Spring Break is among us, and for many Arizonan’s this means a road trip is in their near future. In order to make sure that you are reaching your destinations confidently and safely this break, we have compiled a list of things that you should do to prepare for the road ahead.
Make Sure Your Vehicle is in Top Working Order
The key to a safe road trip is to be driving a safe vehicle. Chances are if you are taking a certain vehicle on your trip it is because you trust the shape that it is in. However, it is still safest to perform basic maintenance on your vehicle, or schedule a check-up before you hit the road.
• Check your fluids. Though it may seem like no big deal, fluids actually play a crucial role in the overall health of your car. Make sure you are at your vehicles recommended fluid levels for coolant, engine oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, and even windshield washer fluid. You can find your recommended levels in your owner’s manual. Finding and correcting a low fluid before your trip is highly preferred to ending up stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.
• Check your tires. Tires are probably one of the most common problems on a long road trip. Look your tires over or have them looked over by a professional before you leave. Check your air pressure, refer to your owner’s manual or on your driver side door for your recommended PSI (pounds per square inch). Remember to only do this when the tires are cool -meaning you haven’t driven on them recently- so you get an accurate reading. Perform the quarter or penny test on your tread. If you pass then you are probably fine, if not you may want to replace before you hit the road. You will also want to inspect the sidewall for any bulges or tears. Don’t forget to check your spare!
• Check your brakes. It is imperative that you have properly functioning brakes before you go on a road trip. Before heading out have a mechanic look at your brakes to make sure they are in good condition. While driving you should not hear squeaking or grinding when you brake. If you are hearing these noises, then it is most likely time for new brake pads and maybe rotors. While on your trip, avoid riding your brakes too hard (especially on steep, mountainous roads) as this causes damage that could leave you stranded on the side of the road needing assistance.
• Check your battery. Make sure the cables are tight to the battery, and check the battery terminals to make sure that they are free from corrosion.
• Check your air filter. Changing the air filter if it needs it will help get you better gas mileage on your trip. If you pull it out, and it’s visibly dirty and black then it’s time for a new filter. If it has been over 12 months or 12,000 miles since you have last had your air filter inspected, then it is really important not to skip this step.
• Check your wipers and electrics. You want to make sure that you can see, and that you are being seen while on the road. Make sure all of your lights are working properly. Also check your wiper blades and fluid so that you can keep your windshield clean to reduce glare from oncoming traffic.
Plan Ahead and Be Prepared
Taking simple preparation steps before a road trip can help eliminate a lot of stress on the road.
• Know your route. Program your destinations into your GPS ahead of time should you have one. If you are using a map, make sure it is up to date and have a passenger help you navigate. You can plan your route ahead of time with highlighters. (Even if you are planning on using a GPS of some sort, it is still wise to keep an up to date map on hand so you are not stranded if there are any technical difficulties.) Planning your route beforehand will help you make sure you’ll have food, lodging options, and rest-stops to choose from when the need arises.
• Pack an emergency kit. You should always have some sort of emergency kit on hand, but for a road trip you may want to look it over and make sure it is stocked properly to accommodate you as well as all of your passengers. We have an emergency kit check list you can use here. If anyone has asthma or allergies or another condition that may need special medication, you may want to include extra in your kit just in case.
• Prepare your phone. Make sure your phone has all of your important emergency contacts in it and that it is charged! Don’t forget to bring a car charger with you. You may want to keep a written list of your important contacts in your emergency kit as well, just in case you have an issue with your cell and you don’t have all of the numbers memorized.
• Join an auto club. Simply having roadside assistance like AAA on a road trip can be a real life saver. They are especially great if you are amongst a group of people that are not too car savvy. Auto clubs are there for you whether you have a flat, over heat, get lost, or crash your car. Even if you don’t end up using them on your trip, it is a comfort knowing that if something should have happened, you had somewhere to get help quickly.
• Check the weather. You want to make sure your car can handle what you are about to put it through, so check to see if there is rain or other unfavorable weather on your trip so that you can make your car ready. This will also help you know what to wear and pack.
• Let someone know where you are going and your estimated time of arrival. Making sure people are aware of your destinations and when you should be reaching them is important. If something happens and you don’t make it there, having someone who knows your route and plans can be a life saver. They can get in touch with the proper authorities and send help should you need it.
• Bring plenty of food and water. Having some snacks and water on hand will give your body the fuel it needs to stay awake and healthy on the road. Becoming overly hungry or dehydrated while driving can be dangerous. Crackers and peanut butter are great energy boosters that are filling, too.
• Have all of your paper work. While on a road trip it is important to keep these papers on hand: driver’s license, proof of car insurance, vehicle registration, owner’s manual, warranty information, road side assistance contact number, medical insurance card.
Use Safe Driving Practices
Driving safely is as important as making sure your vehicle is functioning properly. It is important to remember to always be respectful of other travelers and follow the rules of the road.
• Buckle up. Any time you enter a vehicle the first thing you should do is put on your seat belt. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 53 percent of drivers and passengers killed in car crashes in 2009 were not wearing restraints. The CDC goes on to say that seat belts saved almost 13,000 lives in 2009, and that if all drivers and passengers had worn seat belts that year, almost 4,000 more people would be alive today. Seat belts are there to prevent needless injury and/or death, so no matter how uncomfortable they may be, put it on.
• Be well rested and take frequent breaks. Avoid driving drowsy at all costs. If you must keep going, see if a passenger can take the wheel for a while if you find yourself getting tired. After a certain amount of time, driving when you are tired could be as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. You can read about the dangers of drowsy driving and how to prevent it here.
• Don’t Speed. Obeying the speed limit not only conserves fuel, but it also helps prevent speeding tickets and deadly crashes.
• Avoid distractions. Stay off of your phone when driving, don’t wear headphones, don’t eat a big meal and drive (handful of shelled nuts = good, giant burger that requires two hands = bad), if you have a pet with you make sure it is secure in the back seat and not climbing all over you. Avoid as many distractions as possible as they cause accidents. Have a passenger answer your text if you must answer it, or have a passenger drive while you eat.
• Don’t drive impaired. Do not consume alcohol or take any drugs, recreational or doctor prescribed that will affect you driving in any way. If you are on the road with multiple people, assign someone as a designated driver. Take turns if you like. Just don’t let anyone behind the wheel when they are under the influence.
• To avoid collision don’t follow other cars too closely. Remember the three second rule. Watch the car in front of you. Look for something like a speed limit sign and once they pass it count one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi. If you pass it before you reach three Mississippi, then you are too close. In adverse driving conditions like rain, or snow then you should increase the count to six.
• Make sure you are seen. Turn on your lights at dusk or when it is raining so that other cars are sure to see you.