrees the temperature rises, the pressure increases by 1 pound per square inch. Underinflated tires are just as dangerous because more of the tire makes contact with the hot road. That generates friction, which heats the tire walls until they burst.

    The fix: Prevent blowouts by keeping your tires properly inflated. Newer cars are equipped with an air-pressure monitor in each tire, but owners of older vehicles can buy an air gauge for less than the cost of a fancy frappuccino. Check the driver’s door jamb for proper inflation levels.

    Sources: How Stuff Works; Aceable

  • More

    157-degree dashboard

    The problem: Leaving your car in the heat will rapidly increase the inside temperature, so much so that some people in Arizona cook brownies in their car. In as little as an hour, the interior temperature can reach deadly levels, going from 100 to 116 degrees, with the dashboard reaching temperatures as high as 157 degrees.

    The fix: You have a few options for keeping the interior temperature down. You can park in the shade, drive a lighter color car or use a sunshade, which can lower temperatures by up to 43 degrees on such surfaces as the dashboard. And cracking the windows may keep your car up to 28 degrees cooler, but don’t be fooled: It still gets dangerously hot.

    Source: HeatKills; Road and Travel; Pediatrics

  • More

    Dead batteries

    The problem: Batteries require electrodes, an electrolyte solution to provide a chemical reaction and a case to house the liquid. In high heat, the solutions evaporate and chemical reactions accelerate, leading to faster draining and corrosion.

    The fix: Unfortunately, once heat damages a battery’s capacity, it can’t be restored. But keeping the terminals free of corrosion and topping off fluids regularly (if possible) can extend your battery life. It also helps to avoid blasting the air-conditioner and your favorite tunes, no matter how catchy.

    Sources: Phoenix Auto Shop; Kal Tire

  • More

    Fuel drain

    The problem: Fuel economy, theoretically, actually improves in hot weather because the engine reaches ideal operating temperature faster. But as much as your engine likes the heat, you don’t. Air-conditioning decreases fuel efficiency by up to 25%.

    The fix: At lower speeds, rolling the windows down will consume less fuel than using the air-conditioning. At freeway speeds, the increased drag means the AC is a better option. Still, try to get comfortable at a higher temperature and don’t turn on the air until the car starts moving – it’s less work for the engine.

    Sources: U.S. Department of Energy

  • More

    Paint Color

    The problem: Darker colors reflect less sunlight, which leads to your car heating up faster and straining your AC and battery. A dark car left in the sun for an hour will be about 10 degrees hotter than a light car.

    The fix: If you’re new to Phoenix, you’re probably regretting the midnight black paint and leather seats — it’s no surprise Ford counts Phoenix among its largest markets for white cars. Without splurging on a costly paint job, the cheapest solution is the most obvious: park in the shade, which can reduce the ambient temperature by 16 degrees.

    Sources: CBS News; Live Science; Applied Energy


No matter what you do, never leave a child or a pet in the car, as the temperature can reach lethal levels within a matter of minutes, even on a mild day.

Follow us on Twitter.