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How to care for your car in extreme heat

Here are some tips on how to help your car withstand the heat.

ST. LOUIS — It's hot in St. Louis. 

An excessive heat warning is in effect for the metro St. Louis area and parts of southeast Missouri and southern Illinois through Wednesday, with heat indices in the triple digits during the afternoon hours.

While people are busy keeping themselves and their pets safe in extreme temperatures, experts remind us that our vehicles can use some help too.

According to AAA, there are several key actions to take so that your car can withstand the summer heat.

First of all, never leave children or pets unattended in cars, even for a short period of time. Outside temperatures can quickly skyrocket inside the vehicle and can lead to death.

Protect the battery

Heat can zap the life from batteries, AAA said. To combat this, make sure the battery is securely mounted to lessen vibration, and clean any built-up corrosion from the battery terminals and cable clamps. While you're at it, make sure those clamps are tight.

If a battery is more than 3 years old, it's a good idea to get it tested by a technician to see how much life it has left.

Keep the engine cool

Have the system flushed and the coolant replaced as often as the manufacturer recommends. The owner's manual should tell you the appropriate service intervals.

The hoses and drive belts should also be checked for cracking, soft spots or other problems, and any worn parts should be replaced.

Keep tires in check

Always check the tires if the car hasn't been driven recently. They should be inflated to the pressure recommended by the manufacturer, not the number on the tire sidewall. Since air expands in the summer, it's possible you might need to reduce the pressure to reach the proper psi.

Tire treads should be checked for adequate depth as well as signs of uneven wear, that could indicate a problem with suspension or alignment.

Check fluids

Cars need to stay hydrated too -- there are plenty of fluids that need to be regularly checked, including coolant, motor oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid and break fluid. If something needs topped off, use the fluid specified in the owner's manual.

Stay cool

AAA recommends to keep a comfortable driving environment, which will increase safety by reducing fatigue and increasing driver alertness. You should also have the air conditioning system checked by a certified technician.

Using a sunshield in the windshield while parking can minimize heat build up, and covering metal and plastic parts on seatbelts and child safety seats will help prevent burns.

When entering the car, open the door to let it cool for a few minutes if it's safe to do so.

Don't leave these items inside

While there are plenty of reasons not to leave your gadgets in the car, such as keeping them from getting stolen, here's another -- summer heat will zap the batteries of your phones, tablets and other technology, and can even damage the inner workings. 

Some items can run a risk of cracking or exploding if they get too hot. Hairspray, pepper spray, spray paint and other highly pressurized items can be a hazard waiting to happen.

Be prepared for a breakdown

Even if you take precautions, sometimes life happens anyway. 

In case of a breakdown, keep emergency items such as a first aid kit, water and snacks, booster cables, emergency flares, windshield wiper fluid and a basic tool kit with a tire pressure gauge and adjustable wrench.

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