A summer road trip with the family is a rite of passage most Americans have experienced, but many have also felt the panic, disappointment and frustration of an unexpected car breakdown. Nothing will wreck a vacation faster than having to be towed to the nearest repair shop in an unfamiliar place where vacation dollars end up being spent on something other than fun.

More than half of the cars on the road today are over 10 years old, an automotive age group that is statistically more likely to suffer problems on the road. Travelers in these vehicles are in greater danger of being stranded by a breakdown. However, a few simple pre-trip checks can reduce the chance of car trouble, lessen the amount of repair costs, and limit how long your vacation is interrupted.

Road trips are meant to be enjoyed, not spent on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

Long trips in hot weather put additional strain on vehicles and can turn pending issues into right-now problems. Often, critical components that keep a car running, such as the battery, engine cooling system and tires, can fail with little or no warning. Get a complete vehicle inspection prior to a long trip. However, you can also make a few quick checks yourself before hitting the road.

If the car’s battery is more than three years old, have it tested to determine how much life it has left. Car batteries generally last three to five years, and one with a marginal test result should be replaced, especially before a long trip.

Engine coolants vary in color, but should appear clean and free from corrosion, dirt and debris. Coolant leakage under a parked car signals a problem that needs to be addressed, as does any indication that the engine is running hotter than normal.

Finally, as the tires are a car’s only points of contact with the road, they should be checked for proper pressure and adequate tread depth.  This includes the spare tire if the car has one.

When these key systems are in good working order, the odds of encountering a serious breakdown are greatly reduced. Take the time to make a solid B-E-T by having the battery, engine cooling system and tires inspected before loading up the car with your favorite tunes, snacks and people. Road trips are meant to be enjoyed, not spent on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

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