How to Avoid a Costly Breakdown On Your Summer Road Trip.

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Summer in America is the season of apple pie, baseball, pool parties, and the open road. Driving is cheaper than flying in most cases. Unless, of course, you have a breakdown.

There’s nothing better than driving with the windows down past beautiful, remote scenery, and there’s nothing worse than feeling the car slow down in the middle of nowhere, puffs of smoke seeping out from beneath the hood as your engine gives up its last dying breaths.

Repairing a busted car on the roadside is never fun and never cheap! You’re better off taking the proper steps so you won’t have a breakdown in the first place. That’s why we spoke to our favorite auto masters to find out how you can prepare your car for the journey, as well as the destination.


Beat the heat.

Much like an ice cream cone or a human being, cars can only handle so much heat. But whereas you might be able to get by with sunscreen, water, and an ice cream cone, your car has other needs.

“The summer months are hard on the engines of cars,” Jill Trotta (@RepairPal_Jill), director of the automotive group at RepairPal (@RepairPal), told us. “The extreme heat of summer causes wear on mechanical components of cars. Weather can also cause problems with tires, brakes and the engine. If you want your family to be safe on the summer road trips, it is important to do summer car maintenance.”

One heat-based issue your car can run into is oil breakdown. Trotta gave us the… breakdown:

“Viscosity breakdown is a common problem with engines during the summer months. The heat of an engine begins to cause the oil to breakdown, and it no longer lubricates the engine. As the friction causes wear on parts, eventually your car will breakdown. To avoid viscosity breakdown, it is important that the engine stays cool. The cooling maintenance and checks needed before a road trip includes:

If the radiator has a leak or any hoses are dry and cracked, have them replaced before traveling.”

If you know you’ll be driving under the hot, hot sun, you owe it to yourself and to your ride to make sure it’s prepared for the journey.

Feeling a little tired.

Unless you have a hover car (and if you do, please give us a ride) you’re going to need tires for any road trip.

“Having good tires is one of the most important safety checks that need to be done before summer travels,” Trotta warned us. “Check the air pressure of your tire and make sure it is at the recommended pressure rating. The pressure rating is printed on the sidewall of the tire and will be measured in PSI (Pounds Per Square Inch).  It is also important to check the tire treads using the coin test, which tells you if it is time for new tires. Here are some of the items needed for tire maintenance on the road:

  • Tire Gauge
  • 12-Volt Portable Compressor

Problems with tires often start with a small puncture due to a nail, screw or road debris and here’s what to do about it. Always check the tire pressure and keep an eye out for punctures that need to be repaired.”

Accredited financial counselor Roslyn Lash (@RosLash) echoed the tire concern: “Be sure that your tires are good i.e. proper amount of tread, air/tire pressure”

If your tires aren’t in order, you’ll risk having to “Flintstone” the entire distance of your trip, which is murder on the feet.

Manage the essential fluids.

Just as blood carries life throughout the body, your car has fluids that are also important. What are those fluids? Don’t ask us, we’re not a car doctor! But Trotta is:

“There are many fluids that need to be checked and changed before a road trip. Change the oil and check the levels of the transmission and brake fluid before you go on a road trip. It is also a good idea to pack extra fluids with the repair kit and tools. Here are the fluids that you want to have with the spare tire in case of an emergency:

  • Oil
  • Transmission Fluid
  • Brake Fluid
  • Power Steering Fluid
  • Coolant

The spare tire compartment in most cars will have room for packing extra fluids. The only fluid that will take up room is the coolant that comes in a larger container. In addition to these fluids, keep an extra bottle of water with the other fluids for emergencies.”

Even though we aren’t a car doctor or a human doctor, we’ll back up Trotta’s water bottle suggestion. You want to keep at least as hydrated as your car is on these long trips.

Pump the brakes.

You could argue the brakes are the most important part of the car. The worst thing that’ll happen if you’re missing the wheels or engine is that you won’t go anywhere. The worst thing that’ll happen if you’re missing your brakes is…. well, let’s not get into it.

But we will let Trotta get into how you can make sure your brakes are ready for a road trip: “The brakes give you stopping power and aid in handling. Before traveling, the brakes of your car need to be inspected. Check the pads, change the fluid and bleed the lines. If the pads do not have much material left, they often begin to make noise due to a metal indicator built into them, which means they need to be changed. Here are the essential brake components that need to be checked before traveling:

  • Pads
  • Lines
  • Fluid

First, check the pads and have them changed if needed. A brake inspection is usually free at a RepairPal Certified shop near you. In addition to the brake pads, check all the lines for signs of wear or damage and bleed the brakes. Lastly, the fluid in the master cylinder needs to be checked and more brake fluid added if the level is low.”

So make sure you don’t pump the brakes… on proper brake maintenance.

Keeping cool.

Summer gets hot. The inside of your car shouldn’t be. That’s why you want to make sure your air conditioner is working properly.

“The maintenance for AC, wipers, and air filter are also important tasks to do before leaving on a road trip,” Trotta told us. Check the AC compressor and have an auto mechanic charge it if necessary. Change the air filters in your car too, which many modern cars have the air filter for the engine, as well as a cabin air filter. While you are checking the AC and changing air filters, check the wiper blades and make sure there is cleaning fluid in the deposit. Check these last few areas of your car before leaving on a road trip:

  • AC and Belts
  • Wiper Blades and Fluid
  • Air Filters

The AC compressor is connected to belts and pulleys on the engine. Turn on the engine and the AC to see if the belts make noise and visually inspect them for damage. It is a good idea to check the wiper blades as well as the wiper fluid. Wipers and wiper fluid aren’t just for rainy days – make sure you can clean off the bug graveyard your windshield turns into on long stretches of highway.

“To avoid car trouble and stay safe this summer, make sure you make a checklist. Before you pack the luggage, take care of any repairs before your next road trip. It is also important to protect against the summer heat. Make sure you have shades to prevent burns from hot car seats, steering wheels and other interior components that get hot in direct sun.”

Non-maintenance stuff too!

Of course, not all of your preparations will be car maintenance. There’s always a chance of a random incident, from an eagle dive bombing your car to some other animal attacking your car.

Karen E. (@Wanderlustingk), a travel blogger at Wanderlustingk.com, advises bringing tools, as well as financial protection: “My number one tip (after many disastrous) road trips is to have the highest level of triple AAA insurance. You have NO idea when you’ll be stranded and need be towed almost 200 miles just to find a mechanic that has the right parts. Similarly, have the right tools in your car, including a tow rope, so those driving by with pick-up trucks can help you if needed.”

Lash also suggests to: “be sure that you have a roadside assistance plan”

Take all of these precautions before your trip, and you’ll lessen the risk a breakdown that will ruin your vacation, as well as your financial life, especially if the repair costs leave you considering a payday loan or racking up credit card fees that could lead to bad credit. That’s one trip you don’t want to take.

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Contributors
Karen E. (@Wanderlustingk) is an American travel blogger and road trip addict who has taken road trips in 11 different countries.
Roslyn Lash (@RosLash) is an Accredited Financial Counselor. She specializes in financial education, adult coaching, and works virtually with adults helping them to navigate through their personal finances i.e. budgeting, debt, and credit repair. She is also the founder of Youth Smart Financial Education Services. Her advice has been featured in national publications such as USA Today, TIME, Huffington Post, NASDAQ, Los Angeles Times, and a host of other media outlets.
Jill Trotta (@RepairPal_Jill) is an automotive professional with over 25 years of professional experience. ASE Certified technician and consultant. She is currently working on the Automotive Professional Team at RepairPal. They do the hard work of identifying technically qualified, customer friendly auto shops and presenting them to consumers. They are working to develop transparency in the Automotive Industry. They also have a very accurate automotive repair price estimator that is available to shops and consumers.