Road trips are a great way to “fly” among families who love a bit of spontaneity and a lot of discovery between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Though there are “must-do’s” in every North American city, some of the best memories come from those accidental local finds: classic diners, obscure historic sites, cool neighborhoods or towns that did not exist 30 years ago, and rediscovery of a place you may have visited as a child.
On the other hand, nothing will take the air out of those experiences faster than an automotive malfunction. Even among those who prefer to take the road less traveled, overlooking the working order of the family car can prove to be a wrong turn. And you may want to consider alternatives to taking your own car depending on how far you plan to go and how old your vehicle is.
Rebekah Fleischaker, a.k.a. “The Car Chick,” in Sherman Oaks, Calif. insists that even in the loosest of itineraries, prepping the family car— or finding a more reliable form of transport — is absolutely necessary.
“You need to tell your garage right off the bat you are planning to travel across the country so they can ensure your car will be able to handle this kind of trip,” she says. “You wouldn’t want some random part like a hose falling apart 1,500 miles from home.”
Here are some of Fleischaker’s tips to keep your family’s travel plans in gear:
- Determine whether your trip is within your home state or a cross-country trip. If you are planning a cross-country trip, have an oil change and regular maintenance, and then have your mechanic check all the fluids, belts, hoses, tires and so on to be absolutely sure your car will be able make the extended trip. If you are doing a shorter trip of up to 500 miles, have your mechanic do a once-over to ensure you are caught up on the oil changes and fluids.
- Visit YouTube or automotive websites to find videos that demonstrate what a good and bad tire looks like, and what other parts look like when they wear out so you and your garage can prep your car accordingly.
- Check your fuse box to know where it is located in advance. Know what individual fuses and other parts look like. Print out information from online research such as the serial number of your fuse box, names of the components and model numbers, so they can be ready should you need to visit a garage in another city.
- Prepare a fully loaded emergency kit. In addition to first-aid items, include sunscreen, nutritious non-perishable food (dried fruits, nuts), a rag or a roll of towels for cleaning up if you open the hood or go underneath the car and at least one gallon of water per person. A gallon of water can keep a person alive for three days … and come in handy if your car overheats.
- Everybody traveling should also have comfortable walking shoes, as you may need to walk a certain distance to get help.
- If you fly across the country and rent a car, choose an office outside the airport to avoid airport taxes that may not appear in the prices of the deal you found. Taxes can end up costing more than the rental itself.
- Carry or add a rental car policy to your auto insurance rather than pay the rental agency’s high insurance fees covering only the rental car itself. Also, check if the credit card you plan to use to pay for the rental has insurance coverage.
- Save your precious cell and iPad battery power, and encourage members of the family to unplug and have a real conversation. Play word games to keep passengers awake, such as I Spy, spotting out-of-state license plates and round-robin guessing games. You can also visit AAA to get TripTiks to make the ride a learning experience integrating geography and math.