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Spring Break Preparation

Winter was tenacious in 2019. On April 14, more than five inches of snow fell in Chicago, a near-record amount for that late in the year. Snow fell in 20 states during April. Crazy.

Gradually, spring is elbowing its way in and bringing with it plenty of reasons for people to hit the road and get active again—flower displays, budding trees, plant stores filled with blossoms, early-season cookouts, the year’s first outdoor family get-togethers, and of course, spring break.

While you’re adjusting to a new season, your car is also trying to shake off the effects of a long winter. Considering how persistent winter weather has been, it’s understandable if you have fallen behind on routine maintenance checks.

When it’s 27 degrees, gloomy and windy, who really wants to lean into that wintry grit stuck on your rig’s side panels to check under the hood? When the weather is lousy, people are more inclined to simply guess their engine’s oil level is pretty good, then walk away. They guess the wipers will probably be OK for one more storm, too. And maybe that check-engine light will go out once it gets a little warmer.

It’s time for some car-maintenance action, particularly if you have a spring break road trip planned. Use the following checklist to make your preparations now for uninterrupted good times ahead.

Check your oil. This tip, of course, applies to any time of year extensive travel plans are in your future, but it’s vital in spring for two reasons:

  • As mentioned earlier, drivers tend to shrug off maintenance when the weather is unfavorable, so you may be behind on your regular service plan.
  • Warmer weather puts additional strain on engine parts since oil breaks down faster due to heat exposure. The fresher your oil, the better it will protect your engine and prolong its life. If you have driven close to 5,000 miles since your last oil change, you’re due.

Check tire pressure. In colder winter conditions, air contracts. In tires, it typically rebounds as the weather warms up, but fluctuations in tire pressurization are unpredictable. During the transition between winter and spring, the pressure in individual tires can vary between one and five pounds per square inch (psi). That sort of unevenness can affect your vehicle’s handling and make it less predictable in an emergency situation. Swing by a tire store or visit air pump at a service station and even up your pressurization before heading out on a substantial trip such as a spring break trek.

Check the charge on your battery. There is no established 3,000- or 5,000-mile rule for the recommended frequency of checking your battery. But if you’re heading out for a multiday spring fling somewhere far from home, have someone test your battery. Definitely do so if you are noticing any hesitancy in your engine when starting it, or if your headlights seem a touch dimmer than usual. If you own a digital multimeter, you can test it yourself in your garage. Or, drop by a local auto parts store. Free battery-testing has become a regular customer service feature at many stores as a way to draw in more customers. Take advantage of the offer.

Wash your vehicle. It will look better, and you’ll feel better knowing you made the effort to hose off road salt and other winter slop. Adding a little baking soda to your soap bucket can help remove salt from your vehicle’s finish. If you have driven in an area when salt is heavily used during the winter, consider visiting a commercial car-cleaning facility where you can spray your vehicle’s undercarriage.

Check your wiper blades. Blades can accumulate a fair share of gunk during the winter. Rather than change them, clean them first and see if that boosts their performance. It often does. If they’re just adequate, buy a spare set of wipers and take them with you so, if necessary, you can change them while on the road. Also: Refill your reservoir with window-washing fluid.

Check your brakes. Take note of when the manufacturer recommends getting the brake pads changed. Ask a mechanic to check your brake fluid. If it needs to be changed, it’s best to get the brake line flushed and filled with new fluid.

Check your hoses. Weak or leaky hoses in your vehicle’s cooling system need to be replaced. This is a task much better done at home than on the road in an unfamiliar location.

Carry tools and emergency equipment. This list can be as extensive as you want, but a basic safety gear list includes:

  • Flashlight and extra batteries.
  • A tool kit (screwdrivers, adjustable wrench, pliers, duct tape) or a multitool.
  • Jumper cables or a portable jump starter.
  • Reflective roadside triangles or LED flare substitutes.
  • A basic first-aid kit.
  • Paper maps (in case your electronic navigation system fails).
  • Specialized emergency tools such as a seatbelt-cutter and window breaker.

Carrying a seatbelt-cutter and window breaker may seem extreme, yet a well-prepared driver carries such items, particularly when traveling in flood-prone states, which is often the case during spring break trips.

Flood forecasters speculate that 2019 could be an especially troublesome year for flooding. A New York Times article reports 25 states could experience “major or moderate flooding,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Flash floods account for the highest number of weather-related deaths in the United States, with more than 200 fatalities per year.

While the chances of your vehicle slipping off a road and becoming submerged may seem remote, the risk of a rollover accident is greater, and in that situation, a seatbelt cutter could be invaluable for escaping an overturned vehicle. A window-breaker could also aid an occupant’s escape in case power windows to become inoperable after an accident.

A good preparation strategy is to carry a tool that combines multiple emergency devices into a single unit. That’s the idea that led equipment-maker InGear to create autoXscape, a high-quality flashlight that is also an inventive emergency tool. It integrates a seatbelt cutter and two window breakers into the high-grade aluminum handle of its triple-mode flashlight, with a 135-lumen output on its high setting.

The tail cap of the autoXscape features an external, blunt-force window punch that can take out a passenger window with one swipe. Remove the tail cap and you’ll find an additional window punch and a serious seatbelt cutter (constructed with strong, high-carbon steel) ready for immediate use.

It is an intelligent three-way car emergency tool that comes with a quick-access holder (with an industrial adhesive) that you can mount inside your vehicle’s cabin to keep it within easy reach. Everyone needs a flashlight in their vehicle. Why not carry one designed with built-in extra safety features?

All of the tips listed above can do much to boost your peace of mind while traveling and make your springtime travels enjoyable and carefree. Get out and enjoy the open road.

 

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