By Michael Phelan
Published: Tuesday, February 22, 2022
February brings the heat. Exhibit A: the summer of 2016/17 when an unprecedented heatwave hit us with one scorcher after another. By the third day of 40C temperatures, I’d had enough, jumped in my car and headed to the beach for a refreshing swim in the cool waters off SA.
That was the plan, at least. But it came horribly unstuck when my “trusty” Holden Gemini broke down halfway to Semaphore, leaving me stranded on the side of the road, surrounded by dry, dusty paddocks in the dirty stinking heat.
Steam billowed out from under the hood, and even with my extremely limited mechanical knowledge, I knew I was in trouble. All I could do was call RAA roadside assistance, wait for the four-wheeled cavalry to arrive and hope I didn’t melt to liquid goo in the meantime.
Ever been stuck like this? It’s uncomfortable at best, and at worst, potentially dangerous. Here are a few things you can do to help if you do find yourself overheating in a broken down car on a hot day.
If you notice something wrong with your car, pull over straight away. This gives you a better chance to stop in a safer, more convenient location instead of driving until your vehicle conks out in the middle of a busy road.
If you’re on a main road, turn down a side street. But if you’re on a highway or freeway, park as far left from traffic as possible. Use an emergency lane if there’s one available – it’s safer and you’re not holding up other motorists.
Now turn on your hazard lights. Those blinkers will let passing motorists know you’re having car trouble (and, who knows, some good Samaritan might pull over and help). If it’s after dark, leave your parking lights on for higher visibility.
RAA Senior Manager Safety & Infrastructure Charles Mountain recommends that if there is a better place to wait than in the car, people should do so for their own health and safety.
“Car interiors can get stifling hot when temperatures rise, even with the windows down,” he says. “This can potentially lead to heat stress, heat stroke or worse.
Wherever there’s vehicles zooming around, there’s always potential for a traffic incident.
“But, if it’s safe to get out of your car – you should do so.”
How do you do that? Check for oncoming traffic, including cyclists, and when it’s all clear, exit via the driver’s side door. If that’s not a safe option, avoid traffic altogether by climbing out the passenger side.
Once out of the car, find a safe spot and wait for help. Are there any safety barriers nearby? Galvanised steel guardrails provide added protection so get behind them if you can.
Look around and find a nice spot in the shade. Maybe there’s a tree or some cover to sit under? If there’s none around, you might have to improvise and use anything at your disposal such as a jacket, blanket or umbrella.
Somewhat ironically, a windscreen sun protector would do the trick, too. Keep some caps and hats in the boot or glovebox, just in case.
Don’t forget to take your keys with you if you get out of the car. The last thing you want to do is lock them inside. Talk about a (hot) day going from bad to worse.
If there are no safe options, then RAA Road Safety suggests remaining inside your car. But, just like when you’re driving, you should keep the seatbelt on.
This goes for any passengers, too. If there’s a traffic incident, you want to keep yourself and other occupants safe, and seatbelts provide the best form of protection.
Don’t try to cross a freeway, multi-lane highway or busy road under any circumstances. You’re only putting yourself and other motorists at risk.
Call for help
Who ya’ gonna call? No, not Ghostbusters. Your instinct may be to call a friend or family member, but roadside assistance is the first call you should make.
“On a blistering hot day, the last thing you want is to have to spend one minute more under the blazing sun than you have to,” Mr. Mountain says.
“Roadside assistance will do this quicker than anyone. So calling your family or friends to tell them what’s happened can wait until after you’ve made that first call.”
“Calling someone who can help fix your car problem and get you on your merry way again is going to reduce your time exposed to the heat and any associated risks.”
When you’re on the mobile phone calling roadside assistance, or anyone for that matter, make sure you’re facing traffic. This way you can see oncoming vehicles and be aware of any potential hazards.
Bonus: you’ll also see RAA Road Service coming. Hang on, help is on the way!
Despite warnings, RAA has answered 1524 callouts to children being left unattended in a car over the past five years. There have already been 21 this year. Thankfully, there have been no fatalities in SA.
Every summer, we hear horror stories about children sweltering in cars on a hot day. They can quickly become distressed and dehydrated.
Car interiors heat up very fast, as temperatures and humidity rise due to a lack of airflow, even on relatively mild days. According to Kidsafe, it can get dangerous quickly with 75% of the temperature rise occurring within five minutes of the leaving the car.
Temperatures inside a parked car can be 20C to 30C hotter than the temperature outside. Leaving windows slightly down has little effect, with temperatures only 5C cooler than outside.
To show just how hot a car interior can get, the team at samotor did an experiment to see what you can cook in a vehicle on a 38C day. The results will shock you.
Heat stress can happen fast. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, muscle cramps, feeling faint and intense thirst.
Rapid pulse, shallow breathing and slurred speech are tell-tale signs of heatstroke, and you should seek medical assistance immediately. If left unattended, more serious complications can develop, including seizures, loss of consciousness and even death.
Stay well-hydrated. It’s a good idea to always keep a bottle of water in the car, especially on long journeys.
Most vehicles have bottle and cup holders in the door trims. Pop a bottle or two in the receptacles so they’re handy. An Esky in the boot is another great way to store water supplies, and don’t forget a bowl for your pets to drink from.
Avoid caffeinated beverages such as coffee or soft drinks. These diuretics make your body lose water.
Driving with children and/or pets can be challenging at the best of times. Breaking down, especially in hot weather, takes it to a whole new level. Because now you must ensure the safety of those in your duty of care while trying to get back on the road.
Supervision is crucial. Make sure you know where children and pets are at all times, keeping them away from traffic and other potential dangers.
Pet restraints are also an option. Tie a leash to a permanent fixture or place them inside a carrier to stop them straying onto the road. Sure, they’d love to roam free, but you’d love to avoid a trip to the vet.
One more thing: an inconvenience to an adult might be a full-blown drama for a child. Keep them calm and reassured the whole time. Everything is going to be okay.
In case of emergency
Breakdowns can happen at any time for any reason. That’s why you should always be prepared for a “just in case” scenario. Keep an emergency kit handy.
This might contain any number of items including a portable phone charger, fire extinguisher, tyre gauge, multi-tool, rags, torch and spare batteries. A basic first aid kit is also recommended along with adequate water supply. Always be prepared.
What if… there was a way to avoid all this drama? A routine vehicle check might even prevent a breakdown.
Before pulling out of the driveway, tick off the usual suspects like oil, fuel, water, tyres, battery and lights for your vehicle along with anything you’re towing.
This way, you might find the solution before it becomes a problem.