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There’s something about road trips with friends: Even when the hours stretch ahead of you seemingly endlessly, they’re full of promise of good music, great bonding, solid scenery, and a journey that’s as good as the destination. But they can also come with their fair share of road blocks due to things like car troubles and dangerous conditions. That said, that’s no reason to deter you from actually taking a road trip. Rather, it’s a good reason to take the time to brush up on some important car and travel safety info before you actually get moving. Read on for tips and tricks that will help ensure your vaca is as smooth as the open road:
1. Make sure all of the key parts of the car are in working order.
It seems obvious when you say it out loud, but in reality, most people probably don’t really check the functioning of things that are “out of sight, out of mind” before hitting the road. But if you’re taking a long trip and you’re going to be far from home, it’s important to make sure everything is running smoothly. Start with the basics like turn signals, lights, and the like, and then move onto the under-the-hood stuff. “Battery failure is the number one cause of car breakdowns,” Jeff Hermsen, store manager at Just Tires in Deerfield, IL, tells Teen Vogue. He says they don’t give much indication when they’re running low, but there are some warning signs you can look out for in the time leading up to your trip. Look for “the engine struggling to turn over upon ignition, or white, blue, or orange fuzz forming around the battery,” he says. And even if you don’t see those warning signs, you can get it tested by a professional.
Consider whether your brakes might need to be updated, too. “If your car jerks or pulls to the side when you apply the brakes, or if you hear sounds like squeaking, squealing or grinding, it’s likely time for service,” Jeff says. “Always check your owner’s manual, but a general rule of thumb is to have your brakes checked every 12 months or 15,000 miles.”
And it’s also key to make sure your car is full up on all its necessary fluids, he notes. “Don’t get caught without improper levels of windshield, brake, power steering or transmission fluid before your trip,” he says.
And that especially goes for oil, notes Darlene Gray, education specialist with Bridgestone. “The oil is absolutely the most important fluid in that vehicle after fuel,” she says. “It’s designed to keep all your components in that motor running.”
If you’re driving in the winter, you’ll need to add a few more checks to your list. “Make sure your mode of transportation can bear the weather,” Carol Mueller, vice president of marketing at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection (BHTP), tells Teen Vogue. “Check for antifreeze, snow chains, ice scrapers and other winter-travel essentials.” And if you get a rental car, make sure that’s equipped with all of these things, too.
Overwhelmed? While it’s good to have an idea of what you’re looking at and for on your car, you can definitely take it in to a professional mechanic for a tune-up and an overall wellness check.
2. Get your tires in tip-top shape and make sure you have a spare.
“[People] don’t often understand how much tires matter,” Darlene says. “Drivers don’t really consider or remember that the only part[s] of the whole vehicle — and everything precious contained within — are the tires.”