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Great Summer Road Trips

First, let’s get the business out of the way with some tips on making sure your car is in best driving condition before you hit the road.

Tires and Tire Pressure

No doubt about it, the tires are the most overlooked part of the car, especially when it comes to safety. Yes, tires are part of the vehicle’s safety system. They maintain contact with the road and work with the braking system to ensure you actually stop at the red light and not in the shop window across the street…

Having the right tire pressure is the best way to ensure your tires work properly. There are two numbers to pay attention to. Your tires will list on the side wall what their maximum tire pressure is. That’s not the one you want to go by. Instead, go with the recommended tire pressure provided by your vehicle’s maker. It’s located either on the side of the driver-side door, on the glovebox door, or in your owner’s manual. The reason you want to go by this figure and not the maximum figure is because tire pressure increases as temperature goes up. And since this is a summer road trip, the tire pressure could be 5-10 psi higher on the highway than when you started out. Excessive tire pressure increases the chance of a tire blowout on the road.

Having the correct tire pressure will keep you safest, give you the best handling, and best mileage. Overinflating the tires, as we just said, might give you better gas mileage but is dangerous. Underinflating the tires gives you worse gas mileage and wears your tires out quicker on the edges.

Speaking of tire edges, look at your tire tread before you start any trip. The proper depth of tire tread will keep you on the road in the rain. You’re looking for uneven wear patterns on one or the other side. If it’s more worn on one side, go get an alignment. Alignments cost a little upfront, but save you money in the long run by keeping your tires from wearing out prematurely.

The Cooling System

Your cooling system works hard in the heat of the summer to keep the car functioning. No, we’re not talking about AC, we’re talking about the system that keeps your engine from melting. The cooling system has a number of parts, and since few of us are very skilled at diagnosing coolant problems, the best thing to do is have your system checked out by a good mechanic before you leave. You do not want to be driving across the Arizona desert with a bad cooling system.

Here’s a brief rundown of the cooling system parts, so you can at least appear like you understand what your mechanic is telling you:

Radiator core – the little tubes in the radiator that hold coolant. Exposure to road salt rots it away over time. Bad news if you’re driving and it happens. Or it can get plugged, which means your engine will run hot when you’re driving at high speeds. A radiator flush is a good idea here.

Belts and hoses – check for small cracks in the rubber and make sure the hoses are still tight and clamped.

Coolant and thermostat – obviously your radiator needs coolant antifreeze in order to work properly. But keep an eye on your thermostat. They do eventually wear out and get stuck, which will cause engine overheating. If you haven’t had a new thermostat in a few years, get a new one before your trip.

Water pump – the water pump circulates… water. Good mechanics will replace the water pump when they replace the timing belt. You don’t want your water pump to break because it will cause all your coolant to leak out. And that’s bad news if you want to continue doing any actual roadtripping from that point forward.