Memorial DayTips for safe driving
By Joel Barrows, The Car Doctor
LEESBURG, VAThere is nothing worse than taking off for a driving vacation and two hours out on the road you encounter car problems. According to the Car Care Council, tow truck operators in resort areas or along Interstate highways see all too many travelers forced to return home ahead of schedule due to car trouble. The situation usually means more than just a repair bill. It can involve towing charges, lodging and possibly a rental car. Add to that the cost of extra phone calls, meals and general inconvenience and the ordeal becomes expensive. So, if spiraling gas prices have not discouraged you from hitting the road this Memorial Day weekend, take heed before you take off. The Car Doctor has 10 timely tips for saving money on gas and for ensuring a trouble-free trip.
1. Closely inspect your tires. At highway speeds, a blow out with the vehicle fully loaded with family and luggage could spell disaster. Check for balding, bumps, nails, proper inflation. Dont forget your spare tire. Is it inflated? Do you have a jack and all needed tools for changing a tire? Check tires when cool. Tire pressure will change after extended highway speeds.
2. Have brakes and brake fluid inspected. If fluid is low, do not just top it off. Theres a reason it is low. Check brake pads and shoes for wear.
3. Visually check all brake lights, turn signals and head lampsincluding high beamsto ensure they are working and properly focused.
4. Have cooling system examined by a trained professional for the following: leaks, sound hoses, coolant level and mixture ratio (a 50/50 coolant to water ratio is the most common ratio as recommended by manufacturer), radiator cap (Does it tighten securely? Are seals intact?), cooling fan to make sure it is operating properly (the fan affects both engine cooling and the air conditioner), pH level of coolant (it should be around 9.5 or 10 for green type coolant)
5. Make sure your technician checks your A/C system for proper freon level and condition of belts. To help conserve gasoline, use your air conditioner on the road rather than keeping windows down. Open windows create wind drag, straining the engine.
6. Change engine oil and filters if you havent done that in the last three months or 3,000 miles.
7. Check the condition of the windshield wiper blades and have them changed if they do not provide adequate visibility, and top off the windshield wiper solution (do not use plain water).
8. Use cruise control to maintain a steady speed and save gas.
9. Use only the fuel octane recommended for your car. Higher octane gas, which produces less energy, not only costs more, it also yields lower miles per gallon.
10. Every time you stop for gas, check oil level and inspect tires, and clean the windshield. Do NOT check coolant level when engine is hot, except to visually inspect the overflow (or recovery) bottle. If you are just making a quick pit stop (five minutes or less), do not cut the engine; let the car idle for a few minutes.
For added peace of mind, Joel Burrows, a.k.a. The Car Doctor and veteran trainer at Precision Tune Auto Care, suggests an engine and emissions analysis to ensure there are no problems and that the engine is running at maximum efficiency. This, too, helps reduce your fuel bill. And for safety, he recommends you bring a cell phone and road map.