Over the past few years, more people have taken to the highways than they have to the air for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Many people prefer the family time of the road trip, vehicles are much more comfortable for traveling, and they like the freedom of being able to go somewhere once they reach their destination. Let’s face it, flying has gotten to be a real hassle over the last decade, even with gas prices being up and down.
If you are one of those people who are going to head out on the highway, there are some things you need to do to avoid the danger of a breakdown. These are also good things to do just because winter is almost here, and it is easier to do it now. You know the drill; “an ounce of prevention” etc.
Depending on the age and mileage on your car, the list of things to do can vary greatly, but there are certain things everyone should do, some of which you are able to do yourself. One of these is checking your tires for proper air pressure. Trust me, you cannot tell by looking if a tire is low.
Get a good gauge and check them all, including the spare. Many people never know their spare is flat or very low on air until they actually need it. Make sure too your jack is in working order, and do your homework on where the jack goes and how to change a tire.
If you are not always diligent with tire rotations, this is a good time to do so, it can extend your tires’ life. While the tires and wheels are off, it is a good time to gauge brake wear.
Fluids under the hood are extremely important. You don’t want to get a warning light while on the highway due to low fluids. Check your coolant to make sure there is enough to keep your car from overheating OR to make sure if you are in a cold climate you have enough protection to keep your engine from freezing up. Check your power steering fluid, your automatic transmission fluid level, brake fluid, and your windshield washer fluid.
Get your battery checked, this can save you a lot of grief. Most repair facilities will do a battery check for free, and it only takes a second. If you are under 20% life left, go ahead and replace it. It will be cheaper to do it now than once it actually fails.
Clean or replace your windshield wipers. If you are getting streaks, try cleaning first with a cotton ball and rubbing alcohol. Run the soaked cotton ball up and down the rubber edge of the wiper blade itself. If you are still getting streaks or they are not doing their job, replace them.
If your car has a timing belt, and you are within 5000 miles of the factory suggested mileage to change it out, go ahead and do it before you head out on that trip. In a huge majority of cases, if the belt breaks at highway speeds, you will ruin the engine to the point it is not repairable. This is a sure-fire way to ruin a trip.
Last, pack a few things just in case there are problems. Carry some fix-a-flat, which I hate and would only use as a last resort. It is not uncommon for people to run over something in the road and end up with two flats at once. Using the spare and the fix-a-flat, you can probably get to safety.
Pack a flashlight, a plug-in cell phone charger for the power port or cigarette lighter, a blanket, some drinking water, and some sort of reflective road warning device in case you can’t get all the way off the road.
All these things won’t take much time or cost a lot of money, but could make driving in the winter safer for you.