1. Flashing lights are only fun in an amusement park.
There’s no reason to risk a run-in with the police. Keep in mind that in some jurisdictions even a common speeding ticket can result in a lengthy delay — or worse. Your out-of-state license could mean an immediate trip to traffic court with a bond payment required before you’ll be let go. Speeding isn’t the only sort of traffic citation cops write, so be doubly cautious. Some practices you might take for granted at home can be illegal elsewhere. And again, your out-of-state plate makes you a target for local ticket writers.
2. Get a free vehicle inspection.
The local Chrysler dealer sends me coupons in the mail almost weekly offering a free vehicle inspection for my minivan. My wife gets similar offers from the BMW shop. Why not take them up on their inspection offer? If they identify potentially trip-interrupting issues, like loose tie rods or frayed drive belts, you can have them remedied before your departure. Just remember that you’re not obligated to have any service performed then and there. Before you spend all your vacation money on repairs, you might want to get a second opinion, both to compare price and to determine how serious the problem really is.
3. Change the oil? Buy new tires?
If you’re going on a cross-country trip and you’re 500 miles away from your next scheduled oil change, go ahead and get it done early. You’ll probably get a better deal at home than trying to have the service performed on the road. Either choice is probably better than putting it off until you get return. Similar advice on the tires: If they’re close to the end of their useful tread life, replace them. Nothing spoils a road trip more than getting in an accident, and having good tires improves handling and braking performance more than any other factor.
4. Set your tire pressure.
Most people are driving around on under-inflated tires, sacrificing a mile (or in some conditions, more) per gallon in fuel economy. Inflate your tires to the pressure recommended by the manufacturer, and do it when the tires are cold. (Air pressure can increase by several pounds per square inch as the tires heat up.) Use a real tire pressure gauge, not the one built into the air hose. Besides maximizing fuel economy, correctly inflated tires will improve handling and are more resistant to punctures.
5. Plan your route.
By whatever means necessary: GPS, AAA TripTik, MapQuest or good old-fashioned paper road atlas. But after you’ve picked out what appears to be the ideal route, spend a few more minutes researching summer road construction plans. There is a wealth of information available online, starting with each state’s own department of transportation Web pages. Real-time traffic information can plot out backups and is provided for free by Web-based mapping services like MapQuest. There are also applications of this sort available for mobile devices, including GPS units and smart phones. Regardless of which method you use, the information is there for the taking and can help prevent wasting time in traffic.
6. Clean out your vehicle.
The last thing you need when setting out on a multi-state drive is a funky-smelling, cluttered car, so go ahead and drop it off at the local auto detailer – or just clean it yourself. While you’re at it, take the ice scraper, the vintage road atlas, and the worthless socket set that’s missing the drive wrench out of the trunk. Leave those useless items in the garage, along with anything else you don’t really need.
7. Slow down.
It’s the best way to increase fuel economy, yet most drivers are reticent to sacrifice those precious few minutes they “save” by driving at or over the speed limit. In some cases slowing your rate of travel by 5-10 miles per hour can improve gas mileage by 5-10 percent, as well as improving your safety. And if you’re really worried about the effect that slower rate of travel will have on your drive time, try improving your time management skills. Forego a half-hour of sleep or fill up the tank while the rest of the family packs its suitcases.
8. Get off the Interstate.
There may be nothing that will increase the amount of fun you have on your next family vacation more than taking the back roads along your destination. Try venturing off the beaten path to experience the non-tourist areas. Look for family owned diners, antique shops and scenic over looks. Whichever route you choose, you are sure to have the experience of a lifetime!
Hopefully these tips will ease the headache of your summer road trip. So sit back and enjoy the ride!