Your skin isn’t the only thing that’s harmed by heat and ultraviolet rays from the sun. The sun can wreak havoc on cars as well. When a vehicle is left outside in the sun for an extended period of time, the exterior surface temperature can reach up to 195 degrees Fahrenheit. And interior air temperatures can rise above 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Over time, this heat damages dashboards, seats, and exterior finishes, and can affect the vehicle’s systems as well. Simultaneously, UV rays deteriorate the car’s paint, leaving it vulnerable to rust and other damage.

While many people know that winter weather calls for extra measures of protection, most don’t realize that summer can be just as hazardous. To keep your car looking and functioning its best, follow these steps to protect your car from the damaging effects of the sun.

How to Protect the Car’s Exterior from Sun Damage

UV light is especially dangerous because it’s radiation. It chemically modifies paint surfaces, causing the paint to lose its gloss and change color. Eventually, the paint will chalk and flake, leaving your car looking bad and diminishing its value.

Damage to the car’s exterior can be costly — the price of a mid-quality paint job averages between $1,000 to $3,500. And heat increases the chances of a tire blowout exponentially, putting not only the car at risk, but its passengers as well. Here’s what you need to do to protect your vehicle’s exterior from sun damage.

  • Wash Frequently — Washing will remove the dirt and grime that create tiny scratches in your paint. After you rinse it, hand dry it thoroughly with a soft cloth to prevent dust from collecting in the remaining moisture. While keeping your car clean won’t protect your paint’s finish, it will prevent scratches that can easily develop into worse problems. And washing your car regularly offers the bonus of making it look great, too!
  • Wax Regularly — Waxing protects your car’s finish from UV rays in a way that the clear coat just can’t. In fact, UV rays can destroy your car’s clear coat, causing it to separate and peel away. Wax is also damaged by UV rays, but that’s what it’s designed for — to take the abuse so your clear coat doesn’t have to. Because wax doesn’t last, it’s important to wax your car regularly. People debate how often you need to apply new coats of wax, but manufacturers recommend waxing every 45 days, which is a good guideline.
  • Consider a Protective Film — You can add a further defense to your vehicle by using a paint protection film. This virtually-invisible urethane film guards paint against scratches, chips and stains. You can purchase do-it-yourself kits, or you can have a professional dealer install it for you.
  • Use a Car Cover — If you park your car outside, UV rays and heat are actively working to damage your vehicle as it sits exposed. A breathable car cover with all-weather protection provides a safeguard against both UV rays and heat. When you’re shopping for a car cover to prevent UV damage, you should look for covers that are made with Sunbrella®, WeatherShield® HD, Weathershield® HP, Ultra’tect®, Technalon Evolution®, or Reflec’tect fabrics. Be sure to wash the car before applying a cover, to prevent scratching from dirt and debris. Proper application of the cover is important to offer your car as much protection as possible.
  • Check Your Tire Pressure Faithfully — Thanks to the heat-absorbing properties of asphalt, the surface temperature of the road is much higher than the air temperature. During extremely hot weather, your tires can blow out if they’re under-inflated or experience excess friction due to frequent breaking. Take it easy when driving on very hot days, and regularly check your tire pressure to make sure it’s at your manufacturer’s recommended level. It’s best to check in the morning, when the air is the coolest, to get the most accurate reading possible.

How to Protect the Car’s Interior

The car’s interior is just as susceptible to UV and heat damage as the outside. Contrary to common belief, vehicle windows don’t provide UV protection. For years, dermatologists have observed that patients usually have more sun damage on the left side of their faces than on the right. Research shows the reason is that UVA radiation penetrates car windows to reach the driver’s skin. (For this reason, if you commute to work, you should also use sunscreen each day, even if you don’t plan to be outdoors.)

These rays deteriorate dashboards and seats just as they damage skin. Here’s what you need to do in order to protect your car’s interior.

  • Park in the Shade — Shade isn’t always available, but when it is, take advantage of it. It’s the easiest way to protect your car. Carports, trees, and shadows from buildings all provide defensive cover. If there’s no danger of theft or vandalism, crack the windows to allow air to circulate throughout the vehicle as well. Even rolling down the windows an inch or two will drop the heat a few degrees. If you drive a convertible and plan to park with the roof down, you can protect the interior of your car from debris and bird droppings with a convertible cover.
  • Use a Windshield Shade — Because the windshield is slanted, a majority of the heat and UV rays enter through the windshield. Car Sunshields mitigate heat and UV damage by completely blocking the windshield. Many are designed to be easy to use, requiring just a few seconds to open and install.
  • Use a Dash Cover — Dash covers block UV rays from hitting your dash, protecting the plastic against cracking. Covers are available in a variety of materials, including velour and suede, and are made to permanently protect your dash. If you frequently drive in sunny weather, dash covers will mitigate UV damage that can easily result from exposure to the sun.
  • Install Seat Covers — To protect your seat material, both leather and fabric, use car seat covers. These covers are made specifically for your car’s make, model, and year, ensuring a perfect fit. Depending on your individual vehicle, they’re often available in a variety of materials and colors that you can choose from.
  • Use Leather Conditioner Regularly — If your seats are leather, you can protect them from cracking with a leather conditioner. Conditioners renew the natural oils found in leather, preserving it and extending its life. Leather conditioners are designed not to rub off on clothing or other items, but because they do wear down, you’ll need to apply conditioner regularly.
  • Consider Applying UV Tint to Your Windows — Window films have come a long way since the dark, quick-to-bubble tints of yesteryear. Films are now available in new materials that block UV rays without a dark tint.

How to Protect the Car’s Systems

Surface damage isn’t the only thing to consider when it comes to guarding your vehicle against the sun. The car’s battery, cooling system, fluids, and air conditioning can all be affected by extreme heat, so you’ll want to protect them as well.

The easiest way to make sure these components are protected is to add them to your routine maintenance list. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Check the Battery Regularly — Blasting the air conditioner (which most people do in order to stay cool during intensely-hot summers) wears down your car’s battery. And the heat itself stresses the battery, accelerating wear. It’s a good idea to have the battery checked regularly to make sure it’s in good condition, so you’re not surprised with a dead battery when you need to be somewhere fast. Testing the battery a couple of times each summer should be sufficient.
  • Maintain Your Cooling System — Engines can easily overheat if the cooling system is struggling. Because extremely hot weather can impact belts, you’ll want to have them regularly examined for wear. You should also drain and replace your antifreeze on a regularly basis, according to the recommendations of your vehicle’s manufacturer.
  • Keep All Fluids Topped Off — Overheating can also occur when any of your fluid levels are low. Regularly check the level of your oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and power steering fluid. Change and top off fluids according to your manufacturer’s instructions. Keeping up with your fluid levels can save your engine, so although it’s easy to forget, it’s something you shouldn’t neglect.
  • Check Your Air Filters Regularly — There’s usually more dust in the air during the summer months (especially in arid climates). This material can cause your air filters to clog more quickly than normal. Clean air filters will help you get better gas mileage and will also prevent damage to your mass air flow sensor.
  • Maintain Your Refrigerant Charge — During hot summer days, you’ll want to make sure your air conditioner is working efficiently, to provide you with cool air without taxing your vehicle’s system. If your air conditioning isn’t keeping you cool, the refrigerant charge may be low. If you notice that the air conditioner drops in effectiveness, take your car to a professional to have it checked out.

Keeping your car cool will not only extend its life and keep it looking good, but will also save you significant money in costly repairs. Following these protective measures and maintenance recommendations on a regular basis will keep your vehicle in your garage and out of your mechanic’s!

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