Summer Vacation Behind the Wheel
by Penny M. Hagerman
Successful summer car travel requires significant planning and preparation. Excessive heat, expense and traffic all contribute to auto breakdowns, traveler exhaustion and short tempers.
Prepare Your Car
Despite high fuel costs, 90 percent of Americans still vacation by personal vehicle, according to AAA, a federation of motor clubs serving 47 million members in the United States and Canada. But setting out on the road for summertime travel isn't something you should do on a whim. In contrast, it requires careful planning and preparation.
The first step toward a safe, enjoyable trip is readying your car—a vital phase of the preparation process.
"Proper car care is critical during the travel season," said Rich White, executive director of the Car Care Council. "With gas prices exceeding an average $2 per gallon for the first time in history, performing a few basic, inexpensive maintenance checks will make road trips both safe and fuel efficient."
Two of the most common breakdowns occurring on roadways during the summer are failed batteries and overheated engines, according to AAA. If your battery is more than four years old, AAA recommends you consider replacing it before you hit the road.
It is also a good idea to have a certified mechanic test all your car's major operating systems, including the air conditioning, electrical systems, belts, hoses, brakes, tires, steering, drive train and fluid levels, before getting your trip underway. Defective or leaky hoses contribute to overheating, and underinflated tires can result in flats and decreased gas mileage.
Carrying insufficient auto insurance can be extremely consequential if you're involved in an accident or mishap on the road while vacationing.
If you're planning to drive your own car, it is a good idea to check with your insurance agent to be sure you have adequate coverage to meet the requirements of other states through which you will be traveling.
If you're planning to rent a car, first ask your insurance agent if your current level of coverage extends to your rental car. If not, you may want to consider purchasing the rental car insurance coverage offered by the agency. Some credit card companies also offer rental car insurance coverage; however, this coverage is typically more scant and considered secondary to other auto insurance.
If other family members will be driving your rental car, check to see if coverage extends to them. In addition, find out if your insurance covers all car rental categories, from compact to luxury.
Double coverage is unnecessary…and can be costly! Do your research before purchasing insurance at the rental agency.
No one wants to be stranded by the road while enjoying a nice family vacation. So before you head out, it is a good idea to purchase a roadside assistance plan (if you do not already have one). These plans help you get back on the road with services like towing, flat tire and lockout assistance—and they can even supply you with gas if you wait just a little too long to fill up the tank. Yearly cost is reasonable, and providing companies often work to match or beat competing prices.
Many companies now offer roadside assistance. Some of the most popular include auto clubs, travel clubs, global navigation providers, credit card companies and cell phone providers. Most car insurance companies also offer roadside assistance.
For peace of mind and protection while traveling, ask your car insurance agent how to add roadside assistance to your car insurance plan, or contact a local provider.
Pack two types of emergency kits when taking to the road: a first aid kit and a car care kit. This will ensure both travelers and vehicle are prepared for the worst.
Stock your first aid kit with medication for motion sickness, head- and stomachache, band-aids and antibiotic spray or cream. These supplies can be invaluable for road-weary travelers.
Your car care kit should contain supplies such as a flashlight, gloves, motor oil, windshield washer fluid, jumper cables and a small collection of tools. Stockpiling these items in your car's trunk places them where you need them when you need them.
Of course, the most useful tool of all is your cell phone!
Prepare Your Family
Summer vacation provides great opportunity for family communication and fun. While still in the planning stage, set aside some time to lay out the details of your trip together. Decide on your destination, map it out together and jointly plan the route you will take to get there. Include your children to help them feel a valuable part of the planning process. This is step two in your preparation process.
Estimate your travel time between destinations, but do maintain some flexibility—a wise attribute for savvy travelers. Incorporate time into your schedule for meals and rest stops, heavy traffic, and weather or construction delays. And plan for the unexpected…a prepared traveler is a happy traveler!
Drive Safely and Efficiently
Safety should always remain your number one concern when behind the wheel. Cautious driving not only helps safeguard everyone on the road—it also means your car operates at its highest performance level.
The Car Care Council and AAA suggest the following driving tips for vacationers to maximize safety and fuel efficiency:
- If you have a choice of vehicles, take the one that gets the best gas mileage—or rent the most fuel-efficient model.
- Choose a route that enables you to travel at constant speeds as much as possible, bypassing congested areas.
- Start trips early in the day while traffic is light.
- Take only what you need to keep the load light. Avoid strapping luggage on the car's roof, creating wind resistance.
- Avoid excess idling, as this lowers gas mileage.
- Observe speed limits to keep gas mileage high.
- Don't drive aggressively. This will not only help with gas mileage, but will keep driver confrontations at a minimum along the way.
- Choose a vacation spot where only minimal driving will be needed after you arrive.
- If you're traveling long distance, consider driving part way and using public transportation or airlines part way.
With quality time spent planning and preparing for the summer vacation ahead, you and your family can have fun and make lots of happy memories together.
So plan, prepare—and hit the road this summer!