Traveling for the holidays can be a delight or a disaster.
“The Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s holiday periods are among the busiest long-distance travel periods of the year,” says the U.S. Department of Transportation. Long-distance traveling is said to jump by 54-percent during the six-day span surrounding Thanksgiving. Most of this travel is done on Thanksgiving Day, say sources, with more than 90-percent of people traveling by car.
If you are traveling by car this holiday season to visit friends or family, the following are a few tips for traveling safely, so that you may experience as few ‘bumps in the road’ as possible.
Get Your Vehicle Inspected
Having your car or truck inspected by an experienced mechanic might not be a bad idea, says AAA, because long trips can be trying on parts that have already been weakened or compromised.“Taking a long trip is a serious test for your car because even a small problem (a worn-out windshield wiper or improper alignment) may turn your trip into a crisis,” says the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
If you are mechanically-inclined, sources say, or know your way around the parts of a car, you may be able to just take a look for yourself to determine if any parts might be starting to go bad.
Change Your Oil
Oil changes are recommended for every 3,000 to 5,000 miles you drive. However, every car is different.
If you don’t know when the last time your oil was changed, check your dipstick. This will be located near the engine beneath your car’s hood. If it is at a low level, or if your oil appears black and solid in color, as opposed to brown and clear, you may need to change your oil before traveling for the holidays.
“When your oil gets dirty, stays dirty, and continues to run through your engine dirty, it begins to accumulate a nasty buildup of sludge, which is a mixture of dirt and oil that has begun breaking down due to heat,” says Cary Car Care. “Once you have a gunky, sludgy, contaminated engine with old oil, don’t be surprised if you experience a break down,” says the car site.
Most typical oil changes are said to range between $20 and $50, depending on what kind of car and type of lubricant you purchase.
Check Your Tire Pressure
A flat tire can happen to anyone- no matter how new or old your car may be. Checking your tire pressure is a good way to possibly identify a future tire problem, or potential flat down the road.
While flat tires can be a little difficult to predict, bringing a tire patch kit with you, just might save the day; but, more on that later.
Tires may also leak air without having any holes. How you ask?
“Two prominent possibilities are the valve stem and the wheel on which the tire is mounted,” says Popular Mechanics. “Usually, a new set of tires includes new valve stems, since they can go bad through use and from exposure to road chemicals,” sources at Popular Mechanics explain. “If a valve is bad you'll have a constant and very slow leak through the base or the valve body. The other possibility is that the mounting surface of the wheel where the bead of the tire seats has become damaged by corrosion or dented from hitting a pothole.”
To check your tire pressure, determine what each tire pressure (PMI) is reading is with a tire gauge. Inside the owner’s manual, you will find what the number for each tire will be.
Another simple way to test for a leak, is by using a ‘soap bubbles’ test. This involves taking dishwashing soap and water, and pouring it around the valve stems and tire rims. If there is any air leaking, the air will cause bubbles at the site of the leak.
If your tire is leaking air, promptly take it to your mechanic or tire shop so they may attempt to fix or replace your tire.
Have the Proper Tools to Repair a Flat Tire
Tire kits contain plugs and patches that may be able to repair many instances of punctures or holes in your tire. Tire kits are inexpensive and pretty easy to find.
All good tire kits should include:
- Air Compressor
If you do experience a flat tire while driving, you may feel your car being pushed from side to side. It is important to restore the air pressure to its normal reading, before traveling further. You may also need to change the tire completely, which would require a spare tire, or temporary tire, sometimes referred to as a ‘doughnut.’ Unfortunately, a doughnut tire is not made to travel as far as a regular tire, and will need to be replaced as soon as possible.
To change a tire completely you will need: a car jack, a tire iron and a spare tire.
Bring an Emergency Kit
Since we all know that emergencies can happen anywhere, bringing an emergency kit with you on your next holiday trip might be a fantastic idea. “There are a number of prepackaged car emergency kits on the market ranging in price from $18 to $70. Typing "roadside emergency kit" into a search engine will reveal a wide array of retail kits,” says the site Bankrate.
However, one can also make their own emergency kit. “A basic version of the kit should include: two roadside flares, a quart of oil, extra fuses, a flashlight, a multipurpose tool (commonly containing pliers, wire cutters, a knife, a saw, a bottle opener, screwdriver, file, and an awl), a tire inflator, some rags, and a pocket knife,” suggests the DMV.
Other suggested items for a holiday traveling emergency kit, include:
- First-Aid Medical Kit
- Road Flares
- Three Reflective Triangles
- Class B/Class C Fire Extinguisher
- Tire Patch Kit
- Quart of Oil
- Jumper Cables
- Foam Sealant
- Extra Set of Batteries
- Tow Chain or Rope
- Snow Shovel
- Warm Blankets
- Tire Jack
- Tire Iron
- Kitty Litter
- Ice Scraper
- Reflective Clothing
- Air Compressor
- Charged Up Cell Phone
Travel at the Best Times
Traveling at the best times means leaving when everyone else is not. According to Condé Nast Traveler, this year the busiest day for traveling during Thanksgiving is expected to be November 25, or the day before Thanksgiving. “The busiest day for Christmas travel is December 23, the day before the day before Christmas. Merry travelers will find airports least hectic on December 27,” the site suggests.
Find the Best Route
There are many apps available that make avoiding traffic easy. Some current traveling apps are:
iTraffic- Regular traffic app, also accessible online. This app costs $1.99.
Traffic Updates- Also offered by iTunes, this traffic app costs $.99.
Waze- Waze is a free traffic app offered for iPhone and iPad.
Sigalert- This app uses live cameras to post traffic information.
* Basic GPS systems can also be sufficient in getting you where you need to be on time.
Check Your Car Battery
A dud battery can be quite a bummer.
You leave the radio on while pumping some gas, and before you know it, your car isn’t starting back up. One sign of a weakened battery is a slow startup, say sources at Consumer Reports. “It's a good idea to have your car's entire charging system checked once a year, especially after your battery is more than two years old if you live in a warm climate or four years old if you live in a cold climate,” suggests Consumer Reports. “This includes the alternator, voltage regulator, belts, and connecting cables.”
Look Into AAA
Purchasing a basic AAA plan or other roadside assistance plan might not be a bad idea, especially if you plan on traveling long distances during the holidays. It can be a lifesaver if for some unexpected reason, you do experience a breakdown.
“Not just for major breakdowns, either,” says AAA. “Lock your keys in the car or get a flat and we’ll be there, day or night throughout the U.S. and Canada. Your membership covers you, not your vehicle, so you can call whether you are in your own car, a friend’s car, or a rental.”
New memberships start at just $49, with a $10-new member fee. This includes towing and roadside assistance; reduced rental car rates and other benefits. Check with your agent to see if your car insurance offers discounts or similar programs.
Find the Cheapest Fuel Prices and Fill Up
Any long trip requires a full tank of gas. This holiday season, save money on gas by using apps designed to show you the lowest prices along your tip.
Our roundup of the best cheap gas apps can help you find cheap gas on the go with your phone.
Check Your Coverage
Finally, before you hit the road, make sure you know how much coverage you have in case anything happens. If you’re nervous, give your agent a call to review your policy. You’ll want to make sure you have enough comprehensive, collision and liability coverage while you make your travels.
This holiday season, follow our tips and travel with a smile! Because: it’s always better to be safe- not sorry.