AAA says more stranded motorists will call for help this summer driving season

BOISE – Heat-related maladies serious enough to incapacitate a car and endanger its occupants will play a major role in an estimated 7.3 million calls to AAA this summer.

The nation′s largest motor club says it will tow nearly 3.2 million vehicles from among the more than 7 million stranded member motorists that call this summer. AAA says it expects a rise of nearly 1.5 percent in roadside assistance requests over the same timeframe in 2008.

Part of the increased call volume is attributed to motorists holding on to their cars longer and a suspicion that an anemic economy is causing motorists to cut regular maintenance from their budgets. Hot summer temperatures will also contribute to boiling radiators and premature battery failure.

"We know that hot temperatures cause calls for service to skyrocket," said AAA Idaho spokesman Dave Carlson. Weather extremes spike the number of calls for road service, putting more pressure on towing contractors to get to a call as soon as possible.

"Getting to any potentially dangerous situation is always a priority, but with 100-degree heat we′re very concerned about protecting vehicle occupants from heat stroke," according to Carlson."

Car engines overheat for a variety of reasons: driving in slow-moving traffic during hot weather, with air conditioning running; driving up long, steep hills; loose or broken fan belts; a broken water pump or burst hose; insufficient coolant or antifreeze; a stuck or broken thermostat or a clogged radiator.

Most motorists know cold weather can take a toll on automobile batteries, but few realize that summer heat also contributes to battery failure. Summer heat accelerates the rate of corrosion on battery terminals. AAA anticipates it will jump start or replace more than 1.3 million batteries this summer.

Prevention is a Friend

Older, poorly maintained vehicles are particularly vulnerable to overheating or battery failure, but any vehicle is susceptible to a breakdown once the mercury begins to rise. AAA recommends motorists check:

  • Antifreeze/Coolant – Check the level and condition, making certain the proper 50/50 mixture of water and coolant is present.
  • Air Conditioning – If needed have the system serviced by a qualified technician using the proper refrigerant.
  • Battery – Hot weather takes a toll on older batteries, or those whose fluid levels are low. Weak or older batteries should be tested by a technician and replaced if necessary.
  • Engine Oil – Hot temperatures and towing a heavy trailer can be tough on your oil. Check the owner′s manual for specific recommendations, and be sure to check the oil level often.

Safety Tips for Occupants

Heat stroke is an immediate danger marked by weakness, dizziness and profuse sweating. Children and pets can die from heat stroke in a matter of minutes. Never leave a child or pets unattended.

Open the doors and lower the windows to allow a car′s interior to cool before entering it. A sun shield used to cover the windshield will minimize heat buildup.

Always carry plenty of drinking water.

If your engine overheats, AAA recommends you follow these steps to minimize danger to a car′s occupants:

  • Turn off all accessories, especially the air conditioner.
  • If you are stopped in traffic, turn on the heater fan, put the transmission in neutral and run the engine at fast idle. This will not solve the problem, but it will draw heat from the engine block and cool the radiator.
  • If the temperature gauge continues to show hot or the warning light stays on, signal and pull off the road. Raise the hood, let the engine cool and call for emergency road service.
  • If there is no steam or smoke coming from the engine, carefully open the hood (wear gloves to protect your hands). Look for such problems as a broken hose or belt. Note whether the radiator overflow tank is empty, but do not touch the radiator.
  • When the engine has cooled completely, check the fluid in the radiator overflow tank again. If low, add coolant and water in a 50/50 mix. Using cold water could crack the engine block. Start the engine and let it run at idle speed as you add the coolant.

Carlson reminds motorists to call or contact any AAA Idaho office to get a free copy of the brochure, What to Do When the Heat is On. It includes tips to avoid engine overheating and what to do to protect a vehicle′s occupants in the case of a breakdown.

Editor: An audio version of this news release is available on the AAA News Hotline. In Boise, call 342-9391. Outside Boise, call toll free, 1-800-999-9391. Ask the AAA News Hotline.