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Road warriors: Be careful out there in the heat

So you're headed to the Coast or another cooler locale to escape the current sizzle-fest? 

Not so fast. The Oregon Department of Transportation says motorists need to be even more cautious on the roads than usual, as the sun's rays can make for additional headaches — literally and figuratively. It contributes to an increased risk for tire blowouts, overheating and health risks for children and pets.

"This is something to take seriously," says ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming. 

Some basic planning before you hit the road can make a difference. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Basic maintenance key

Making sure your vehicle is up to snuff with a basic tune-up and check is always a good idea before travel, especially when it's hot. This includes checks on the radiator, hoses, filters, oil, coolant and other fluids.

Extreme heat can cause tires to fail. Older, balder tires are more prone to blowouts, as evidenced by the amount of shredded tire rubber along the interstate.

"Very typically, you'll see more tire cores from the trucks blown out," Leaming says. "The heat is just terrible on older tires and tires that are on the edge of going. This'll send them over the edge." 

ODOT recommends having a roadside safety kit in the vehicle in case you break down, and before getting out of the vehicle, motorists should make sure they have pulled over to a safe location. 

Watch the passes

The stress on a heat-smacked vehicle — especially those towing boats or trailers — is exacerbated going uphill. Keep in mind that the journey up to and through the Siskiyou Pass is a climb of nearly 2,400 feet from Ashland.

"If it gets low on any given one of those (fluids), you're going to start overheating," says Everett Carroll, the ODOT maintenance manager who overseas the Siskiyou Pass. 

And that's just one pass. There are four more major passes — each higher than 1,700 feet — along a 22-mile stretch of Interstate 5 in Josephine and Douglas counties. The drive east on Highway 140 from Eagle Point to Lake of the Woods includes a climb of more than 3,600 feet.

The chance of overheating goes up even more if the air conditioner is in use, Carroll adds. If your engine does overheat, pull over to let it cool down for a bit, he says. Don't ignore it.

"We've found many people with their engines blown up because they just keep pushing their vehicle farther down the highway," Carroll says.

Hot can get hotter

The temperatures outside are expected to reach into the low hundreds for several days or possibly weeks, but that can be cool compared with what's happening inside parked vehicles.

A vehicle's internal temperature can rise by 20 degrees in 10 minutes. On a 90-degree day, temperatures in a closed car can reach 160 degrees —  and cracking a window doesn't help much.

A child left in the car is in danger of his or her body temperature rising to fatal levels, three to five times faster than that of an adult, according to Safe Kids Oregon. Pets are also extremely vulnerable to heat — dogs, for instance, can cool themselves only by panting and sweating through their paw pads. Animals can suffer brain damage or even die from heatstroke in just 15 minutes. 

Families on the road should be equipped with plenty of water and snacks. 

"The big thing is to have quite a bit of water," Carroll says. "Plan for the best, but expect the worst." 

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.