Summer Road Trip Checklist

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By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features
Most of us spent at least one summer vacation crowded into a station wagon, minivan or SUV, passing the time playing car-spotting games and singing endless refrains of "Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”Even with gas prices at dizzying levels, driving is largely more affordable – and in many ways more agreeable – than flying to all but the most distant destinations.
However, the AAA in Orlando, Fla. predicts it will come to the rescue of 8.7 million stranded motorists this summer. If you're thinking about taking a road trip in the next few months, proper planning and preparation are key. 
According to AAA, it's imperative to make sure your vehicle is mechanically sound. Open the hood and look for worn, cracked, blistered or soft belts or hoses; have them replaced if needed. Check the level of coolant in the radiator overflow tank; if it's low, replenish it with a 50/50 mix of coolant and water and keep the remainder of the jug in the trunk. Likewise, check the engine oil level and top it off if necessary; better yet, have the oil changed before you leave.
Examine the vehicle's tires for uneven and excessive wear and replace them if the tread is thinner than the distance from the top of Washington's head to the edge of a quarter. The AAA expects 1.2 million drivers will call for help with a flat tire during the summer travel season.
Use a tire-pressure gauge to make sure tires are inflated according to the manufacturer's recommendations. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, riding on properly inflated tires is not only safer, it can improve a car's fuel economy by up to three percent. The recommended pressures for a vehicle's front and rear tires may differ, and the spare may require yet another pressure.
Pay attention to your car's battery – hot weather can be brutal on a battery. The AAA predicts it will assist nearly 1.7 million motorists with dead batteries this summer. Disconnect the battery cables and clear any corrosion from the connection points and the terminal posts with a wire brush; make sure they're securely re-attached to the terminals.
Don't forget to check the car's windshield wipers and washer fluid. Having worn wipers in a rainstorm or not enough fluid in the reservoir can adversely affect a driver's outward visibility. Wiper blades typically last six to 12 months depending on the climate and other factors, and the AAA suggests replacing then whenever they fail to wipe the glass clean in a single swipe. Be sure to top off the washer fluid tank before embarking on a road trip; keep a jug in the trunk for subsequent refills.
To further ensure your trip will be safe one, travel experts suggest getting plenty of rest before leaving home. Drive only during daylight hours when visibility is at its best, and be sure to take frequent breaks and rotate drivers along the way. Carry an emergency kit that at the very least consists of a flashlight with extra batteries, warning devices such as flares or reflective triangles, jumper cables, a first-aid kit and extra water.
Finally, make sure adult passengers wear their seat belts at all times and secure children in safety seats or booster seats as required by law. And never drink and drive – make sure those“ninety-nine bottles of beer" in the song stay on the wall where they belong.

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