Be Prepared Before Your Summer Driving Vacation
In my life I’ve driven about 10,000 miles on vacations. And – knock on wood – I’ve never had a road trip accident or break down. But any time you set off on a driving vacation, you run the risk of car troubles along the way. You’re probably driving your car harder than you do under normal circumstances. Unfamiliar roads can lead to unexpected hazards. And, particularly in the sweltering summer months, cars can be prone to overheating.
So how do you stay safe while on the road, and what should you do if a breakdown occurs?
Preparing Your Car for a Road Trip
Make sure your car’s in tip-top shape before you load up the family and set out for adventure.
- Take your car to the mechanic at least a week before your trip. He’ll check the fluid levels, belts and hoses, change the oil if necessary, ensure your tires are properly inflated and rotate them too if it’s time. If the car’s air conditioning seems to have been straining in the summer heat, ask your mechanic to look at that, too.
- Check your car’s emergency kit. Do you have emergency flares or flags? Does the flashlight have working batteries? Do you have the tools necessary to do simple repairs, such as a tire change? (And is your spare tire fully inflated?) Do you have a first aid kit with unexpired medicine?
- Collect maps, print out driving directions and program your GPS. Among the dangerous things drivers do: Distract themselves while fumbling through notes, playing with the GPS or trying to figure out where in the heck they’re heading. Plan your route in advance and have the information easily accessible. Even if your trip is spontaneous, pull off the road while plotting your course.
- Consider joining a roadside assistance program.
- Make hotel reservations. Most of us have had the experience of pulling into motel after motel only to discover that each one is sold out. Make reservations, even if you ultimately cancel them because your route changed.
- If you don’t typically carry a cell phone, borrow one or buy a pay-as-you-go phone to use while on the road. Emergencies happen. Carry a list of important phone numbers and share your tentative itinerary with loved ones so they know where you’ll be and how to reach you.
- Plan for emergencies. Carry spare cash or credit cards to pay for unexpected medical treatment, car repairs, other emergencies – or unplanned fun.
Services like AAA can be useful because they’ll jump start your car, tow you to a mechanic, unlock the car doors and even bring gas if you run out. Before you pay for a membership, check to see if your auto insurance, car warranty or credit card includes a towing benefit.
Handling Car Troubles While on the Road
It pays to be prepared. How would you handle a breakdown or accident while in an unfamiliar town?
When a breakdown or accident occurs:
- Avoid braking suddenly. Particularly if your car’s steering, brakes, tires or alignment is affected, it’s better to coast to a stop.
- Pull your car as far to the side of the road as possible without going off the pavement. If you need to change your tire, make sure you’re on a flat, level surface.
- Turn on your hazard lights and set up emergency flares, flags or cones if necessary. One flare should be set about 50 feet from the car, another 25 feet from the car and the third several feet in the street near your rear bumper.
- If it’s safe to do so, get your children and pets out of the car and stand them far from the road. If you are on a busy highway, it’s safest to stay in the car and call for help. If anyone exits the car, do so on the passenger side.
If you’ve subscribed to a roadside emergency service you can often get a free tow – sometimes up to 100 miles. Often these services will take you to the mechanic of your choice or will recommend one. If your car is still under dealer warranty, make a list of the dealerships on your route. Otherwise consider turning to a consumer review service such as Yelp or Angie’s List for a quick roundup of recommended car repair shops. (This is where a phone with internet service – or a helpful friend back home – will come in handy.)
Most tow truck drivers will give you a ride to the mechanic’s shop, nearest town or hotel on the way.
If your car can’t be repaired quickly, you need to decide how to salvage your vacation. Should you rent a car, continue on your trip and then backtrack to pick up the car once it’s fixed? Is there enough to keep you entertained in the town or city where your car is being repaired? Or should you call a friend or family member to come pick you up?
No one wants to be in an automobile accident or to experience a breakdown, but you also have to look on the bright side if your vacation plans do get interrupted. Personally, I think that the unexpected elements of a vacation are sometimes the most enjoyable. Sometimes you have to think out of the box to save your vacation. Maybe you see every movie at the local theater while waiting for your repair. Or visit every restaurant in the area in search of the best burger and fries. Fun can be found in the unlikeliest of places.
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