The summer travel season officially kicked off this week with the Memorial Day holiday weekend, and AAA estimates it will come to the rescue of 7.9 million stranded motorists between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
The three maintenance tasks AAA recommends all motorists perform before hitting the road for a summer road trip include:
Inspect All FIVE Tires
Many motorists may be confused when told to check five tires, however
AAA has found one of the most frequently overlooked items on a vehicle
is the spare tire. When inspecting tires, it's important to know if your
vehicle even has a spare. If so, be sure it is properly inflated and
stowed. If you cannot locate a spare tire, ensure your vehicle has an
alternate solution. Options include an emergency sealant and inflator
kit or run-flat tires that allow the car to be driven to a safe
"Roughly 1.1 million drivers will call AAA for help with a flat tire
during the summer travel season, and many of those problems could be
avoided by inspecting the tires and being prepared before hitting the
road," said Nielsen. "Tire inspections are simple to perform. The only
tools needed are a quarter and a tire pressure gauge."
Begin every tire inspection with a pressure check. "Eighty-five
percent of drivers do not know how to properly inflate their tires, and
more than half of all cars on the road have at least one under-inflated
tire," explained Nielsen.
Always check tire pressure when the tires are cold and the car has
not been driven recently. Use a quality gauge to make sure all five
tires are inflated to the pressures recommended by the vehicle
manufacturer—which is probably not the maximum pressure molded
into the sidewall of the tire. The carmaker's recommendation can be
found on a sticker usually attached to the driver's door jam, in the
owner's manual and sometimes on the gas cap door. Drivers should be
aware that the recommended pressures for front and rear tires may
differ, and the spare may require yet another pressure. Most space saver
spares require much higher air pressures than normal vehicle tires.
Properly inflated tires also can reduce fuel costs during a trip. The
Department of Energy reports that correctly inflating all four tires
can improve fuel economy by up to three percent, which is equivalent to
as much as to 12 cents per gallon.
After making sure all five tires are properly inflated, drivers
should inspect the tread depth and overall condition of the tires. Worn
tires in need of replacement are much more likely to suffer punctures
and other problems.
To check tread depth, insert a quarter into a tire tread groove with Washington's head upside down and facing outward. The tread should cover part of Washington's
head. If any area above his head is visible, it might be wise to go
tire shopping before you take a long road trip. Be sure to check the
tread depth at several points around the tire and across its width, and
use the lowest reading.
While checking the tire tread wear, also look for signs of uneven
wear or abnormal bulges or other damage on the tire treads and
sidewalls. "Taking a few minutes to inspect your tires once a month can
help keep you rolling down the roadway instead of being stranded by the
roadside," noted Nielsen.
Check and Clean Car Battery
AAA estimates it will assist nearly 1.6 million motorists with dead
batteries during the summer driving season—replacing nearly 500,000
batteries at the roadside. Summer heat breaks down car batteries
internally and accelerates the rate of corrosion on the vehicle's
battery terminals. Both conditions can lead to insufficient electrical
power being available, and leave a motorist stranded without warning.
Check the battery cables and ensure they are securely attached to the
terminals. Clean the terminals if there are signs of corrosion. It is
not enough to simply remove external corrosion; proper cleaning requires
disconnecting the cables to clean the hidden areas where they contact
the battery terminals.
Depending on local climate and vehicle usage patterns, most car
batteries have a three to five year service life. If a battery is
nearing the end of its lifecycle, have it tested at a AAA Approved Auto
Repair shop or by the AAA Mobile Battery Service to determine if
replacing the battery before your road trip might be a good idea.
Replace Wiper Blades and Refill Washer Fluid
Rain, insects, grime and other debris on a windshield will compromise
the driver's vision, and safety, if the wipers cannot remove them.
Check the windshield washer fluid reservoir monthly or more often if the
washers are used frequently. Top it off with a solution formulated to
aid in the removal of insects and other debris. Be sure to test the
washer spray nozzles for proper operation and aim before leaving on a
While topping off the washer fluid, also check the wiper blades. If
blades are worn, cracked or rigid with age, they will not adequately
remove rain, grime and other debris that can obscure driver vision. If
the wiper blades are sufficiently deteriorated, the metal wiper blade
frame could contact and permanently damage the windshield.
Check the wiper blades at every oil change or whenever they fail to
wipe the glass clean in a single swipe. The life of a rubber insert is
typically six to 12 months depending on its exposure to heat, dirt,
sunlight, acid rain and ozone. Streaking and chattering are common clues
that the rubber is breaking down and replacement is needed.