Phoenix freeway

There are many, many things we love about living in Arizona, and especially Phoenix. However, car ownership isn’t always one of them thanks to several unavoidable hassles.

Despite the Valley Metro bus system and the expanding Light Rail, the Phoenix metro area still heavily favors the automobile. According to CLRSearch, in 2012 more than 90% of households owned at least one vehicle, and more than 50% owned multiple vehicles.

Unfortunately for out-of-state drivers and recent transplants, Phoenix presents some unique hassles and challenges you might not consider. These should be immediately familiar to Valley residents.

1. Dead battery

If you know nothing else about the Phoenix area, you know that it gets scorching hot in the summer. Unfortunately, high heat and batteries don’t mix.

Expect your car battery to last two years, if you’re lucky. Also, when it goes, it goes fast. At the first warning signs you should take it in for replacement or you could find yourself stuck without transportation in 115-degree heat.

Tip: Its a good idea to keep water in your trunk in case you get stranded on the side of the road in the heat. Just don’t use a thin plastic container as the heat will eventually cause it to crack and leak.

2. Lethal interior

OK, this one is more than a simple hassle. No matter where you are in the country, car interiors can get uncomfortably or dangerously hot in summer. However, Phoenix takes this to a new level.

During summer, the interior temperatures of parked cars can skyrocket to 140 degrees or higher in minutes. Even during our “fall,” “winter” and “spring,” when the outdoor temperature are routinely 80 degrees and can hit 90, car interiors become ovens.

That’s why you should never, ever, ever leave your child or pet in the car, even for “just a minute.” If you’re tempted to leave the car on and the a/c running, be aware that a good Samaritan or police officer might break your window to “rescue” your child or pet.

Learn more about the danger to pets from hot cars.

3. Damaging interior

On the topic of heated car interiors, you can easily damage yourself as well. Black leather seats, metal surfaces like seat belt buckles, and even some plastic surfaces can seriously burn you.

A reflective windshield shade helps keep the interior bearable when your car is parked in the sun. Also, you can buy fabric steering wheel covers at any automotive store, and socks work well to cover parking break levers and shifter knobs.

The interior doesn’t just damage you. Avoid leaving battery-powered electronics, such as phones or laptops, in the car. The heat can damage the battery and cause it to fail faster, or even swell.

Also, avoid leaving food in the car. Otherwise you might learn that bananas liquefy at high temperatures and other delightful facts you would rather not know.

4. Ruined windshield

As you drive along Phoenix freeways, you might notice the ubiquitous desert landscape on all sides. Said landscape consists of desert plants or cacti, and a lot of rocks and dusty dirt.

Unlike non-desert states that can support ground coverings like grass, in Arizona nothing keeps the rocks and dirt away from the road. After even a mild breeze blows through — and especially after a major storm — you will find that rocks hit your windshield quite frequently, especially on the outlying freeways.

In fact, your windshields will likely spend more time chipped and cracked than not. And if that isn’t bad enough, drive through a dust storm or two, or even just a strong wind, and your windshield will start to take on a sandblasted look. That makes it hard to see through when the sun hits at certain angles.

Overall, don’t expect your windshield to last much more than a year. Fortunately, under Arizona law, car insurers must offer options for no-deductible glass replacement, which essentially gives you one free windshield replacement every year.

Speaking of windshields, it rains so infrequently that by the time you need to use your windshield wipers, the heat and lack of humidity probably mean they’re dry, brittle and not very useful. It helps to keep an extra pair handy.

5. Clogged cabin air filter

Most cars include a cabin air filter to keep dust, allergens and smog out of the cabin. Normally, these should last around 10,000 miles. However, between Arizona dust storms and our year-round pollen, you might need to replace them in half that time or sooner. Once they clog, nasty stuff starts to leak through to the cabin.

Most dealerships and garages will check the air filter during your routine oil change, but sometimes they don’t, or they might want to charge you an arm and a leg to replace it.

In most vehicles, replacing the air filter is a simple operation — check your vehicle’s owner’s manual to see the procedure — and you can buy a new filter at your local automotive store for as little as $15 depending on your vehicle’s make and model.

– Justin Ferris,