Vehicle dependability is always important, but if you are getting ready to head out on a summer road trip it becomes even more important. Whether you are taking the kids for a day trip to the zoo or loading your SUV to visit a national park, these simple tips will keep you driving happy.
Your vehicle is probably very well maintained, but a quick inspection will help you avoid problems on the road. Start with walking around your car to inspect the tires. Check for cracks or other damage to the sidewalls, be sure the tires are inflated to the pressure indicated on your door panel (not the one stamped into the rubber on the tire), and be sure that you have enough tread to remain safe in all driving conditions, especially wet ones.
An easy trick on checking your tread is to use a quarter. Place it upside down in the groove between your tire’s treads. The rubber on each side should be tall enough to cover the top of George’s fluffy powdered wig. That will give you at least 4/32nd of an inch of tread which is considered safe in wet conditions. We used to do the same trick with a penny, but covering Lincoln’s head only gives you 2/32nd of an inch. While the latter is safe on dry roads, the extra bit is worthwhile.
Be sure to test all of your lights. A turn signal malfunctioning or a brake light not working can lead to an accident. It can also lead to an un-welcomed interruption in your trip if a policeman notices.
Next, pop the hood and give everything a common sense look over. Are any of the rubber hoses or belts looking cracked, bulged or worn? Overheating and failure to cooling system components are the number one reason motorists are stranded so pay particular attention to this system including the condition of the coolant. Don’t forget to check your wiper blades while you are near the hood because unfamiliar roads are even more dangerous when you cannot see well.
Change your oil if its time or if it will be soon. Not only is stopping for an oil change on the road inconvenient – you will have much more fun things to do – it is also too tempting to go over the mileage recommendation while you are out having a good time. Fresh oil also runs cooler and protects your engine better, so it’s a great way to start your trip.
Prepare an emergency kit that includes a flashlight, triangle hazard reflectors or flares, some basic first aid supplies and also $20 in small bills and change. Check your vehicle’s jack to be sure all the pieces are there and that the lug wrench fits your current wheels. Sometimes vehicles with upgraded tires and wheels don’t match their original equipment tools anymore.
Finally, review your paperwork. Keep a copy of your insurance card, Vehicle Identification Number, State License Number, Insurance Policy Number and agent’s contact information in both your glove box and your wallet.
The work is done and now its time to hit the road. Enjoy your vacation!