If you’re like 80 percent of Americans surveyed, your 2017 summer vacation will start and end in the car. That’s a ten percent increase over the number of families who journeyed on road trips last summer. And it’s all the more reason to take care of your vehicle before your next family getaway.
Not sure how? Follow this road trip checklist, pulled from today’s auto experts, to help you avoid breakdowns and other car trouble:
1. Check Your Tires
U.S. drivers experience roughly 220 million flat tires per year! Each of us individually will probably get five flats in our lifetime. There’s an easy way to make sure one of those flats doesn’t take the air out of your next vacation…
First, check your treads and sidewalls. Look for cracks, bumps, bulges, etc. The old penny-test is still a good one: insert a coin into each tire groove, with Lincoln’s head upside down. If you can still see the top of Abe’s head, your tire is probably worn down. And if you haven’t had your tires rotated within the past 5,000 miles or so, schedule an appointment to do it now. Balding tires are a bad look on the highway.
Having too much or too little tire pressure can also spell disaster on a road trip—especially on sun-scorched pavement. Driving with low tire pressure uses up more fuel; it also causes tires to run hotter from extra friction. You can find your car’s manufacturer-recommended tire pressure on the sticker located in the driver’s door jam or in your owner’s manual. Just remember to check tire pressure when your car is relatively cool and hasn’t driven very far.
2. Replenish Your Fluids
Washer fluid, engine oil, transmission fluid, and drive axle lubricant are all worth checking before a long trip. If your car is near due for an oil change, don’t put it off until you’re home from vacation! To avoid visibility problems during a sudden downpour, consider applying Rain-X or a similar water repellant to your windshield, and check the condition of your wipers.
3. Test Your Battery
According to AAA data, two-thirds of Americans have never proactively tested their car batteries. Yikes. This is a bad sign, especially since high temps can shorten the life of a battery. As CarCare.org explains, “heat causes battery fluid to evaporate, which then damages the internal structure of the battery.”
Depending on the battery type, your local gas station should be able to test the electrolytes or output voltage. If you’re a AAA member, you can also request mobile battery service—including testing, replacement, and disposal.
If you’re mechanically inclined enough to check a battery yourself, look to see that the terminals are corrosion-free and the positive/negative leads are tightly fastened. If you spot signs of corrosion – a chalky substance on the terminals – use a wire cable brush (available at any car parts store) to clean it off. Secure the leads tightly. If one falls off while you’re en route to the Grand Canyon, it can cause a harmful “voltage dump,” which could potentially kill your alternator.
4. Prepare for Emergencies
Even with a clean bill of health, your car may encounter problems that leave you stranded. Before you head out of town, assemble an emergency kit to stow in your trunk. This is especially important if you have a teen driving to college orientation or other far distances this summer.
Here are some essential emergency kit contents:
- A mobile phone charger
- A quality flashlight with extra batteries
- A first-aid kit
- A can of tire inflator/sealer
- A spare tire with a jack and tire iron
- A basic set of car tools (e.g. a tire pressure gauge, a screwdriver set, an adjustable wrench, etc.)
- Extra windshield washer solution
- Jumper cables
- Duct tape (which can be useful if a window breaks, or you need to temporarily seal a burst hose)
- Reflective traffic cones and emergency flares
- Bottled water
- Non-perishable/non-meltable snacks (crackers, nuts, etc.)
- A blanket
- A folding shovel
- A Life Hammer (keep this one affixed near the driver’s seat, not in the trunk, in case you need to make an emergency exit from a burning/sinking vehicle)
- Your car insurance information—including your insurance agency’s contact information.
Hope you found some good ideas in this road trip checklist! And we hope you have a fun, safe summer!