Road Safety: How to Prepare for a Holiday Road Trip
5 tips for making sure your car is ready to roll
Whether you'll be traveling over the river and through the woods or you plan to take to the highway, a road trip to see family should be part of the holiday fun. And it will be, as long you take time to make sure your car is good to go.
1. Measure your tire pressure. Tires lose pressure over time. And they lose 1 to 2 pounds of pressure for every 10-degree temperature drop. Under-inflated tires are more prone to blowouts. Buy a tire gauge and use it when your tires are cool. Check the results against recommended tire pressure listed in the owner's manual. (You can also find it on the driver-side door, glove compartment or trunk lid. The number will be next to “psi.”) Also, consider how old your tires are. “Even if it looks like tires might be in great shape, but they're seven or eight years old — those tires might be more subject to punctures and blowouts,” says John Paul, the “Car Doctor” for Northeast AAA.
2. Check your spare. Make sure your spare tire is in good shape and you have all the tools you need to change a flat, says Paul. And just in case: Brush up on how to change a flat tire.
3. Stock the trunk for an emergency. UL recommends keeping the following in the car, especially if you'll be traveling in wintry weather:
- Working flashlight
- Extra batteries
- Reflective triangles
- First aid kit
- Exterior windshield cleaner
- Ice scraper
- Snow brush
- Wooden stick matches in a waterproof container
- Non-perishable, high-energy foods such as unsalted canned nuts, dried fruits and hard candy
AAA also advises packing any medication you or a family member might need if your trip is unexpectedly extended.
4. Be ready for snow. Keep a bag of salt, sand or non-clumping kitty litter in the trunk for traction in case one of your tires gets stuck in snow. If you park overnight in a snowstorm, raise your windshield wipers so they don't freeze to the windshield, advises Dawn Leyden of Firestone Complete Auto Care in Oak Lawn, Illinois.
Related: 4 Key Tips For Safer Winter Driving
5. Check your fluid levels. You should change your oil regularly — and especially before a long road trip. “Typically you’ll need an oil change every 3000 miles, unless your car is running on a newly engineered synthetic motor oil, in which case it’s 5000 to 7000 miles,” explains automotive expert Barbara Terry. Other fluids you should check before you embark on a long road trip: transmission fluid, windshield washer fluid, anti-freeze and brake fluids.
6. Peek under the hood. Have a trusted mechanic check the condition of your fan belt, radiator and heater hoses, timing belt (if your car has one) and brakes, says Paul. This is especially important if you own an older car.
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