Tips for Summer Road Trips
Ah, the thrill of summer and the open road. Speakers blasting tunage, a cooler of refreshing (nonalcoholic) beverages on the passenger side of your lovingly maintained classic Mustang ragtop, nothing but heat shimmer and possibility for miles and miles. What could go wrong?
Lots. Rewind that reverie to minivan and screaming kids. Add a day's sweltering layover at Waldo's World of Water Pumps, and your vision of summertime bliss has blossomed into torrid nightmare. With summer vacations coming up, here are some tips to make it more likely you'll be watching miles of scenery unspool, instead of checking your credit limits from the pay phone of a garage 30 miles from the nearest cell tower.
Before you set out, make sure your car's ready for the mileage, heat and loads you plan to inflict on it.
Where the rubber meets the road. Check your tires, including the spare, for uneven or excessive tread wear and proper inflation. If they're bad, replace. If low, inflate. Not only does proper pressure help you avoid blowouts, it also improves handling and fuel efficiency. Check frequently on the road, too. (Correct pressures for your vehicle and load are typically noted on the driver-side door or door jamb.)
Don't get hosed. Belts drive your air conditioner (vital for comfort) and alternator (vital to forward movement). Belts and hoses also circulate the water that prevents your car from overheating. Inspect belts for wear and cracks, and check hoses for blisters and softness. Better yet, have your mechanic do it. If these vital rubber parts are more than a couple of years old, you might want to replace them anyway. An ounce of prevention is worth avoiding an unplanned hike through Death Valley.
Hydrate or die. Summer sure can work up a thirst, right? Your car thinks so, too. Give it the fluids it needs to stay cool. And while you're at it, keep in mind that antifreeze is just as crucial in hot conditions as in winter. The ideal mix if half water, half antifreeze. You can check this with a simple and inexpensive antifreeze tester, or ask your mechanic.
De-soil your oil. You won't do well if you live on the scrapings from a fast-food fry vat. So why expect your car to work well on dirty oil? Don't just check the oil before your trip, change it. It's a cheap way to avoid a costly breakdown. Consider, too, that the combination of summer temperatures, high speeds, heavy loads and long hauls can really heat your oil up. That means it flows more easily and protects moving metal parts less effectively. So while you're at it, you might want to go for a heavier grade of oil than you would in winter. Check your manual and ask your mechanic first, though, to see what weight is right for your vehicle and driving conditions.
Basic tow care. Before you hook up a trailer, check the manual to make sure you vehicle can handle the added weight. And towing capacity is only half the story. Make sure you operate within the speed limits for the trailer.
Be prepared. Create an emergency kit with a flashlight, extra batteries, a jug of water, flares or reflective triangles, paper towels, nonperishable food, jumper cables, gloves, a first-aid kit and commonly used tools. Finally, keep your cell phone charged just in case you need it.