The heat is on! It’s road trip time, but before you head out, here are a few basic safety tips for summer driving to make sure your car and your family make it safely to their destination. (Note: if you’re not a member of a roadside assistance club, this might be the time to check into it.)
Regular maintenance on any vehicle is a must if you value our investment, but no matter how well you take care of your car, you’re going to want to take a closer look before you hit the road.
Lack of air conditioning on a hot road is the last thing you want to deal with (not to mention all the complaints you’ll get from the back seat). Make sure it’s performing up to par and stop by your mechanic if it’s not cooling properly. You’ll also want to help keep the interior cool with removable shades and perhaps throw in a towel or two for hot seats. Remember child safety seats heat up (especially the buckles!) so you’ll want to keep them as cool as possible before you load in your child. There are several doodads that can help, check them out here, here or here.
While we’re on the topic of coolness, overheated cars are a common sight on the side of the road in the summertime. Make sure you’re not one of them by checking the coolant level and ensuring it’s the proper color (red, green or orange depending on the brand you use) when you’re engine is off and cooled down. If it’s clear, has particles floating in it, is rusty colored or sludgy, it needs to be changed. Don’t forget to check all the rubber or plastic parts like hoses for excessive wear or cracking, too, as well as the connections to make sure they’re secure.
Other fluids and their levels are just as important. Extreme temperatures stress out the engine and dirty oil can damage it. Change the oil if it looks sludgy or add more if needed. Don’t forget the brake, power steering, automatic transmission or clutch and windshield washing fluid (you might want to go for the bug cleaner one). Check the wiper blades, too, to make sure they’re in top shape to deal with summer showers and the aforementioned bugs.
The rubber that meets the road is of utmost importance—we mean your tires, of course! Air pressure and tread wear is important: you should actually be checking both at least once a month (when the tires are cold). Do the penny test: place a Lincoln penny upside down in the tread. If you can see the top of his head, you need new tires. Go in the back and make sure the spare is inflated and in good working order. Speaking of spare, make sure you have a jack, jumper cables and any other emergency equipment you might need in your trunk.
Check all the lights. Enlist the help of a partner and ask him or her to stand in front of and in back of your parked car as you go through all the outside lights: fog lights, emergency flashers, turn signals, brake lights, parking lights and headlights. Now check inside and make sure the interior lights are in working order. If you’re towing a trailer, ask your partner to help you see if the brake lights and turn signals are working properly.
One last thing: clean out your car! It’s hot out there, and if you have anything that melts (yes, that crayons) you’re going to end up with a big mess on your hands. There’s nothing like a clean start to the season anyway, right?