AAA's tips for safe summer driving
It's never too early to prepare your car before you hit the road, says AAA Southern New England.
There are easy maintenance tasks any driver can perform to reduce their chances of becoming stranded, improve the safety of their road trip and even save a little money.
The three top maintenance tasks motorists should perform before hitting the road this summer include: checking and cleaning your battery; inspecting all five tires; and replacing your wiper blades.
Check and clean car battery
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 and leave a motorist stranded.
Check the battery cables; ensure they're securely attached to the terminals. Clean the terminals if there are signs of corrosion. It's not enough to simply remove external corrosion; proper cleaning requires disconnecting the cables to clean hidden areas where they contact the battery terminals.
Depending on local climate and vehicle usage patterns, most batteries have a three to five year service life. If a battery is nearing the end of its lifecycle, having it tested to determine if you need to replace your battery prior to your road trip might be a good idea.
Inspect all five tires
AAA estimates 85 percent of drivers don't know how to properly inflate tires, and more than half of all cars on the road have at least one under-inflated tire including the overlooked spare.
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Tire inspections are simple to perform and the only tools needed are a quarter and a tire pressure gauge. First check your pressure with a quality gauge when the tires are at ambient temperature and the car hasn't been driven recently. Inflate your tires to the pressures recommended by the vehicle manufacturer -- which are probably not the maximum pressure molded into the sidewall of the tire. Manufacturer recommendation can be found on a placard attached to the driver's door jam, in the owner's manual and sometimes on the gas cap door. Drivers should also be aware that the recommended pressures for front and rear tires may differ, and the spare may require yet another pressure.
Properly inflated tires also can reduce fuel costs during a trip. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that correctly inflating all four tires can improve fuel economy by up to 3 percent, which is equivalent to as much as 12 cents per gallon.
Once you've properly inflated your tires, drivers should also inspect the tread depth and overall condition of the tires. An industry survey found one out of every 10 cars has at least one bald tire, and 64 percent of drivers do not know how to check their tread depth.
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, you may want to tire shop before you take a long road trip. Be sure to check the tread depth at several points around the tire and across its width. 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.
Replace wiper blades and refill washer fluid
Rain, insects, grime and other windshield debris will compromise the driver's vision and safety if the windshield wipers can't remove them. Check the fluid reservoir monthly or more often if the washers are used frequently. Be sure to test the spray nozzles for proper operation and aim.
While topping off the washer fluid, check the wiper blades. If blades are worn, cracked or rigid, they'll not adequately remove rain, grime and other debris. If the wiper blades are sufficiently deteriorated, the metal wiper blade frame could damage the windshield.
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.