As we enter the true dog days of summer – July and August – the mercury really begins to rise and the heat tends to stick around for extended periods of time. It’s tough on us living, breathing creatures and it’s tough on our hardworking cars.

Hot weather is the number one reason why cars overheat. Even the most reliable of rides can fall victim. You probably care less about why it happens and more about what you can do about it. Here are four steps to take if you notice the temperature gauge on your car climbing and/or see a warning light illuminate on your dashboard.

  1. Turn off your A/C and open the windows. You will be sacrificing your comfort but giving a gift to your engine.
  2. If your engine is still in peril after that, you’ll need to bite the bullet and really take one for Team Car and Driver: Blast your car’s heater. This will transfer the built-up heat out of your engine into your passenger compartment. (Just consider it your personal sauna!)
  3. If the overheating is happening when you’re stuck in gridlock traffic, put your engine in neutral or park and lightly tap on the gas. This causes your radiator and fan to surge, which sends more liquid and air through your engine to cool it.
  4. If the overheating is happening while you’re driving, pull over to the side of the road or into a parking lot when it is safe. Open your car’s hood so the engine can cool. Never ever try to remove the radiator cap of a hot car – you could become seriously injured. In fact, if you’re not knowledgeable about cars, it’s best to just call for roadside assistance or a car-savvy friend to help rather than trying to fix the problem yourself.

As you drive this summer, keep an eye on your car’s temperature gauge, stay cool, and stay safe!