"Think about it; your car is only going to break down when you're using it," says Larry Keister, who has been an automotive repair and tire specialist for 40 years. So while you're planning your route, food and entertainment, be sure your car is road-ready so that you have a safe start and a smooth finish to this summer's road trip.
Above all, follow the published maintenance schedule. "With today's newer cars, it's very important to watch the maintenance schedules listed in the owners manual. Most are pretty detailed about what you need to do at certain miles or certain times. They have changed considerably over the years, so follow those schedules," Keister says. That's important not only to keep your car in good shape but also to keep your manufacturer warranty valid.
But if maintenance will be due while you're on the road this summer, do it before you leave; early is better than late.
Change the fluids -- oil and transmission and brake fluids -- and flush the radiator coolant as specified. Most new vehicles have oil life monitors showing percentages of life. Change at 15 to 20 percent life remaining. The new semi-synthetic lubricants offer better performance and may last twice as long as the traditional "every three months or 3,000 miles." Check your manual.
Check your tire pressure and wear, and rotate the tires on time. "Underinflated tires may last as little as half their potential life," Keister says. "Look inside the driver's door on the panel or body of the car to see the original equipment size and inflation pressure. Correct inflation and proper rotation of the tires can save you almost as much as a $100 tuneup in gas mileage. The tires will roll more freely and give you better and longer tire life. It's also a safety feature for steering and general handling of the vehicle. Soft, squishy tires don't corner or handle well."
Check the date on your battery. If the expected life is nearly up, change it this spring and avoid a breakdown in the middle of your trip. If it's close but not time to replace it, at least take along your own set of jumper cables, Keister advises.
Save time and money on spring maintenance by combining inspections. If you're in for a tire rotation, for example, ask the technician to check the brakes while the tires are off. While the hood is up for an oil change, ask for a visual check of the air filter, coolant, belts and hoses. This is also a good time to check the washer solvent and change old windshield wiper blades.
A simple visual inspection, combined with knowing the service history and age of your car's parts, can prevent surprises and emergencies on the road, Keister says. The technician can see whether a belt is cracked and whether the brakes are wearing.
If you do need new brakes, a water pump, or other parts to get your vehicle ready for that two-week, 3,000-mile road trip this summer, consider paying a little more for aftermarket parts that come with lifetime warranties, Keister says. "If you're a person who keeps your car for most of its life cycle, pay extra for the best parts available that come with lifetime warranties. You'll probably be money ahead."
When it comes to packing for your road trip, the travel experts at AAA have lots of tips. A few basics to have on board include a small first-aid kit, your vehicle's owners manual, a flashlight and a tire pressure gauge. It's also a good idea to keep an emergency tire inflator and sealer with you.
Take a cell phone car charger with you, and keep your phone fully charged. Make sure you have the membership and phone numbers for your roadside assistance provider handy. Note that some service providers are limited in where they will provide service or require members to pay for service out of pocket and request reimbursement. Check with your service provider before leaving to make sure you will be fully covered anywhere you go on your trip.
Consider taking a GPS navigation device with you.
Check and observe your vehicle's payload capacity, which is the maximum combined weight of all cargo and passengers that can be carried safely. Typically, this figure is on a sticker attached to the driver's door of the vehicle.
Any load on top of your vehicle should be at most 18 inches high and no more than 100 pounds.
Do not overload the trunk or rear cargo compartment. Items in a vehicle's open cargo area or on the roof should be secured properly to prevent shifting of the load. The last thing you need is your unmentionables scattered across the highway after your suitcase shimmies loose.
The summer road trip is an American tradition. Hit the open road, and enjoy the view. You might be surprised where you wind up, and you always will find a road to bring you home.