Written By Chris Dolan and Megan Irish
This week’s question comes from Pam from the East Bay, who writes: It’s summertime, and the kids are out of school. We will be hitting the road and seeing the sights all over California. Any tips or advice for us when we hit the road to be safe in our car?
That sounds great. A family road trip can make memories to last a lifetime. Before you take to the roads, doing vehicle maintenance and understanding your route is a good idea.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends many safety checks. Here are a few:
Check your air conditioning system, as it must work harder in the summer heat. Having air conditioning in good working order is not only a comfort factor but can be essential for children or older adults. Heatstroke can be a serious or deadly consequence of an overheated car. Even with windows cracked, a car starts heating up, and outside temperatures as low as the 70s can quickly reach lethal levels. Never leave a child, an older adult, or a pet in a car.
While under the hood for the air conditioning, look at the belts and hoses, as the warmer temperatures can cause the rubber and hoses to deteriorate. Also, check the connections, and secure any that may need tightening. Should the hoses and belts be cracked or bulged, it’s time to replace them. (If you are not familiar with these items have your local mechanic shop review this for you).
Are your fluid levels where they should be? Check out the oil, brake, transmission, power steering, and windshield washer fluids. Top up each reservoir as needed.
Look at the tires, and make sure they have sufficient tread. The tread should be at least 2/32” or greater on all tires. You can use a penny to check the tread. Place a penny upside down into the tread; if you can see the top of President Lincoln’s head, the tread is too thin, and it is likely time for new tires. Is the wear even on the tires? If not, an alignment may be in order. Also, are they properly inflated? Check your tires’ pressure when the car has not been driven for at least three hours (after the tires have cooled) and compare the readings to the sticker mounted on the pillar of the driver’s door frame.
How are your headlights, brakes, and turn signals? Are all the bulbs working? Also, look at the emergency flashers to ensure they perform properly. Additionally, ensure your floor mat is debris-free and installed properly on the floor. If it has started to fray or become damaged, it could get in the way of the driver moving their foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal.
Finally, make sure your seatbelts and car seats, as needed, are in good condition and properly installed.
Once the car is ready, make sure you have safely packed, and none of the bags block the driver’s ability to use mirrors and inspect blind spots as they are driving and changing lanes.
Take a moment to familiarize yourself with your route. CalTrans has online resources that provide current highway conditions, including planned closures. Also, while GPS is a wonderful tool, being aware of your route means you spend less time looking down at the device and more time looking at the road, a much safer approach. Your device may lose battery power or fall in a river, or knowing your route is a safe preparation. Let people know when you expect to arrive somewhere, so someone will check on you if you are outside your arrival window.
When traveling with children, you can have simple games to amuse them. Three simple but fun car games are looking for out-of-state license plates, finding cars in the color of the rainbow, or the truck imagination game, where the kids take turns telling a story of what is in the back of the closed container of an 18-wheel truck. Kids of all ages can play on trips and have lots of fun.
Make safe choices while you are out on the road. Pay attention to your surroundings and be alert when you stop for gas or other essentials. Use your seatbelt and respect the speed limit. Do not drink or use drugs while operating a vehicle.
Depending on your experience some items we discussed could be delegated to your local mechanic shop. Just make sure to ask them to take care of any concerns you may have.
Most importantly, have a great time with your family and make those road trip memories.