Tips for safe summer travel

Tips for safe summer travelMemorial Day is behind us, but even though the season doesn't officially change from spring to summer for another couple of weeks, temperatures in the southern half of the United States are already reaching into the triple digits. Hot weather can be a problem for cars as well as people, so here are a few tips to help keep you from being stranded - and parched - on the side of the road:


  • Hydration matters: Your car's lubricants and fluids will be subject to a greater likelihood of evaporation or tension changes. Whether you're planning a road trip, or just need to keep your regular commute as soon as possible, check those fluids regularly, and top them off as needed. You'll also want to flush the radiator and refill it with anti-freeze, which helps prevent engine over-heating, and be sure your air conditioning system is charged with coolant.
  • Check those tires: Hot pavement causes greater stress to your tires, so check the treads before you begin any long trip, and rotate or replace the tires as necessary. If the treads are fine, be sure to keep the pressure in your tires at the recommended PSI. If you can't read the numbers on the tires themselves, this information is also in the owner's manual for your car. The best time to inspect tires is about three hours after the last time your car was driven, when the tires have cooled off.
  • Examine all the belts and hoses in your car for signs of wear or cracking. Hot weather can cause small tears or cracks to get worse, so repair or replace before something breaks down.
  • Keep up with oil changes. Most lube shops, garages, and mechanics give you a sticker with a date or number of miles to the next recommended oil change. Stick to this schedule even if you're not sure you need it. Cars function much more smoothly, and use fuel more cleanly, when the oil is fresh. Have the air filters checked at the same time your oil is changed, and replace them if needed, for even better results.
  • Watch your battery. A hot day will drain your car's battery faster than a cool day, so keep an eye on your power system, especially if your battery is near the end of its life. As well, maximize your battery life by resisting the urge to keep the a/c on when you're parked and the engine is off.
  • Be prepared. If you are going on a long trip, pack a cooker with plenty of bottled water and cool-packs. The packs should be frozen a few days before you leave, and packed into the cooler. If the air conditioner goes out, or you do end up stranded, you can use them on the back of your neck or at other pulse points to keep your body temperature low.
  • Avoid accidents. With hot weather comes bright sunlight. Be sure to wear sunglasses with lenses that block UV light, and if your eyes become fatigued, pull off the road and rest a while. If possible, schedule breaks in your driving during the hottest parts of the day (generally between three and five in the afternoon) and avoid driving West just at sunset. Your family - and your insurance agent - will thank you.

If basic car maintenance isn't something you're comfortable with, it's a good idea to take your car to a trusted mechanic before you leave on any road trip. Having your car fully serviced before you leave minimizes the likelihood that you'll be stuck somewhere once you're under way.

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