Casey Williams: Prepare your car and your mind for the best summer road trip

Casey Williams, Tribune News Service on

Published in Business News

As a Boy Scout, I was taught to “Be Prepared.” Whether you are hiking over a mountain or preparing for a family vacation, the advice is sound. The best way to make sure your much-anticipated road trip does not become the trip from — well, somewhere not pleasant — is to take time to prepare.

Preparing your car

“Have your car checked by an ASC-certified technician, Blue Seal shop, or at a dealership,” advised car care expert Pam Oakes, owner of Pam’s Motor City in Ft. Meyers, Florida. “We think we can do it ourselves, but the money is well-spent. You don’t want to find out halfway through your trip that your car has problems because you didn’t take precautions beforehand.”

If you decide to practice medicine without a shop, here are some things that Oakes, Consumer Reports, and AAA recommend:

—Tires: Inspect all, including the spare if equipped, to make sure they are not worn or damaged and are properly inflated. Check the tires when cold and use pressures placed in the driver’s door jamb. Do not rely on ratings molded into the tire. As a take on the old penny trick, place a quarter into the tire tread with Washington’s head facing you and down. If the area above his head is visible, replace tires. A blow-out is no amusement ride.

—Fluids: Check the coolant, oil and transmission fluid levels. Read the owner’s manual for location and how to determine “normal” levels. While you’re under the hood, fill up the windshield washer reservoir. Your car will be working hard, in the heat of summer. Low coolant levels can cause overheating and leave you stranded. If the oil is excessively dirty, change it, but oil can be added if it is low. Check the owner’s manual for type.


—Brakes: Consumer Reports recommends that if you detect vibrations, grinding or pulling to one side when applying the brakes, take the car to a service center and have them checked.

—Batteries: The normal life for a battery is three to five years. Almost any auto center can check its charging capability. Also, disconnect the cables and thoroughly clean the terminals. Re-attach them securely.

—Belts/hoses: With the car off, inspect belts and hoses for cracks, blisters, soft spots and wear. Pay special attention to the big serpentine belt that runs through pulleys on the front of the engine and hoses going into the radiator. Either of those breaking will spell big trouble.

—Wipers and spray cans: Replace those windshield wiper blades that have been smearing rain. Driving on the Interstate is misery enough without being blinded by rain. Many new cars do not have spare tires and instead rely on “fix-a-flat” cans to seal punctures. Grab a new can while purchasing blades.


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