Despite record gas prices, AAA says that nearly 39 million drivers will hit the road for Memorial Day next weekend. If you're going to be one of the countless people behind the wheel, Robert Sinclair, Jr. with AAA explains what you need to know before you put the keys in the ignition.
1. Practice preventative maintenance Overheated cooling systems, burned transmissions and tire problems can leave you and your vehicle stranded. A few simple at-home inspections, like checking your engine oil and tire pressure, can locate potential problems. For other inspections, such as checking the brakes, belts and hoses or inspecting exhaust systems, visit a repair shop that offers a vehicle inspection service.
2. Make sure you have the emergency roadside essentialsObviously you want to avoid breaking down, but in the unfortunate event that you do, it's good to make sure your car has a functioning spare, along with a working jack. And just as important, make sure you have a working cell phone.
Many times there's not going to be a whole lot you can do to make repairs on the side of the road, but it may be a good idea to have a few tools. Brookstone makes a emergency roadside repair kit like a jack, air compressor and reflective triangle.
3. Know when and where should you pull over
Murphy's Law applies to driving as it does to everything else in life. If something can break, it will, and at the worst possible time. If you need to pull over because your car has broken down, sit in your car on the side of the highway. Studies have shown that cars parked on the roadside are often struck by passing traffic, especially at night. Pull well off the highway, onto the shoulder, even if you have a flat. Ride on the wheel rim if you have to. Turn on your emergency flashers and place reflective triangles behind the car. In good weather, walk several feet away from the car and wait in a safe spot.
4. Load the car properly
Just think about all the stuff you normally cram into your car — giant bags of topsoil for your garden, rock salt for your water softener, firewood for winter evenings, luggage, bicycles and sports equipment for summer vacations. And if you can slam the trunk lid or close the hatch (or at least tie it down), you probably figure that you're good to go, right?
Not so fast. Just because a load fits doesn't mean that it's safe. In fact, the amount of cargo your vehicle can carry has absolutely nothing to do with available space. It has everything to do with weight. And ignoring your vehicle's weight limit can have serious consequences for your safety. Overloading affects a vehicle's braking and handling. It creates premature wear on several critical parts, especially tires. And it could even lead to catastrophic failure of some components. And in an abrupt stopping situation, things could go flying causing significant injuries to passengers.
5. Be aware of rest stop surroundings
It's really a matter of general alertness. When you stop in a rest stop, your out of state license becomes a billboard that says: “I'm not from around here.” When we're traveling on vacation, many times we're not very alert. Remember, you have a lot of valuables in your vehicle like electronic equipment, etc. Pay attention. Also, mind your children, especially when you go to the bathroom. And remember to park in a well lit area, especially if you pull into a rest stop at night. General alertness is key.