Monthly Archives: May 2011

Can you Take the Heat? Tips for Summerizing your Vehicle.

We all know how important it is to protect ourselves from the sun’s harmful rays, but with the hot summer months in front of us, car owners should also be thinking about protecting their vehicles from the heat. Drastic changes in weather can aggravate existing problems and cause any unchecked weaknesses to turn into serious issues. Whether you are planning a cross country road trip during the summer months, or simply using your car around town, there are important steps that you should take to summerize your car and ensure all aspects of your vehicle are ready and protected for the upcoming months of hot weather driving.

Wash away the remnants of winter and give your car a good wax job to help protect the body and paint job from damaging UV rays. Check at your local auto supply store for products that are geared specifically towards sun protection.

• Use a protectant coating such as Armor All on the interior elements of your vehicle like the dash, seats and steering wheel. You should also use a sun shield in the windshield to help block the sun’s rays while your car is parked.

• Refill all of your fluid levels such as windshield wiper and transmission fluid and coolant, which can evaporate more quickly during the warm summer months.

• Check you tires for air pressure as well as any cracks, bulges or signs of weathering and replace them if necessary. Hot roads are more damaging to tires, and can cause a higher chance of blowout.

• Change the oil in your vehicle to help ensure you get the best performance out of it over the summer. AA1 Car.com recommends opting for synthetic oil during the summer as it works better in the heat.

• Make sure your battery is still good and does not need to be replaced before you start your summer driving. Hot weather can be extra demanding on batteries because the liquid within the battery will evaporate more quickly.

• Have your mechanic give your vehicle a general maintenance checkup to ensure there are no problems or potential problems that could be created by the heat. This includes checking for frayed and damaged belts, which are used in many capacities throughout your car.

• Ensure your air conditioning is in good working order before embarking on any hot weather drives. You will appreciate this foresight when you are driving along in the blistering temperatures.

Taking these steps in advance will help you avoid common hot weather driving pitfalls and help make your summer driving experience more enjoyable!

 

~ R. Quick

Advertisements

On The Road Again … With Your Canine Companion

Summer is almost here and you know what that means: road trip! Whether you’re traveling cross-country or setting out for a destination just a few hours from home, it is important to be prepared if you plan on bringing your dog along for the ride.

Although most dogs are accustomed to riding in the car for trips to the vet or the groomer, a lengthy drive is quite a different experience. To help prepare your pet for a road trip, consider bringing him or her with you on a longer-than-normal drive to a neighboring town or city. Practice taking bathroom breaks to familiarize your dog with stopping at unfamiliar locations. The more you can do to mentally prepare your pet for a road trip, the better!

The Defensive Driving team has compiled a pre-road trip checklist to help you fully prepare to take your dog out on the open road:

Several weeks before your trip:

  • Take your dog to the vet to make sure he/she is up to date on all vaccines. Your vet also can give you a copy of your dog’s medical records, which you definitely should bring with you on your trip in case of emergency.
  • If you’re worried your pet might suffer from car sickness, talk to your vet about solutions/medications you can bring with you on your trip.
  • If you don’t already have one, get an identification tag for your dog’s collar. It should include your dog’s name, your name, your phone numbers and your home address. You also should get a current rabies tag from your vet.
  • Purchase a first aid kit for your dog to bring along with you on your trip.
  • Figure out how you’re going to keep your pet safe while you’re in the car. If you have to slam on your brakes or if you’re involved in an accident, a dog can become a projectile and potentially can harm the animal and any human passengers.
  • If your dog is crate trained, you may want to consider investing in a plastic or collapsible crate.
  • You also may purchase a restraint harness that locks into a seatbelt receptacle.
    Another option is to buy a wire or mesh pet barrier for SUVs, which separates the rear cargo area from the backseat.
  • If your pet takes any medications, make sure you have enough to last the duration of your trip.
  • Research pet-friendly hotels.

Several days before your trip:

  • Make sure you have enough dog food to last the length of your trip.
  • Map out rest stops on your route (plan to stop every 3 to 5 hours) and research veterinarian offices along the way.
  • Create a packing list for your dog, which should include:

Food
Bottled water
Food and water bowls
Leash
Treats
Toys
Plastic bags for bathroom break cleanup
Doggie first aid kit
Medications
Medical records
Blanket and/or dog bed
Flashlight (for any nighttime bathroom stops)

On the road:

  • Keep the car cool and well-ventilated.
  • Never leave your pet alone in the car during rest stops.
  • Make sure your dog remains hydrated throughout the trip.

We hope you’ll take this checklist into consideration before taking your pet on vacation. With a little planning and preparation, your summer road trip is sure to be a success!

~ B. Waldman

Road Trip 101

With summer rapidly approaching, the warm weather and call of the open road makes it the ideal time for a road trip. Piling into your car with family or friends for a road trip is a great way to explore the country en route to your final destination. Additionally, when done right, a road trip is often a more cost effective alternative to air travel, which is a huge bonus in this difficult economy. We would like to share a few tips that will prepare for your trip, keep things cost effective, and most importantly, help you enjoy your time on the road!

Pre-trip Planning
A well thought out and organized road trip can save you time and stress during your car-based vacation. Preplanning your routes with maps and GPS will help to ensure that you see everything you want in your allotted travel time. Be sure to take your vehicle into your mechanic before any long distance trip to make sure the basics such as tire air pressure, wheel alignment, oil and engine function are all up working and up to date. Not only will this check-up put your mind to ease about the condition of your car, but according to Forbes.com, small improvements such as these can help improve the mileage in your vehicle, which will come in handy in the next section about saving money.

Road Trips on a Budget
Gas prices are typically on the rise in summer months, but with a little planning and persistence, you can find the best deals and keep your summer adventure within your budget. The US Energy Information Administration predicts gas prices will rise to around $3.80 per gallon during the summer of 2011, and will break $4.00 in many locations. Pay attention to gas prices as you go and compare the costs before purchasing. Oftentimes, stations right along the road will be tourist traps with inflated prices, so shopping around will help you save. If you have a smart phone, consider using an app like Triptik or Gas Buddy, discussed in our recent blog Smartphone Apps Worth Trying  that will help you locate the best gas prices in your area. You should also plan ahead and pack snacks and drinks for the trip to avoid costly convenience store prices along your way.

Distance Driving Safety
Even though it is tempting to squeeze everything you own into your car since you are not restricted by the strict airline baggage requirements, you should limit the amount of stuff you take on your road trip. It is important that all passengers have enough room to be comfortable and that safety features such as airbags and seatbelts are not restricted by the clutter. You should also avoid stacking items in the rear of the car as these can cause dangerous visual impairments for the driver. Give yourself plenty of time to travel to each destination on your road trip plan so you do not feel pressured to speed or drive dangerously to make a deadline, and share driving responsibility with other drivers to minimize fatigue and reckless driving.

Fun Road Tripping Ideas
Once you have minimized the stress of a road trip by planning ahead, saving money and being safe, the only thing left to do is maximize your fun! Road trips are a great time to bond as a group and share in an adventure, so consider taking out the headphones, putting down the games and enjoying the company. Encourage your passengers to sing songs, play games and even create a scavenger hunt ahead of time with items they need to find along the way. Make a great road trip music playlist with songs that will appeal to everyone in the car and bring a couple of books on tape if you need a change or pace. In the planning phase of your trip, be sure to work in stops to see unique and quirky roadside attractions such as the world’s largest rocking chair or a house built entirely out of aluminum cans to help break up long stretches of driving and provide you with some memorable photos of your summer road trip.

~R. Quick

Fuel Frugality: How Octane Levels Can Translate to Savings at the Pump

As gas prices creep towards four dollars a gallon, many drivers are considering all of their options when it comes to filling up their gas tanks to help save some extra money. Summertime is traditionally a high peak for fuel cost and sales, as many Americans drive on their summer vacation, so this is the perfect time to become a little more fuel savvy and choose the gasoline with an octane level that is both economical and beneficial to your vehicle.

Octane ratings measure the resistance of a given gasoline to combustion, which means the amount of energy that is needed for the fuel to explode and power the engine. Higher octane gasoline will require more energy to explode, and can also lower levels of engine knocking, which is a negative side effect that occurs when gas explodes too quickly.

Many drivers try to save money by choosing a less expensive lower-grade fuel or opting for a high-grade fuel in an attempt to get better gas mileage out of each tank. Neither of these options is ideal because using a lower grade octane than is recommended for your engine can cause serious functionality problems and overshooting and using a higher-grade octane will give you no benefits and cost more. In actuality, you will achieve the best results by using the proper octane grade recommended in your vehicle owner’s manual. According to the American Petroleum Institute, the most common levels of octane grade are as follows:

Regular (87 Octane)
Most cars are designed to function efficiently on regular, 87 grade octane fuel, which is also the least expensive of the three. This is also the best option if you have an older car, as using premium gasoline in a car that does not have a high performance engine can lead to carbon deposits and engine clogging over time.

Mid-grade (89 Octane)
Upgrading to a mid-range octane can be beneficial if you are experiencing engine knock or other issues with your vehicle, but you do not want to pay the full price of premium gasoline.

Premium (91-93 Octane)
Some drivers splurge for higher octane fuel (with a higher price tag) in the hopes that it will help their vehicle attain better gas mileage and functionality, but in reality, upgrading to a higher level of gasoline will have little to no effect on your gas mileage. Unless you own a high performance vehicle that recommends using a high-grade octane, it is much more practical and economical to stick with your recommended fuel grade.

~R. Quick

Prom, Graduation and Driving … oh my!

It’s that time of year again: prom and graduation season. These two rites of passage signal not only the coming of summer but also may mark a transition into the collegiate life, which usually results in weeks of celebrations (and rightfully so!). But as exciting as this time of year can be, it also is a dangerous time for teen drivers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, car accidents are the leading cause of death among teens in the United States. Per mile driven, teens between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash. There are several reasons why teens are at a higher risk, including:

  • Driving with other teens in the car. Crash risk increases with the number of teenage passengers in the car.
  • Not wearing a seatbelt. Compared with other age groups, teens have the lowest rate of seatbelt use.
  • Underestimating/not being able to recognize dangerous driving situations.
  • Distracted driving, which entails texting, talking on the phone and adjusting an iPod/radio.
  • Drinking and driving. At all levels of blood alcohol concentration, the risk of crashing increases for teen drivers.

Teen crash risk increases from April to June as students revel in the celebrations that spring and summer bring, according to an article by dosomething.org. To encourage safe driving during this season, we at the DefensiveDriving.com team have compiled a list of tips and tricks to help drivers, especially teens, avoid accidents:

  • Don’t drink and drive. We hear it all the time, but it is one of the simplest ways to ensure you will be awake and alert behind the wheel. Don’t let your friends drink in the car. Not only is it illegal, but you may not be allowed into prom or graduation if you smell like you’ve been drinking!
  • If you do drink or if your ride does, have a backup plan. Be sure someone is available for you to call if you need a ride home on prom or graduation night.
  • Buckle your seatbelt.  Another tip we hear over and over again, but it’s another easy way to protect yourself. A little wrinkle in your dress, tux or graduation gown is hardly worth not buckling up for!
  • Plan, plan, plan. Arrive on time so you’re not speeding because you’re late. Know where you’re going afterward and make sure you know how to get there before you leave. If you are the driver, check your brakes and brake fluid the day before to
    ensure your car is in tip top mechanical shape.
  • Turn the volume down. Save the singing and dancing with your friends for the prom!
  • Keep your eye on the prize. There will be drunk drivers on the road, so stay alert and keep your distance from anyone who seems to be driving abnormally.
  • Ride in style: Rent a  limo! Get a group of friends together and split the cost, but be sure to limit the number to that which the service tells you can fit in the limousine. Too many passengers can be distracting to the driver.

We hope you’ll take these statistics and suggestions into consideration. And congratulations to the classes of 2011!

~ B. Waldman