Keys to a Great Road Trip
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Summer Means Driving
When summer rolls in, people roll out and hit the road. Road trips – family or just for fun with friends “let’s go!” road trips – are an American tradition. They evoke a spirit of fun and adventure, the freedom of the open road and a car culture that is uniquely American.
Everyone knows about the standard checklist before embarking on a road trip:
- Emergency roadside kit
Every road trip comes with risks, too, so why not minimize them by making sure your car is safe and running smoothly. Like a boy scout, it helps to always be prepared. Who wants to be stuck on the side of the road, or hitched to a tow truck, when you should be heading for fun and adventure? Do you really like driving through a rainstorm at night, on a windy road, and the windshield wipers are leaving watery streaks across your field of vision?
A few simple checks and a little preparation can save you a lot of headaches, time, and money. Being aware of any potential problems or annoyances before departure is key to a pleasant and safe trip. Here are a few things to consider before hitting the road.
Be aware of any possible conditions you might encounter while on your road trip – the country you will cover and what will be at your destination. They can change due to the climate outside, the environment inside, your car’s condition, the roads, or a combination of all of these
Construction and Traffic
Plan your route, or at least have an idea of where you’re going and how you’re getting there in terms of highways and byways. Go online and check the website for the department of transportation of each state you will be driving through. Make note of any major construction or detours you might encounter on your route – for both your trip out and return home. Being stuck in a construction traffic jam for hours is no fun no matter where you are; but a few hours into the road trip of a lifetime can take the wind out of your sails.
Pay attention to the weather before and during your trip. Conditions can change quickly. Are you driving into the worst hurricane in years? Are you a storm chaser and don’t even know it until the tornado and hail are on top of you? Be aware and prepare. Have proper clothing with you for whatever summer weather might bring. Shorts and T-shirts are great, but temperatures can drop in a Rocky Mountain rainstorm and you’ll wish you had a sweater or fleece. Always keep a windbreaker and a hat in your car. A blanket can come in handy, too, even if just for a nap.
Driving Day and Night
Night driving creates certain dangers that don’t exist during the day. Darkness obviously means the need for light, in a number of ways, but headlights also make you more immediately visible to other drivers when driving during the day.
Check to make sure your car’s headlights are not only working, but provide sufficient light in both normal and high beam modes. It’s sometimes difficult to tell if a single headlight is out, so check your headlights before you go.
Have a flashlight in the glove compartment and trunk – and make sure each one works! Flashlights are for more than just light. They are good for signaling in emergencies, and getting people’s attention. Check the expiration on the batteries, and change them with fresh ones if you have any doubt. Additionally, make sure you have spare batteries for both flashlights – and the right size.
Check the functioning of your car’s interior lights. Make sure they come on and turn off automatically as they should. A malfunctioning or burned out interior light is not only an inconvenience and makes it difficult to do something as simple as change batteries in a flashlight, it can drain the car’s battery and might mean electrical system problems, or blown fuses.
Finally, clean your car’s windows inside and out. Use a clean microfiber cloth and non-streaking glass cleaner. Check out this excellent glass cleaning kit we found that works great for inside and out. Clean windows increase your safety for both day and night driving, and it’s so easy to do.
Weather and Climate
The weather can change in an instant. One mile you’re cruising along a nice, dry stretch of highway, the next mile you’re being pounded by rain, hail, wind, and lightning. Your road trip might take you through different climates and conditions – desert, mountains, grasslands, coastal. The following things are easy to check and change by yourself before you get out there on the open road and are at the mercy of the elements.
- Windshield wipers – check them for wear, drying, or cracking. Extreme heat can affect the performance of windshield wipers just as much as rain or wind. If they’ve been showing signs of wear, such as streaking or missing large swathes, change them. Carry one spare for each side if they are different sizes.
- Wiper fluid – top it off before you leave, check it when you stop for gas, carry a spare jug in the trunk.
- Tire pressure – look at the sidewalls of the tires to see the recommended pressure. Do not over-inflate. Properly inflated tires will help drive confidently over roads wet and dry, as the treads will be better applied to the road surface and able to do their part. Properly inflated tires will also improve your gas mileage.
- Tire treads – check that your tires are not worn out and have plenty of tread left. Don’t get out on the road with worn or bald tires. You risk a blow-out, and at high speed it can be extremely dangerous. Also, shallow treads are nearly useless in rainy or wet conditions, as they can’t evacuate the water from between the tire and the road fast enough to maintain contact with the road. When this happens you risk hydroplaning, which means the tires are no longer touching the world, but are sliding along the top of the water, like waterskiing. When this happens, you lose all control of your car, and at high speed it can be deadly.
Along with the climate on the outside of your car, the climate on the inside is important, too. Make sure your air conditioning is working properly – no strange noises or smells, blowing cold air at the right volume for its various settings. If you use your air conditioning regularly, you should already have a good idea if it needs attention. Go to AAMCO Colorado and ask mechanic if you have any questions.
Don’t Forget the Human Conditions
Water and Food
Along with a solid emergency roadside kit, what else do you need? Snacks! You know what you like, what you need to get you through the long stretches of open road, what’s good refreshment when you stop. Sure, there might be restaurants to explore, but you need to make sure you’re prepared for any unexpected stop. You might get thirsty while waiting for that tow truck – especially in the desert or on the high plains. Pack plenty of water. Try to avoid caffeinated or syrupy/sugary drinks. The water might also be useful in a pinch if your car overheats or your radiator runs dry.
Hunger is no fun, either. People can become cranky when they’re hungry. Add to that being stranded by the side of the road with nothing but the crumbs in the seats to consider for the next hour or more. Make sure you’ve got good, nutritious snacks. It will take the edge off and help everyone stay level headed – and less likely to take each other’s heads off.
All in all, road trips should be fun – and safe. Don’t forget the creature comforts in addition to some key factors that can make the difference between arriving safely, or anything otherwise.
Be sure to take your car to AAMCO for a complete diagnostic a week or two before your road trip.
If you have questions about your car’s road trip readiness or any other car repair and maintenance topics, AAMCO Colorado can help. You can also go online and use the AAMCO Colorado Ask a Mechanic feature to submit your auto repair questions. They will be answered by a real AAMCO Colorado mechanic as soon as possible.
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