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Holiday Road: 6 Things You Should Do Before Hitting the Highway

Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are all major holiday travel times in the U.S. While millions of Americans will be hopping a flight to their destination, many more will gas up the family vehicle and hit the open roads. If you fall into the latter category, here are 6 things you should do before taking the trip.

Stop Procrastinating
If you’re traveling over the holiday season, it’s time to stop putting off much-needed car maintenance and get it done before you head out on the interstate. This means filling your fluids, getting that oil change you’ve been putting off, and making sure your air filter is clean and new. While most modern engines can stand to go 5,000 miles without an oil change, you should err on the side of caution when preparing for a road trip.

Check Your Car Battery
Even car owners who are religious about changing their oil and keeping their wiper fluid filled often neglect the battery. If your battery dies in town, the inconvenience will be minor. However, you don’t want to encounter a dead battery somewhere between home and your travel destination. Clean the terminals with some baking soda and water and have a mechanic test the charge.

Inspect Your Tires
On the whole, today’s tires are much safer than those of 20 years ago. A blowout is all but unheard of, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t inspect your tires before you begin your trip. Make sure you inflate your tires to the proper psi, a number that should be located on the outer face of the tire. Both underinflating and overinflating can lead to problems such as tire failure and reduced maneuverability. Check also for wear in the rubber and replace any tires where the tread is even with the wear bars (1/16 of an inch left).

Keep Your Kids Occupied
A road trip more than a couple of hours long can grow very boring even for a world-weary adult. For a child, that kind of time can feel like torture. According to behavior management experts, the average child’s attention span can be measured as chronological age + 1. In other words, a 5 year old child can be expected to have a learning attention span of 6 minutes. That attention span may increase with fun activities such as playing video games, reading, or listening to music, but don’t take chances. Bring along enough activities to last the duration of the trip.

Bring Snacks and Drinks
If you’re vacationing on a budget, fast food stops should be the first thing on the chopping block. The average priceof a fast food meal is $7.00. Multiply that by a family of four and you’re already out $28. You can prepare snacks and drinks at home for a fraction of that price. Bring along a cooler with ice and make some healthy choices to keep your kids from going into sugar-overload (a bad thing in a confined space, as any parent knows).

Get a Full Brake Inspection
Even if you disregard every other item on this list, make sure you don’t skip this one. You may pay for a dead battery or a restless child with inconvenience and cash, but you could pay a much higher price for faulty brakes. In the summer of 2011, bad brakes were cited as the primary cause of an accident involving a semi tractor-trailer and an Amtrak train on U.S. 95. The incident killed 6 and injured sixteen others. While brake failure is responsible for only a small percentage of accidents each year, it isn’t a chance worth taking. Take your car in to a trusted mechanic and have them examine your pads and brakes before you entrust a long holiday road trip to your car.