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Summer is here. Is your car ready for the road?

Car emergency kit MGN _ State Farm _ Flickr _ CC BY 2.0.jpg
Taking a road trip? Make sure your car has an emergency kit that includes: a cell phone charger, flashlight, a first-aid kit, jumper cables, a tool kit, emergency flares, drinking water and snacks. (Image courtesy of MGN / State Farm / Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Yesterday was the first day of summer, so now would be a great time to ensure that your car is in shape for the vacations and road trips ahead.

AAA says that 40 percent of U.S. drivers are unprepared for emergency breakdowns, and it's gearing up to rescue 7 million motorists over the summer months. With a little thoughtful preparation, you might avoid being one of them. For starters...

1. Have an emergency kit: If you're like most people, this isn't hard to do. You likely have everything you need for an emergency kit, you just need to gather all the items in one place. At a minimum, your kit should include:

  • A charger for your mobile phone (which obviously means that you need a mobile phone, too)
  • A flashlight with plenty of backup batteries
  • A first-aid kit
  • Jumper cables or a powered-up jump-starter
  • A tool kit that includes a tire pressure gauge, an adjustable wrench, and in our experience, a good ratchet set
  • Emergency flares and reflectors
  • Drinking water
  • Snacks (don't forget some for the pets if you're traveling with furry friends)


2. Schedule a check-up for your car, including the battery: Take your vehicle to your preferred mechanic for the usual oil change, fluid check and tire check. If you're among the two-thirds of Americans who've never had their car battery tested, ask your garage to do that, too. We recommend doing this about a week before you head out of town. More than a few of us have had problems pop-up right after service appointments--often because a mechanic forgot to screw on a cap or some similar slip-up.

3. Inspect your tires: Make sure the treads on your tires are in good shape, and remove any debris you find trapped there. If you have a spare tire (an increasing rarity these days), be sure to check it, too. Haven't changed a tire in a while? Now would be a great time to refresh your memory on the process and locate all the tools needed to make the change-out.

Here are a few more tips to keep in mind, whether you're going to the bank, the ball park, or the beach:

Keep up with your keys: We're always reading news stories about motorists who intentionally leave their cars running when they exit their vehicles. Bad things typically ensue. Keep your keys with you at all times, and make sure to pack an extra key when you're heading out of town. If your car uses a smart key or remote, protect it from water.


Put down the phone: If you're on vacation, chances are good that you'll have a copilot for the journey. Let him or her play the role of navigator, DJ, and text messenger while you keep your eyes on the road. If you're flying solo, set navigation destinations and music selections before you pull out into traffic.

Move over: When you see an emergency vehicle like a police car or ambulance on your side of the road, move to the opposite lane. If that's not possible, slow down and pass with care. You'll make life a little easier and safer for emergency personnel.

Get off the road: Sometimes, cars break down for unforeseen reasons. If that happens to you, do your best to maneuver the vehicle to the side of the road. Turn on your hazard lights, exit the vehicle on the side facing away from traffic, and put out flares or reflectors to alert other motorists.

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