Summer and driving go together like peanut butter and fluff. As the warm weather gives way to the hot weather, we inevitably take to the road, and sometimes that means going on a long distance road trip.

In 2004, which was my third year at Northeastern, I got in the car with three friends in Boston and headed for the backwoods of Maryland for our first “friend wedding.” This was before the days of $99 Garmins and built-in GPS in almost every new car. So when the Mapquest directions told us to “head west toward the Garden State Turnpike,” we headed west ON the Garden State and ended up in Scranton. After many hours and some reckless driving by my friend Hilary (seriously, she hit like 115) we made it to the wedding with about 45 seconds to spare. We followed that up with a tour of our Nation’s Capital and a stop at my parent’s house in New Haven for some food and a rest before we headed back.

We all learn lessons on the road. With them tucked away in the back of my mind, I went to talk to some folks at Royal Purple, who know a thing or two about making sure cars get where they’re going. Together, we came up with these five tips for anyone hitting the road on vacation or headed off to college in a few months.

1. Know Where You’re Going

You can't beat a good map.

You can’t beat a good map.

With the convenience of smartphones and in-car navigation systems, the paper map has gone the way of the dinosaur. But that doesn’t mean it won’t make a good backup if everything goes to hell quickly. It’s important to know how long it will take you to get to your next step, and what landmarks you may be driving past on the way.

Our parents had a good way of dealing with this. They’d call AAA and get a binder sent to them with maps, alternate routes, and suggested stops along the way. Today, you can do most of that online.

Still, GPS is a marvel. A good one will help you avoid traffic and notify you if there are any accidents, road closures or construction planned along your route that may cause an unforeseen delay. Before you leave, make sure your GPS maps are updated.

2. Plan in Case of Emergency

Create a list of contacts to call in case of emergency. Put a copy in your wallet and in the glove box for easy access. Also, put all the numbers into a special group in your phone before you leave. These should include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Relatives or friends in the area or along your route
  • Roadside assistance services such as AAA (Many credit card companies offer this. For God’s sake, make sure SOMEBODY has it in your party. If one person has it, even if they are not driving, you’re covered!)
  • Your RA or a contact on campus if you are a college student

3. Make sure the Car is Properly Maintained

This is bad. Watch out for this.

This is bad. Watch out for this.

If you’re driving across the country, you’re actually likely to need an oil change along the way. But beyond that, make sure the car you’re driving is safe and properly maintained in the first place, or an oil change will be the least of your worries.

According to the Car Care Council, an estimated 77-percent of cars on the road need some sort of service or parts replacement.

Check the oil and fluids. If you’re going somewhere rainy or snowy, make sure there is plenty of wiper fluid and working wiper blades. Royal Purple makes a line of high-end synthetic oils that give you more time between oil changes.

If your car overheats, DO NOT remove the radiator cap if your car has been running. Steam builds up during driving and could cause serious burns if removed before allowing the car to cool down.

4. Know Tires — And how to Change Them

Tires are your feet. Take care of them. Inspect your tires for signs of abnormal wear, looking for worn tread. Check the tire pressure. On many cars, 30 PSI is is about where it should be.

Learn how to change a tire. Locate where your spare tire and jack is stored in your car. If your spare tire is a “doughnut” you can drive about 50 miles with it, so get to a proper garage. If a front wheel goes flat, put one of the rear wheels on it, and put the doughnut on the rear wheel. Avoid putting a doughnut on a front wheel.

Madeline Merced explains how to change a flat tire below. If you can’t follow this, you have no business driving a car.

Don’t try to change a spare tire on the side of a busy road in the rain or at night or in the snow or in any other situation where passing cars might not see you. Just call for help and wait patiently.

5. Enjoy the ride!

Sure, that sounds like a happy little send-off, but there’s some substance to it. Allow an extra day (or more) for travel. This allows you to drive rested, get some sightseeing in and arrive early to your destination. This kind of planning also enables you to save gas and money as opposed to driving around aimlessly or trying to floor it like we did to get to our wedding in Maryland. Make plans using a trip planning website, pre-planning where to stay the night and finding local restaurants to sample cuisine away from the big chains.

And yes, don’t forget to enjoy the drive! Happy road tripping!

About The Author

John Guilfoil is the editor-in-chief of Blast: Boston's Online Magazine and the Blast Magazine Network. He can be reached at guilfoil.j@blastmagazine.com. Tweet @johnguilfoil.

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