As a Boy Scout I have learned to ‘be prepared’. Whether you’re hiking a mountain or preparing for a family vacation, the advice is good. The best way to ensure that your long-awaited road trip doesn’t turn into the journey of—well, somewhere unpleasant—is to take the time to prepare.
Prepare your car
“Have your car serviced by an ASC-certified technician, Blue Seal store, or dealership,” advised auto care expert Pam Oakes, owner of Pam’s Motor City in Ft. Meijers, Florida. “We think we can do it ourselves, but the money is well spent. You don’t want to find out halfway through your journey that your car is in trouble because you didn’t take any precautions beforehand.”
If you decide to practice medicine without a store, here are some things Oakes, Consumer Reports, and AAA recommend:
—Tires: Inspect all of them, including spare tires, if equipped, to ensure they are not worn or damaged and are properly inflated. Check the tires when they are cold and use the pressure placed in the driver’s door jamb. Don’t rely on ratings poured into the tire. As a variation on the old penny trick, place a quarter into the tire tread with Washington’s head facing you and down. If the area above his head is visible, replace the tires. A blowout is not an amusement ride.
—Fluids: Check coolant, oil, and transmission fluid levels. Read the owner’s manual for the location and how to determine “normal” levels. While under the hood, fill the windshield washer reservoir. Your car will work hard, in the heat of summer. Low coolant levels can cause overheating and leave you stranded. If the oil is very dirty, replace it, but oil can be added if it is low. Please refer to the owner’s manual for the type.
—Brakes: Consumer Reports recommends taking the vehicle to a service center and having it checked if you notice any vibration, grinding, or pulling to one side when braking.
—Batteries: The typical battery life is three to five years. Almost every car center can check the charging power. Also disconnect the cables and clean the terminals thoroughly. Tighten them again.
—Belts/Hoses: With the vehicle turned off, inspect the belts and hoses for tears, blisters, soft spots and wear. Pay special attention to the large serpentine belt that runs through pulleys at the front of the engine and hoses that go to the radiator. Any of these breaking will cause major problems.
—Wipers and Aerosols: Replace those wiper blades that smeared the rain. Driving on the Interstate is misery enough without being blinded by the rain. Many new cars do not have spare tires and instead rely on “fix-a-flat” cans to seal flat tires. Grab a new can while buying knives.
If your car hasn’t been driven for a while, as is common with sports cars and RVs after the winter months, put it on the highway. Feel the steering for unusual vibrations and watch for sounds and shivers from the brakes. These could be signs of impending problems. Your car may have a clean bill of health, but it’s still wise to anticipate emergencies.
Prepare for emergencies
Thoughtful planning before you go saves frustration. Start with the basics and buy a basic emergency kit with flashlight, torches and jumper cables. Also have a first aid kit. Even if you plan on using your phone or vehicle’s navigation system to stay on track, you can take paper maps and print turn-by-turn directions as a backup.
“The emergency kit is key,” said Molly Hart, AAA Public Relations. “The kit should include a mobile phone charger, car battery jumper cables, a flashlight and extra batteries. Also have first aid supplies, drinking water, long-life snacks for people and pets, blankets and emergency torches or reflectors. A rain poncho, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, basic tool kit, duct tape and paper towels are also important.”
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on this basis. Duct tape is useful if a hose jumps off. New LED road flares are compact to store and bright on the road when you need them. In bad weather, an extra bottle of wiper fluid is indispensable.
And what if you do get stuck?
“If a driver becomes trapped, they should pull out of lanes and remain in the vehicle and fasten their seat belts while waiting for roadside assistance,” Hart advised. “The car can provide shelter, so that emergency services or a tow truck driver can locate you best. If your car is too close to the road for another car to hit, get out of the car safely and find a safe area away from the road.”
While on the road, make safety your number one priority and use your seat belts and car seats where necessary. Don’t let your fuel level drop below a quarter tank to maintain a safe reserve. I like to carry a supply of snacks, games and music because an iPod can break the boredom of being stuck in your car. Kids (and parents) may also like video players in the back. Keep soda and water cold with a small cooler. It saves money and keeps everyone hydrated.
Prepare your mind
“Summer is the peak season for travel and travelers should plan their trip in advance, including booking hotels and planning activities,” Hart said. “If you’re traveling to a remote area, it’s also a good idea to plan for gas and food stops. Plan ahead and leave early.”
AAA offers these additional reminders to help you avoid becoming a stat this summer:
— Looking away from the road for just two seconds doubles the risk of an accident.
—Reading an email or text for five seconds is like driving blindfolded across a football field.
— Mental distraction lasts longer than you think and can cause a dangerous crash or death.
— Mental distraction can last up to 27 seconds after calling, texting or changing the radio station.
Hit the road, drive safely and enjoy the summer. By following these expert tips, you’ll be prepared for an amazing adventure that you’ll remember for years to come.
(Casey Williams is an Indianapolis motoring journalist and longtime contributor to the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at [email protected] and on YouTube @AutoCasey.)
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