Going on a road trip this summer? While you’re busy making your packing list, there are a few other important things you should remember besides sunscreen (but please take that too -- and don’t forget to use it!). It’s easy to focus on your destination and skip some important details that’ll help make your trip a success instead of a potentially frustrating, expensive nightmare. Get the most out of your trip by attending to the following before you hit the highway ...
1. Give Your Car a Checkup
Nothing can spoil a road trip faster than car trouble. It goes without saying that if you’re driving long distances, you should do some preliminary work on your car to avoid problems that could cost you a fortune in money and lost time. Get a proper safety check (ideally from a qualified mechanic) that includes the following before heading out:
- Brakes: One of the most important components of your car is your brakes. A car with bad brakes is an accident waiting to happen. If your brake pads are past their wear indicators, you’re noticing your braking distance is getting longer, you hear squealing, or they just don’t “feel” right, your brake pads need replacing.
- Tires (pressure and wear): Avoid flats and blowouts by checking the condition of your tires. In addition to being potentially dangerous, poorly inflated tires can affect your ride and your fuel economy, so make sure you know the proper tire pressure recommended by the tire manufacturer. If your tread is low, or worse yet, you have belts showing, consider getting a new set of tires altogether.
- Air conditioning & heating: When the weather is hot, you want to make sure your travelling companions are comfortable. Avoid meltdowns (no pun intended) by making sure that the air conditioner -- or heater, as the weather may dictate -- is in good working order.
- Battery: Car batteries typically last between two and five years. If you haven’t replaced your battery in that time, checking your existing battery voltage is crucial and can prevent getting stuck on the road, which can be especially dangerous in remote and/or unfamiliar surroundings. If your battery is still in good working order, make sure your cables and terminals are clean and free of excessive wear or buildup, and that the water level is optimal if your battery has a fill cap.
- Lights: Make sure all of the exterior lights on your car are operational and clean for best visibility. Do a comprehensive walkaround that starts with the headlights and includes the taillights, brake lights, directional signals, and fog lamps. Fix or replace any that are not working.
- Vital fluids: Check levels on engine oil, coolant, transmission fluid, brake fluid, power-steering fluid, and windshield washer fluid. Having your engine seize up due to lack of fluids would be especially frustrating because they can be so easily checked and topped off relatively inexpensively.
2. Avoid Dangerous Behavior
It's easy to forget that a car can be a dangerous machine when not operated properly. We tend to take this for granted, especially when we're on vacation. Please pay extra attention to the following:
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) a higher volume of holiday travelers, including a significantly higher number of alcohol-impaired drivers, cause nearly twice the number of automotive deaths during summer months than during the rest of the year combined.
The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day – summer vacation for most students – has been called "The 100 Deadliest Days" for teen drivers. Nine of the 10 deadliest days for youth on U.S. highways fall between May and August, with July 4th topping the list. Too much free time, distractions like texting, and too little driving experience also cause a greater risk for teenagers. Save your enjoyment of a cool beverage for when you reach your destination, and never drink alcohol, even a little, before a long trip.
Have you ever fought to stay awake behind the wheel? While vacations are supposed to be relaxing, road trips often require getting up early and driving for long stretches of time, which can lead to nodding off on the road. Here are some tips for minimizing your risk:
- Map out your trip – make sure you allow plenty of time to get to your destination, including rest stops
- Take regular breaks (at least one every two hours) and pull over for a power nap as soon you feel tired or fatigued, and share the driving if possible
- Have a few good nights' sleep before you begin your trip
- Don't drive when you would normally be sleeping
- Watch your alcohol intake at night if you’ll be driving the next day
Ideally, a driver should be alert and focused behind the wheel, but there are plenty of distractions today that make driving more challenging than ever.
- Don't use your mobile phone when the car is moving. If your car has a hands-free option, use it -- don’t even think about texting or using apps while driving. If you need to use electronic navigation through your phone, set it and forget it, or have a passenger help.
- Keep kids occupied with games and activities. Go old-school and play screenless games like the ones listed here.
- Make sure all passengers wear appropriate seatbelts or child restraints -- including pets. Kids or pets moving around in the back seat can prove to be major distractions.
- Stop regularly for restroom breaks, meals, and grooming. Since you’ll eventually need to take a rest stop anyway, having a meal or snack and then fixing your lipstick are best done while stationary.
- Make sure all luggage is properly secured and won't become projectiles in the case of sudden braking.
3. Beware of Road Hazards
There are plenty of hazards to avoid on the road, but awareness is key to prevention. Stay within the speed limit and always choose an appropriate speed for the driving conditions – whether city, country, or night time driving.
Driving at night can cause issues not present during the daytime; add unfamiliar territory and the challenges increase. The further you can see down the road ahead of you, the more time you have to course-correct if a hazard should suddenly appear. If you have ever considered upgrading your headlights to HIDs, now would be an excellent time to do so. HIDs provide brighter, farther reaching light that can increase your reaction time to road hazards at night. Renting a vehicle? Consider choosing a newer vehicle with HIDs as standard equipment.
Are you prepared to drive in a sudden downpour? If an unexpected rainstorm occurs, you may find yourself driving in streets that become rivers, or coastal fog that limits visibility.
- Make sure your windshield wipers are working properly
- Reduce your speed to prevent hydroplaning
- Turn on fog lights or daytime running lights
- Give yourself extra following distance between you and the car in front of you
- If conditions become exceptionally bad, pull off the road when it is safe to do so and wait until it’s safe to proceed
If you’re vacationing in desert or mountain areas, there’s a greater chance of encountering wildlife that could suddenly dart out in front of you on the road. An estimated 1.23 million deer-vehicle collisions occurred in the U.S. between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012, costing more than $4 billion in vehicle damage, according to State Farm, the nation’s leading auto insurer. It’s better to hit your brakes than to swerve into oncoming traffic or other hazards at the side of the road. Drive at a safe speed and always be aware of your surroundings.
Vacations are meant to be a break from the norm; a chance to get away from it all and recharge. A trip ruined by a breakdown (either your car’s or yours!) could make your vacation memorable for all the wrong reasons. Remember the P5 rule: “Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance” -- take care of the necessities first and you increase your chances of having a relaxing, stress-free vacation.