8 tips for safe road trips
Summer unofficially kicks off on Memorial Day weekend and so does the road trip season. Before you pack up the car for a family adventure, be sure to perform routine maintenance on your vehicle to avoid breakdowns. Here are eight tips (S.A.F.E.T.R.I.P.) recommended by AAA:
Service your battery
Most car batteries have a three to five year service life, according to AAA. If your battery is more than three years old, have it tested by a professional technician to help avoid needing a jump or battery replacement.
Air conditioning checks
No one wants to be in car without cool air. If you have noticed a decrease in cooling capability, have your air conditioning system examined by a qualified technician before setting out on a trip.
Fluids for windshield washer/wipers
The life of a rubber wiper insert is typically six to 12 months depending on its exposure to heat, dirt, sunlight and rain, according to AAA. If your wipers cannot clear the windshield in one swipe they should be replaced. Also, check the windshield washer fluid level and top it off with a solution formulated to aid in the removal of insects and other debris. Be sure to test the washer spray nozzles for proper operation and aim before leaving on a trip.
Emergency roadside kit
AAA encourages drivers to have the following items in a roadside crisis kit: a mobile phone and car charger; a flashlight with extra batteries; a first-aid kit; drinking water; extra snacks/food for your travelers and any pets; battery booster cables; and emergency flares or reflectors.
Tire inflation and condition
Flat tires can sometimes be avoided if you check your wheels before you hit the road. Check the tire pressure when the tires are cold and the car hasn't been driven recently. Make sure all five tires are inflated to the pressure recommended by the vehicle manufacturer—this can be found in the owner's manual or on a sticker usually attached to the driver’s door jamb, or sometimes inside the gas cap door.
Be sure to have any regularly scheduled maintenance taken care of before you leave. Likewise, if you've skipped routine tune-ups, bring in your vehicle for a quick inspection.
Inspect under the hood: Belts, hoses and fluids
Cracked or frayed drive belts should be replaced, as well as coolant hoses that are warped or brittle. Check for leaks around hose clamps and at the radiator and water pump. Check the engine coolant level, along with that of other important under hood fluids such as the engine oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid and power steering fluid. A low fluid level could indicate a leak or other problem that should be checked out by a professional technician.
Prepare and plan ahead
it's wise to map out your itinerary and rest stops ahead of time. Be prepared for busy roads during the popular travel times and, if possible, consider leaving earlier or later to avoid traffic. AAA recommends drivers stop in a safe location every 100 miles or two hours to avoid drowsy driving.
Des Toups is a writer, editor and expert on insurance, cars and personal finance. He has written extensively about all three for national publications such as MSN and major newspapers such as the Seattle Times. He has been quoted about insurance issues in The New York Times, USA Today and Kiplinger's. Follow him on Twitter @destoups.