5 Essential Tips for Your Holiday Road Trip


NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Thanksgiving week is, along with July 4, the busiest travel week of the year. But don’t go for any long rides until you’re sure your vehicle is shipshape and ready for the open (and sometimes snowy) road. These tips can make you sure to get home for the holidays – and back again – as safely as possible.

Rest assured, when you do hit America’s roads and highways this week, you won’t be alone – not by a long shot. According to the American Automobile Association, about 38.2 million Americans will hit the road during the Thanksgiving holiday week, an upward spike from the 36.8 million people recorded in 2010.

A big part of that increase in traffic is – you guessed it – the economy. AAA says the U.S. economy has been in such disrepair during the past few years that many Americans have delayed any holiday travel because of the strain on their budgets. Apparently, some of that anxiety is going away this year.

"Driving AAA's projected increase in the number of Thanksgiving travelers is pent-up demand from Americans who may have foregone holiday travel the last three years," explains Bill Sutherland, vice president of AAA Travel Services, in a statement. "As consumers weigh the fear of economic uncertainty and the desire to create lasting family memories this holiday, more Americans are expected to choose family and friends over frugality." 

But when you do get behind the wheel this week, even a few minutes checking your vehicle’s condition can be a big insurance policy against a breakdown or even a car accident – especially if you’re traveling in cold-weather states where snow and ice could be an issue.

“There are a number of simple, preventative maintenance items that any consumer can perform in their driveway,” says Bryan Gregory, director of consumer education for Advance Auto Parts. “The best time to prepare your vehicle for holiday travel and winter is now, before a trip begins and before severe winter weather arrives.”

AAP has just issued a set of preventive measures that drivers should take before they get on the road this Thanksgiving. We’ve taken a look, and chosen some of the best:

1. Do an antifreeze test. You’ll need an antifreeze tester, available at most family and auto retail outlets, for this tip of conducting your own anti-freeze test. Slip off the radiator cap and draw out a small amount of antifreeze and put it into the testing device. What you’re looking for is how fast the antifreeze remains unfrozen. If the tester reads 50/50 or so, you’re in the ballpark. Conduct this test while the engine is cold.

2. Change your oil and filter. Most “stop-and-go” auto chains, or your local auto repair shop, will change your oil and filter for as little as $19.99. Don’t wait on this one – make sure your oil and filter are changed every 3,000-5,000 miles.

3. Check all of your lights. With late-November driving, you might be spending a lot of time in the dark, since you’ll have less daylight. So nip any potential problems in the bud by checking all of your lights, including tail lights, brake lights, and front and rear turn signals. AAP advises scoping out the headlight lens casing around the lights – the cleaner it is, the better.

4. Do some tire kicking. Colder temperatures can really degrade your tire pressure, and any potential snow or ice can play games with your wheel tread’s performance, too. If you’re unsure how to check tire performance beyond looking for excessive wear, take it down to a garage. Tires are way too important to leave anything to chance.

5. Test your brakes. While you’re at the garage, take an extra half hour and have your brakes checked out. AAP says your brake pads should be changed if the lining is less than 1/8-inch thick. Avoid pumping your breaks too hard when you drive, too – that should give your brakes a longer shelf life.

Quick auto repair shops will generally also check your battery for free. Colder weather means more work for your battery, so take advantage of that offer before you head out for turkey dinner at Grandma’s house.

As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention always beats a pound of cure. With almost 40 million other Americans on the road with you this week, it could make a big difference – and make for a better holiday to boot.

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