Do you have a road trip in your future this holiday season? If so, here are some simple steps you can take to make sure your vehicle is ready to roll before you leave town. You'll also find some special tips in here for Floridians who never normally deal with frigid temperatures — just in case your road trip takes you over the hills, through the woods and straight into some wild winter weather!
1Get an oil change. Are you approaching the time for a 30,000-mile full service for your vehicle? If so, don't procrastinate! Among other things — such as checking your air filter, spark plugs and other ignition parts — the service should include an oil change.
2Make sure you can see. When's the last time you replaced your wiper blades? They usually work effectively for about one year, so be sure to invest in some new ones if you're due. Also take the time to fill up your windshield washer reservoir with windshield washer fluid, and check to see that your heater and defroster are working properly so you can keep the windshield nice and clear.
3Remember your battery. Make sure your battery's posts and connections are corrosion-free and that your battery has all the water it needs. If your battery is more than three years old, have a certified repair shop test its ability to hold a charge. Granted, you might be able to find a Good Samaritan to help you jump-start your vehicle — but wouldn't you rather avoid such a scenario altogether?
4Examine your belts and hoses. When you have that full service done on your vehicle, make sure the belts and hoses get checked for wear and tear — even if you're driving a new model car.
5Check your tire pressure. Your tires must be properly inflated to ensure you'll have the best possible traction — and traction is often severely jeopardized in wet, snowy or icy conditions. The air pressure in your tires is likely to drop as the weather gets colder. (You can generally expect that you'll lose 1 pound per square inch whenever the temperature drops by 10 degrees Fahrenheit.) Your owner's manual will tell you what your target tire pressure should be.
6Review your roadside assistance plan. You may have a plan through your car insurance company, your credit card or organizations like AAA or the AARP. Pretty much every plan out there will tow you somewhere or reimburse you for a tow, but the similarities often stop there. Read different plans' details over carefully in order to avoid the shock of being abandoned somewhere or hit with a hefty bill.
7Do you have four-wheel drive? If so, it's important to check the status of your four-wheel-drive system and be sure it's working correctly. Be sure that the system engages and disengages easily, and that all drivers in your household know how and when to activate the system.
8Get the antifreeze mixture just right. Aim for having a 50-50 mix of antifreeze (coolant) and water inside your radiator. This will prevent the mixture from freezing even at ridiculously cold temperatures. It's easy to check the status of the mixture with an inexpensive antifreeze tester, which you can pick up at an auto parts store. If the mixture is off, your cooling system should be drained and refilled or flushed. Be sure you're equipped to dispose of your old antifreeze properly if you do this job yourself. It can't just be poured down the drain.
9Prepare an emergency kit. If you'll be driving in winter weather, store this stuff in your trunk: a blanket; boots and gloves; an extra set of warm clothes; extra water and food, including hard candies; an ice scraper; a small snow shovel; a flashlight; windshield washer fluid; windshield wipers; flares; jumper cables; a tool kit; tire chains; a tire gauge; a spare tire with air in it; tire-changing equipment; a first-aid kit; paper towels; and a bag of abrasive material such as sand, salt or nonclumping kitty litter, which can provide additional traction if a tire gets stuck in snow. Also, keep the gas tank as full as you can to prevent the gas lines from freezing.
10Know what to do if you get stranded. Particularly if you get stranded in cold weather on your road trip: Don't wander away from your car unless you're completely sure about where you are and how far away help is. Light two flares and situate them at each end of your vehicle to call attention to your plight. Put on the extra clothes and use the blanket to stay warm. If you have enough gas in the tank, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes for each hour you're waiting for help. Leave at least one window open a little bit so that snow and ice don't seal the car shut. Suck on a hard candy to prevent your mouth from getting too dry.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at laura@ tentips.org.
Sources: Edmunds.com (www.edmunds.com); National Safety Council (www.nsc.org/safety_road/)