CAR SMARTS® Driving Tips For Your Family Vacation
By Lauren Fix, the Car Coach®
Memorial Day is historically one of the biggest travel holidays of the year. And this year, with concerns about travel safety and the economy in mind, many travelers will be hitting the road in the family car. But how many drivers really feel confident when they look at their tires – do they have enough air? And the fluids – how do you know if you need an oil change or just need to top it off? And in case of an emergency – what should you have on hand? What is the best way to entertain your family so everyone is safe and happy?
According to the Travel Industry Association of America, Americans are more interested in traveling by car, staying within the U.S. and taking weekend getaways. Chances are your family is considering a road trip and I have some strategies to make your vacation more enjoyable.
Let’s start with under the hood:
Tip #1 – Check and Change Your Oil
Regular oil changes are one of the easiest ways to extend the life of your engine. Remember to have your oil and oil filter changed every 5,000-7,500 miles. It’s easy to check and change your oil; it will save you money as well as give you pride from a job well done. Make sure the engine is cool when you decide to check and change your oil. If you’ve neglected changing your oil for several months, you may hurt the heart of your vehicle. A fresh oil change will ensure your motor (the heart of your car) is protected for the trip. I always recommend synthetic oil and a high performance oil filter specially designed for tough driving conditions such as stop and go driving, heavy traffic, long trips and harsh weather. A good bet is to use a quality oil filter because of its ability to perform in hot and cold, stop and go conditions and its availability for SUVs, passenger cars and light trucks.
Tip # 2 – Clean your fuel injectors for the best fuel economy
This may seem like something difficult to do – but it’s so simple that anyone can do it easily. So how do we clean fuel injectors and why? Over time, the fuel injectors in your vehicle get clogged with baked-on fuel residues, which distort the fuel injector spray pattern. In other words, clogged or dirty injectors are a prime cause of reduced fuel economy, vehicle hesitation, engine stumbling, power loss, and rough idling. Fortunately, cleaning and maintaining your car’s fuel injectors is fast, simple and easy. For simple do-it-yourself fuel injector maintenance, use a bottle of fuel injector cleaner in a full tank of gas every 5,000 miles. it does an exceptional job. If your car has more than 40,000 miles, see a professional first and get the injectors cleaned. The results will make you smile.
Tip #3 – Check the inflation pressure on your tires and spare.
Remember to check the pressure when your tires are cold because inflation pressure increases while driving. A few pounds of under inflation can affect the handling of your vehicle. The proper inflation pressure for any vehicle can be found in the gas door, glove box or on the placard inside the doorjamb of the vehicle. The pressure marked on the sidewall of the tire is the maximum pressure allowed; not what is recommended for your vehicle. Carry your own tire pressure gauge, as the ones at the gas stations have been dropped so many times, they’re rarely accurate. It’s a small investment for your safety and the best fuel economy.
Tip #4 – Check the wear of your tires by inspecting the entire tread
Check the wear of your tires by inspecting the entire tread- from the center to the shoulder to determine when your tires need to be replaced. You need new tires if the tread is worn down to the wear bars – visible strips of rubber in the grooves that indicate wear. Another way to check the wear is by inserting a penny into the tire groove with Lincoln’s head upside down. If the top of the head is showing above the tread, your tires need to be replaced.
Tip #5 – Check Over Your Car
You should also check to make sure that everything is in working order (turn signals, parking brake, brake lights and head lights) by conducting a visual inspection of your vehicle.
Tip #6 – Check radiator coolant, power steering fluid and windshield washer fluid
While your engine is cool, you’ll also want to check some other fluids such as the radiator coolant, power steering fluid and windshield washer fluid and refill or replace them as needed. Be sure to inspect hoses and belts for signs of wear such as cracks or blistering. You’ll also want to check your wiper blades for signs of age; they should usually be replaced every six months or so. And for summer travel, make sure you have your air conditioner running in proper order. You can visually check for leaks or find a certified mechanic to inspect and refill the refrigerant.
Now some tips about what to carry in the car. From getting lost to running low on gas, to entertaining the troops – any number of issues can and will arise on a family vacation.
Tip # 7 – A GPS to reduce stress is a great advantage
Everyone knows road trips are meant to be fun, but sometimes they’re also stressful. Satellite navigation technology can help reduce the stress of traveling to unfamiliar places and makes road trips more convenient and fun. GPS systems are portable so you can take it from car to car, even to rental cars. I like them because they actually talk to you and tell you the right way to go with turn-by-turn directions to nearly any address across the country. GPS systems make driving safer because you can keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel instead of fumbling with a paper map or disputing which way to go. And if you need to call for emergency assistance it shows your exact location. It will even find the nearest gas station, hospital, bank and several other points of interest so you can relax and drive no matter where you are. This should help eliminate the “where are we now” question.
With more and more families traveling to their vacation destinations by car, parents are looking for ways to keep children and drivers entertained while en-route.
Tip # 8 – Carry a radio that will always entertain the family.
I’m not talking about your typical radio – I’m talking about a radio that offers over 100 digital channels of music, sports, talk, comedy and even children’s programming. It’s portable and can be easily transferred from car to car and won’t lose its signal between cities like conventional radios. No changing CD’s or cassettes (you remember those I hope). I experienced a satellite radio and, what a difference, you can listen virtually anywhere – from your car, your home, even camping. You can also purchase a boom box that you can carry with you to places like the backyard barbeque or even the beach. When my family travels on the road, we like to listen to family-friendly channels, like XM Kids and when the kids are sleeping we can change the mood and listen to our favorite stations. Satellite Radio has dozens of commercial-free music channels ranging from Blue Grass to Rock to Hip-Hop , Reggae, Opera plus Radio Disney for the kids. You can even see the name of the song and the artist on all music channels. On talk radio, you can listen to shows like FOX News, CNBC, ESPN, CNN, Discovery, and NASCAR to name a few.
Tip # 9 – Carry other entertainment materials too
If all else fails, pop in a book on tape. Hand held games are all the rage. Don’t forget healthy snack food, water and sensible snacks like pretzels and apples will make your trip less stressful and keep expenses down while staying away from all those fast food places.
Carry a communication device such as a cell phone for emergencies. Lastly, be sure that you have emergency equipment on hand; you never know when you’ll need assistance. Those items include a first aid kit, battery cables or a self enclosed battery jumper, flares, a flashlight with fresh batteries, bottled water, snacks and maps.
Most of all have a safe and fun vacation.