As temperatures rise, Charleston-area mechanics try to stay cool

Richard’s Automotive Service mechanic Ed Wilson adds a can of Freon to a car Friday afternoon. The shop temperatures have ranged from 102 to 108 degrees all week. Many of the repairs have been related to car and truck air conditioning problems.

At 4 p.m. the sun dips below the roof and shines directly into the garage.

Inside Richard’s Automotive Shop, temperatures were already more than 100 degrees. If it hits more than 105, the mechanics are sent home.

Friday temperatures tied the record high for July 8, which is 100 degrees in the downtown Charleston area, set in 1986. The all-time high for the month of July is 103 degrees, which hasn’t been broken since 1907.

The National Weather Service forecast Saturday temperatures to be 98 degrees with a heat index of 111 degrees. The record high for July 9 in the downtown area has been 99 degrees since 1986. The heat wave is expected to break sometime Monday.

Inside the auto shop’s 47-year-old building, the temperatures are always 5 degrees hotter than they are outside, worse if the sun is shining directly into the garage.

There’s no air conditioning in the garage, only in the front office, which gets down to about 80 degrees.

Out with the cars, the thermometer reads 103.

The building has a metal roof and cinder block walls with no insulation. The large garage doors stay open throughout the day.

After the holiday weekend and with rising temperatures, Richard’s Automotive has been flooded with cars. They have the same issues — cooling system failures, bad brakes and broken air-conditioning units — most of which are caused directly by the heat.

“The heat is just as hard on a vehicle as it is on us,” said Richard Green, owner of the shop.

Green suggests cracking windows, recirculating air for the A/C, avoiding long idle times and allowing time to brake.

Changing these small things will make a big difference in vehicle wear and tear.

Mechanics start at 7 a.m. and are seeing about 20 to 30 cars per day. Outside, the temperatures only continue to rise. The hottest Green has ever seen the shop, which has been open for 16 years, was 123 degrees in August 2014.

He gives his mechanics refrigerated wet towels to put around their necks and makes sure they are hydrated.

“They’re really good about drinking water and not soda,” Green said, aside from a Monster energy drink here or there.

Dr. Anc Clarkson, emergency physician at Roper St. Francis, said dehydration is the underlying cause of the 31 heat-related cases they have seen so far this month.

Staying hydrated is the No. 1 thing people can do to fight against the heat, he said. Hydrating before major activities like athletic training or a long day at the beach is the best way to avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

“July and August are really tough months for Charlestonians,” Clarkson said.

In addition, for those not from Charleston it is important to climatize to the city’s temperatures. People who have lived in the area for years are better at handling heat than those who are newer to the area.

Reach Alison Graham at 843-745-5555