The heatwave has given dozens of Canberrans an expensive lesson on the need to pay more attention to their cars' cooling systems, the National Roads and Motorists' Association and local radiator repair shops say.
NRMA call-outs in the Territory almost tripled on Saturday and Sunday, when 150 stranded motorists sought roadside assistance compared to the usual 30 a day.
Jason Benn, a breakdown serviceman for 17 years, said car owners often paid a high price for skimping on proper maintenance. ''It is definitely a false economy,'' he said. ''Overheating can prove very expensive; it can cause blown head gaskets and seized engines.
''The real cost of not replacing a $20 fan belt or a $10 hose can run into the thousands of dollars.''
Burl Doble, of Natrad Phillip, agrees. Most people didn't realise they had a problem until they got onto the highway and the temperature needle started to climb or the warning light came on, he said.
''We're normally booked up one day ahead. At the moment we are booked up three to four days ahead.''
Everlast's Trent Exposito confirmed there had been a surge in demand for radiator and cooling system work in recent days.
''We are seeing more cases of overheating, of people wanting their air-conditioning fixed and cooling system repairs,'' he said. ''This is always a busy time and the heat hasn't helped.''
Mr Benn, no stranger to the heat after growing up in Quirindi on the Liverpool Plains, said common causes for overheating included faulty thermostats, age-weakened radiator hoses and blocked radiator cores.
''You need to get your car serviced regularly,'' he said. ''If you are planning a long trip, book it in well ahead of time. Don't wait until the last minute.''
He said all drivers, regardless of age or gender, needed to know how to open the bonnet and check the basics such as the coolant and oil levels, ''and this should be done at least once a week''.
Mr Doble said hot weather put extra stress on all the components in a car's cooling system, exacerbating existing faults and causing previously weakened components to fail. ''People can drive around with a partially blocked radiator under normal, cooler, operating conditions,'' he said.
''If there is a weakness, the increased heat and pressure [of a hot day] will find it.''
Mr Doble and Mr Benn said that while plastic components in cooling systems saved weight and money, they would prove costly in the long run.
Car engine bays are a harsh environment and plastics age quickly, becoming brittle over time.
''[Replacing] these plastic radiators is where the money is going to be in the future,'' Mr Doble said.