Get the most out of your car and stay safe and sane with these summer driving tips

Fuels |  3 min. read

Planning a road trip this summer?

You won’t be alone.  AAA figures that about half of us who hit the road this year for a vacation, will be traveling ON a road, somewhere in the U.S. (which adds up to more than 50 millions of us).

If you’re one of them, we’ve got a few summer driving tips for you — to get you ready, and keep you going.


Where the rubber meets the road —

Step one:  Check the tread on your tires.  You can use the “penny test” for this:  put a penny in the tread with Lincoln’s head upside down.  If you can see the top of his head, you need new tires.

Step two:  Check the tire pressure.  Use the recommended number from that sticker on the driver’s door frame (or in your owner’s manual).  A lot of us drive on underinflated tires, which is not only bad for your gas mileage — in summer heat, that can spell b-l-o-w-o-u-t.  If your car has a spare tire, check the pressure on that too.

Stay hydrated —

Check all the fluids in your car:  your radiator should have a mix of water AND antifreeze (because in the heat, antifreeze works as coolant) — and that mix should be clean and full.  Also check the oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid, power steering and windshield washer fluid (and yes, if any of those are low, fill ‘em up).

I can see clearly now —

So you’ve made sure your windshield wiper fluid is topped up — now make sure your windshield wipers are working well.  Winter can be hard on wiper blades, so test them out at home before you get into a summer thunderstorm and discover you can’t see.

Oh snap —

And just in case something DOES go wrong when you get out on the road, save a little room in the trunk for an emergency kit.  Good to have items include:  a charger for your phone (well, plus your phone), a flashlight, jumper cables, first aid kit, duct tape (for everything!), food and water, maps (in case the phone doesn’t work), blankets (for cold summer nights, depending on where you are).

As always, if you’re the mechanically-inclined type, you can do all this yourself.  And if you are not, that’s what why we have mechanics.  What matters is checking everything out, not who does the checking.


I think I can, I think I can —

If you’re driving up a long hill and the temperature gauge is going up to — running the heater can help cool down the engine (though it will help heat up you — so open the windows wide).

(ok, maybe I can’t) —

But…if the warning light goes on and stays on, that’s the time to pull over and turn off the engine.  The safest next step is calling for roadside help.  If you’re a DIY’er, take a break first (30 minutes).  Let the engine cool and NEVER EVER open the radiator cap if the engine is hot (because even with coolant, if your engine is hot, that fluid can be boiling).

Chill —

Open the windows or turn up the AC?  These days, it doesn’t actually make much difference to your car or your mileage — so do what’s most comfortable for you and your passengers (but odds are the AC makes for a happier car).

Stay hydrated, pt. 2 —

This time we’re talking about you, not the car.  Bring plenty of drinks, and drink them!  If it’s hot out there, it’s probably hot in where you are (ok, unless you’ve got the AC cranked).  And if you and your crew are feeling hot and tired, pull over and take a break while you take a drink.  You don’t want to be nodding off in the summer heat and glare.

Chill, pt. 2

If anybody stays in the car when the driver gets out — especially kids and pets — be careful!  When the temperature outside is in the 80s, the temperature inside your car — even with a window down, can turn deadly in just a few minutes.  Kids and pets also get hot faster than grown-ups, so your comfort level is not a guide to theirs.

Why We Like Road Trips

When you’re behind the wheel — you can stop when you want, where you want:  that cool donut shop or barbeque joint a little off the highway — done.  That Civil War battlefield or lake or art museum — no problem, when you’ve got wheels.

And in the car, you can pack what you want:  bikes?  Tennis racquets?  Extra clothes?  Gifts for family?  Not a problem.

You can “pack” who you want to, too.  It’s a lot easier to take a trip with the family dog, if you’re driving the family car.  And seating for five is a lot cheaper in the car than at 30,000 feet.  Not to mention, no baggage fees, security lines and everything else unpleasant about airports.

While on the road, you’re rarely far from a gas station — where a quick stop gets refueled and back on the road for new adventures. And in some cases (here and here) you might also find a very good place to grab a bite to eat.

Enjoy the ride this summer!