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Beat the heat: Maintenance and mobility on blazing days

Updated: 2013-08-12 07:08
By Xu Xiao ( China Daily)

Beat the heat: Maintenance and mobility on blazing days

The temperature hits 40 C in Shanghai on Aug 6. Lai Xinlin / for China Daily

 
New drivers adapt to challenges posed by the sweltering summer

Like many newly empowered car owners in China, Shanghai biotech worker Liang Yu has more options and mobility.

As temperatures remained stubbornly high at 40 C in the metropolis this summer, he drove his new Ford Focus to the mountains some 400 km away in neighboring Zhejiang province.

"It was so hot here almost every day. Window tinting hardly works. Then it rains heavily and it is miserable while driving," Liang said.

But his trip last week offered little relief.

Zhejiang was also suffering under a heat wave with temperatures just as high.

Not accustomed to such torrid weather, many Chinese vehicle owners are learning to face the challenges of maintenance and driving safety in blazing heat.

Local media reported three engine fires on Aug 2 in just an hour during the morning commute in Shanghai.

In July, expressway police in Ningbo of Zhejiang province received 1,823 emergency calls for burst tires, 45 percent more than normal months, local reports said.

Heat-related accidents were also reported in other areas including Chongqing, Hubei, Zhejiang and Hunan.

To guarantee a safe journey in high temperatures, experts warn that drivers should pay special attention to air conditioners, tires and brakes. They also suggest drivers thoroughly check their vehicles before summer arrives.

Qi Lixin, director of the service department at Beijing's largest Audi dealership, said scorching days bring more customers in for car maintenance.

Air conditioner, tire

The most common problems are found in the air conditioning system, he said. Malfunctions are often due to low refrigerant.

Drivers are reminded to also check if connections in the air conditioning system are intact and make sure there are no leaks because high temperatures accelerate the aging process.

As well, "at the end of spring, you need to find a professional dealership or vehicle maintenance center to clear tree fluff from the air conditioning unit. Do not just blow it away", Qi said.

Many car owners have learned the importance of checking the air conditioner as the hot days arrive.

Wang Qian is a young mother who works at a university in Central China's Hunan province. She bought a Skoda Fabia last summer and had air conditioning serviced last week.

She said the "air blows stronger than before".

Hot weather will also age tires, experts say.

Qi of the Audi dealership said drivers should watch tread wear and buy new ones if needed to avoid slipping on wet surfaces.

Experienced drivers know the importance of tire safety.

Mao Wenmin, who drives a Jeep Compass, said "whenever setting out for a long journey, I will first check the tire pressure".

Qi said drivers many times ignore the spare tire. Checking the air pressure in the spare is also important.

More checks needed

Qi also reminded drivers to check and change brake fluid when needed, especially in the hot season.

"When brake fluid ages, there will be some water in it that weakens the effect - the car might not brake in time," he said.

No matter what season, drivers should periodically check to ensure the fire extinguisher is charged and know how to use it, Qi said.

He said if an engine catches fire, do not open the hood too quickly. Instead, just open it a little bit and with patience aim the fire extinguisher at the bottom of the flames.

But drivers interviewed all said they do not specially maintain their cars for summer heat, instead taking them in for service at prescribed intervals, for example every 5,000 km.

Maintenance is also important for an owner's bank balance. Of two equal models made in the same year, the one with better maintenance can be sold at a price some 30 percent higher on the second-hand market, said Wei Li, a senior second-hand vehicle pricing expert at Beijing Wanguo Pawn Co.

Qi said the importance in car maintenance should be ranked from bottom to top.

"The closer a part is to the ground, the more maintenance it should be given," he noted.

Accessories on fire

High temperatures this summer also brought profitable opportunities for some businesses.

The sunshade sales have boomed, with in-car sunscreen accessories now among the best selling products on Taobao, China's popular online shopping portal.

Women have started a trend of wearing a sunscreen coat to protect their skin in blazing sun.

Clicking "sunscreen coats" on Taobao's search column will yield more than 1 million results priced from less than 20 yuan to more than 3,000 yuan.

Sales results on Taobao show that sunscreen covers priced below 50 yuan sold especially well. One with a price of 35 yuan at an online shop reached 5,763 deals by Aug 6.

Huang Ying, who works for an insurance company in Guangzhou, said she also likes to put a sunscreen on the windshield.

"I bought it from Taobao for just 29 yuan a set," she said.

But whether sun coats are effective is still in question. Experts say that cheap versions are just equivalent to long-sleeve shirts.

Only when the product's rating - known as UFP - surpasses 30 and limits UV rays to below 5 percent can it be labeled "ultraviolet blocking", said Pu Lihui, director at the fiber examination center in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province.

But most sunscreens on Taobao do not have UV blocking ratings. Most of them only list color and size.

A Taobao dealer told reporters that such products became popular only in the last two years.

The colorful and fashionable designs attract many young women, while the low price is affordable.

"Some girls buy several ones with different colors at one time," he said.

Wang Qian, the Fabia owner, said she doesn't believe many sunscreen products are really effective, but she still wears a white sunscreen coat when driving to pick her daughter from kindergarten and puts a sunshield on the front windshield when parking outside.

"They make me feel more comfortable, just psychologically," she said.

Han Tianyang contributed to the story.

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