Anything special about buying a car in a really hot, humid climate?
July 29, 2013 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Is there anything I should look out for or try to get when buying a car in a really hot, humid climate?

I'm a transplant from Chicago to southern Louisiana and the car I brought with me has died of rust in less than a year. I'm planning to buy a mini-SUV (Subaru Forrester, Honda CRV) new, or almost new. Is there anything I should have done to it or any features I should try to get?
posted by ashtabula to opelika to Shopping (19 answers total)
See if they offer seat coolers. Select a lighter colored interior and exterior, less likely to attract and hold heat.

Other than that, run the shit out of your A/C.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:17 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

This may sound glib, but it isn't. Air conditioning.

Test the air conditioning. REALLY well. Especially in a larger car like that, many air conditioning systems are not capable of cooling the back seats. If that's the case, you're going to have some miserable passengers.
posted by jph at 8:17 AM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

You may have exposed your car to the worst of both worlds assuming you still use road salt in the frozen north, then brought it down to the warm, sticky climate of LA.

I've lived in the SE all my life and never had much rust problem with vehicles, because we have ice on roads maybe once every 2-3 years and we don't have salt piles when we do, so we tend to stay home until it melts or maybe use sand on the bridges.

I'd predict you won't have problems, assuming you're not driving in salt water...
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:18 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your color choices are white, silver, maybe that light champagne-brown but those tend to come with dark seats. Light exterior, lightest possible interior. Opening your car door in August after being parked for four hours will still be like trying to stand in front of a blast furnace, but it won't be quite as bad as black and will cool off faster.

And really good A/C. I don't know if there's any place that rates cars based on their climate control, but if there is you should investigate there. And if you can get seat coolers, do.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:37 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Be mindful of the material your seats are covered in. There is nothing worse than having to sit on a vinyl or leather seat in the summer. At times I swear I heard my skin sizzle, especially when the sun is shining directly on the seat. I find the best auto seats are leather with a real sheepskin seat cover. In addition to a light colored interior, consider a white or light color car. The lighter color does not absorb the heat.

Consider wind/rain deflector vents for your car. Leaving the windows open about an inch really makes a difference in the summer. The only problem is it usually rains every afternoon. These vents will keep the rain out of your car, yet allow the heat to escape.

You may notice that when people park in a parking lot with no shade, most park with the rear of the auto directed towards the sun. This is so you can touch the steering wheel in the summer.
posted by JujuB at 8:41 AM on July 29, 2013

I second the Ruthless Bunny's recommendation for a lighter colored interior and exterior and really good AC. A lighter colored steering wheel is good (or find a lighter colored cover for it. ) Also, be sure to buy one of those cheap shiny window reflectors at a big box store to place in your front window. A sunroof (or moonroof) that can be left cracked or partially open if the car is out in the sun is helpful too, as long as you remember to close it before soaking storms.
posted by bessiemae at 8:44 AM on July 29, 2013

Four tips:

- Buy a light/white vehicle
- Don't get leather seats
- Avoid cars with the panorama style windshield
- Buy Japanese: their air conditioners are the best and most reliable by far in my experience
posted by MuffinMan at 8:47 AM on July 29, 2013

Avoid leather. Get a beaded seat cover. Get something with moon roof. Park in the shade.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:52 AM on July 29, 2013

Hi from Dubai, the land of light-colored vehicles. At 8 p.m., it was 95, with 53% humidity.....

Steering wheel covers help a good bit. I've had one that was made from sheepskin; it was sooo much better than touching metal or plastic.

Those easy-fold windshield sun shades make a difference, too.

A serious, high-quality window tint also helps.

Assuming you don't get leather seats, still consider buying seat covers to keep the seat material from getting soaked in sweat; the fabric can get nasty over the course of time.

Laissez le bon temps rouler.

I feel your pain.
posted by ambient2 at 9:08 AM on July 29, 2013

Be sure to check the air conditioning while in motion and while stopped. My car's AC is great as long as there is outside air circulation, it seems. As soon as I get stuck in traffic, though, things get sweaty.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:25 AM on July 29, 2013

If it's new, you should be good. (FL here). The one thing I will say is investigate what cars suck battery life faster than others (if possible). Your car won't rust due to road salt, but you will go through batteries faster. If you forget to put your sun shade up, open both doors, then open and close the passenger door repeatedly to force the hot air out. Seems crazy, but can be the difference between sweating a bucket versus a trickle.

Also, look for good brakes. The older roads in Southern LA get oil slicked faster, so you're going to be doing more slip sliding in the rain. Roads here aren't banked for snow, they're made to deal with the heat, so it is a different monster to hydroplane in the south versus the north.

Asking someone from Southern LA also nets me that you should be prepared to deal with gravel trucks pinging your windshield constantly.
posted by skittlekicks at 9:35 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you buy a car newer than a 2008, it will, by Federal law, have a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) as standard equipment. If you are buying a used vehicle, especially an SUV or 4WD type vehicle, which may have had tires replaced, make sure that you know how the TPMS works, what type it is (indirect or direct sensing), that you know how to calibrate it (if calibration is regularly needed), and that you know how to add air to your tires when needed. Driving underinflated tires on the hot Southern summer roads is a primary reason for tread separation tire failures, which often become loss-of-control or vehicle rollover accidents.

Also, particularly if you buy a used vehicle, make sure you have a workable, well inflated spare, plus a jack and lug wrench, or that, in the very small likelihood that you have run-flat tires, that you know about same. A motor club subscription is very desirable, too, especially in Louisiana, where road sides have lots of fast growing vegetation, in which live creepy crawlies you'd rather not meet by yourself in the dark. Finally, just because your vehicle might have a GPS, doesn't mean you shouldn't keep an up to date stock of quality paper maps in it, too, especially if you get off the Interstates much.
posted by paulsc at 9:46 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cloth seats, white car. Check the plastic on the dashboard for deterioration. Look for things melted into the carpet.
posted by amtho at 10:39 AM on July 29, 2013

I can't stress enough how important the rain deflector things are when it's 80F+, raining and you're trying to defog your windshield.
posted by nulledge at 10:46 AM on July 29, 2013

I've been in La. for 35 years and have never had a car rust on me. Did you drive it to the beach and not wash off the sand? Are you parking it in an odd place?

The best way to protect your car in La is to have a car porch or garage to park it in. If it is already in a garage, then you may need a dehumidifier in your garage. Buy a newer model with a good ac. I prefer leather seats, even with the sweat factor, because cloth seats make me feel like I'm wearing a sweaty sweater.
posted by myselfasme at 11:53 AM on July 29, 2013

Remote start. Get that A/C cranking before you get in.
posted by IanMorr at 1:36 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Eh, I live in the Deep South (not far from where you are, actually) and I've always had leather seats. I'm usually wearing pants so its not a big deal. I do sometimes keep a towel in the car to sit on if I'm in shorts or a skirt. I rented a car with AIR CONDITIONED SEATS once and i could not get over how awesome that was. I buy light colored cars with grey or beige interiors. I've also never had rust problems, so I'm not sure what caused that for you.

If you've got the remote start option, get it. I passed on my current vehicle and I regret it. Ive even thought about getting an aftermarket remote start installed. It would be so great to at least get the air going for a minute or so before I open the doors.
posted by Mimzy at 7:48 PM on July 29, 2013

Check all of the hoses. The humidity can make them crumbly.
posted by kamikazegopher at 11:06 PM on July 29, 2013

N'thing the above about finding a car with a light color. With testing the a/c, use a candy thermometer or infra-red thermometer that the a/c temp drops to ~40F within 2-3 minutes of car start.

Other general advice is to check the service history to make sure that the brake, and radiator fluids have been changed regularly. Many cars in the mid-west that are driven down to the south die within a few years because the coolant mix in the radiator is inappropriate for hot conditions.

With automatic transmission fluid it's even more important. Don't even consider buying a car that has signs of burnt atf. In general, cars that have an aftermarket atf cooler installed are a good sign.

Mold can also be a problem due to the humidity. Make sure to look under the seats and rear and to look under floor mats.

Specifically about your potential choices, unfortunately both the forrester and CRV have design flaws that would be exacerbated by the heat.

The subaru 2.5L HG engine has a design flaw from 1999-2009? with the head gasket. In the affected years this problem will almost certainly occur no matter how much it is babied and serviced. It costs over two thousand dollars to fix, but if it is done correctly with an after market MLS gasket then it should be fine for the rest of the car's useful life. In short, either look for a 2010+ model (double check to see if that model year switched to MLS gaskets) or look for a seller with a good service history and receipts proving that the engine has had aftermarket MLS gaskets installed.

With Hondas it is with the automatic transmission. Don't even consider an automatic honda without service records showing that the auto trans fluid has been replaced every 30k miles. Bonus points if an aftermarket atf cooler was installed. Of course if you can consider a stick shift that doesn't suffer from this problem.
posted by magic_skyjuice at 6:14 AM on July 30, 2013

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