Q: Every year, we take a family vacation by car. We usually travel about 2,000 miles on these trips. Last year, we encountered car problems halfway to our destination, and it ruined our vacation. Repairs took three days, which we spent trapped in a motel room, and cost over $1,800. We are planning another road trip this year using the same SUV. What can we do to prevent a repeat of this kind of disruption to our schedule and budget?
A: While there are no vehicle service procedures that can guarantee a trouble-free road trip, there are some preventive measures you can take to lessen the likelihood of car trouble. Some of these things you can do yourself, such as checking all the lights, wipers, and windshield washers. Other checks work best with the car on a lift in a well-lighted garage.
For do-it-yourself checks, a good place to start is the tires. Are they properly inflated and wearing evenly? Remember to check the spare, too. Next, inspect tread depth on all tires. If the depth is less than 4/32”, even if the tire condition is still legal, the tires should be replaced before the trip. Also replace any tires approaching 10 years of age, regardless of their condition.
A professional technician can put your vehicle on a lift to examine the underbody components, such as the brakes, fuel lines, suspension components, and exhaust system. Fluid levels should also be inspected, and any evidence of leaks should be investigated and fixed.
You’ll also want to have things checked under the hood. Here, all the fluid levels and the condition of the battery, hoses, and drive belts should be assessed. Obviously, any problems that come to light during these inspections should prompt repairs.
While your vehicle is in the service bay, make sure that all the recommended factory maintenance procedures have been completed, and if any routine maintenance will be required during the trip, have it performed before you take to the road.
Finally, have the technician take the car for a test drive.
By following these steps, you’ll markedly reduce the likelihood of your car breaking down and ruining your next vacation.
RETHINKING THE ROOF RACK
Q: It’s almost family vacation time again, and as the children have gotten older, they want to pack all kinds of recreational equipment in the car. To accommodate their wishes, we are thinking of adding a roof rack to our vehicle this year. What should we consider?
A: Assuming your vehicle can accommodate a roof rack—not all can—you will undoubtedly find this accessory handy, but it can also be costly. In some cases, the cost of crossbars and a suitable carrier can approach $1,000.
And, the costs won’t stop there. The added aerodynamic drag that comes from placing cargo on the roof will reduce fuel economy. One auto writer found that a cooler on the roof of an SUV dropped his highway mileage from 18 to 14 miles per gallon.
Because items carried on the roof raise the vehicle’s center of gravity, automakers limit the weight of roof rack cargo to reduce handling problems. Check the owner’s manual for these limits and suggestions for properly securing any load.
Instead of installing a roof rack, you may want to consider renting recreational equipment at your destination. Many tourist sites have bicycles, kayaks, and camping gear available.