Of the many great things about summertime, few match the fun of a family road trip. Before you hook up that new boat or camper, or hit the road with your family or friends in your car, SUV, pickup, or RV, take the time to review these summer travel safety tips. Prevention and planning may take a little time up front, but will spare you from dealing with the consequences of a breakdown—or worse yet, a highway crash—later.
Regular maintenance such as tune-ups, oil changes, battery checks, and tire rotations go a long way toward preventing breakdowns. If your vehicle has been serviced according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, it should be in good condition to travel. If not—or you don’t know the service history of the vehicle you plan to drive—schedule a preventive maintenance checkup with your mechanic right away.
Owners may not always know that their vehicle has been recalled and needs to be repaired. NHTSA's VIN look-up tool lets you enter a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to quickly learn if a specific vehicle has not been repaired as part of a safety recall in the last 15 years. Check for recalls on your vehicle by searching now: NHTSA.gov/Recalls. And sign up for email recall alerts at NHTSA.gov/Alerts.
Regardless of how well you take care of your ride, it’s important to perform the following basic safety checks before you go on a road trip.
Air pressure, tread wear, spare
Check your vehicle’s tire inflation pressure at least once a month and when your tires are cold (when the car hasn’t been driven for three hours or more)—and don’t forget to check your spare, if your vehicle is equipped with one. The correct pressure for your tires is listed on a label on the driver’s door pillar or doorframe or in the vehicle owner’s manual—the correct pressure for your vehicle is NOT the number listed on the tire itself. A tire doesn’t have to be punctured to lose air. All tires naturally lose some air over time and become underinflated. In fact, underinflation is the leading cause of tire failure.
Also, take 5 minutes to inspect your tires for signs of excessive or uneven wear. If the tread is worn down to 2/32 of an inch, it’s time to replace your tires. Look for the built-in wear bar indicators on your tires or use the “penny test” to determine when it’s time to replace your tires. Place a penny in the tread with Lincoln's head upside down. If you can see the top of Lincoln's head, your vehicle needs new tires. If you find uneven wear across the tires’ tread, it means your tires need rotation and/or your wheels need to be aligned before you travel. For more information on tire safety, visit NHTSA.gov/Tires.
Headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers, interior lights, and trailer lights
See and be seen! Make sure all the lights on your vehicle are in working order. Check your headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers, and interior lights. Towing a trailer? Be sure to also check your trailer including brake lights and turn signals. A failure of the trailer light connection is a common problem and a serious safety hazard.
Coolant level and servicing
The radiator in your vehicle needs water and antifreeze (coolant) to keep your engine functioning properly. When your car hasn’t been running and the engine is completely cool, carefully check your coolant level to make sure the reservoir is full. In addition, if your coolant is clear, looks rusty, or has particles floating in it, it is time to have your cooling system flushed and refilled. If your coolant looks sludgy or oily, immediately take your vehicle to a mechanic.
Oil, brake, transmission, power steering, and windshield washer fluids
Check your vehicle’s oil level periodically. As with coolant, if it’s time or even nearly time to have the oil changed, now would be a good time to do it. In addition, check the following fluid levels: brake, automatic transmission or clutch, power steering, and windshield washer. Make sure each reservoir is full; if you see any signs of fluid leakage, take your vehicle in to be serviced.
Belts and Hoses
Condition and fittings
Look under the hood and inspect all belts and hoses to make sure there are no signs of bulges, blisters, cracks, or cuts in the rubber. High summer temperatures accelerate the rate at which rubber belts and hoses degrade, so it’s best to replace them now if they show signs of obvious wear. While you’re at it, check all hose connections to make sure they’re secure.
Wear and tear on both sides
After the heavy toll imposed by winter storms and spring rains, windshield wiper blades may need to be replaced. Like rubber belts and hoses, wiper blades are vulnerable to the summer heat. Examine your blades for signs of wear and tear on both sides. The blades can also deform and fail to work properly in both directions. If they aren’t in top condition, invest in new ones before you go.
Check A/C performance before traveling. Lack of air conditioning on a hot summer day affects people who are in poor health or who are sensitive to heat, such as children and older adults.
Proper size and correct installation
Improperly installed floor mats in your vehicle may interfere with the operation of the accelerator or brake pedal, increasing the risk of a crash.
Remove old floor mats before the installation of new mats; never stack mats.
Use mats that are the correct size and fit for your vehicle.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for mat installation. Use available retention clips to secure the mat and prevent it from sliding forward.
Every time the mats are removed for any reason, verify that the driver’s mat is reinstalled correctly.