Tips for a safe road trip

Road trips are a time-honored vacation tradition for many families. If you'll be hitting the highway this summer, it pays to prepare. Although you can't foresee every emergency, taking some precautions with your vehicle and getting to know your auto insurance policy should help ensure that your journey will be an adventure instead of a disaster.

Driving your own car? Give it a thorough pre-trip inspection, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) advises. Don't postpone this until the day you're scheduled to leave.
  • Check your tires. If the tread has less than one-16th of an inch remaining, you'll need to replace them. Also be on the lookout for uneven wear on the tires -- this can signal a problem with the alignment, which could make it hard to steer. Measure your tires' air pressure when the tires are still cold, and inflate to the level recommended by your vehicle's owner's manual. Check your spare.
  • Before you top off the gas tank for your trip, make sure that all your other vehicle fluids are at the proper level as well: oil, brake, transmission, power steering, coolant and windshield. While you're under the hood, check hoses and belts for signs of wear, and inspect any connections. If something looks questionable, ask a mechanic to check it out and replace it if necessary.
  • Don't forget the underside of the car. You (or your mechanic) should look at the exhaust system to make sure there are no leaks or loose connections. Check under your car for any fluid leaks after it's been parked in one spot for a while.
It would be wonderful to have only good weather as you're driving, but it's likely that you'll encounter a storm or two. Make sure you're prepared with good wiper blades. Ask a friend to help you check your headlights, tail lights, brake lights, blinkers and emergency flashers.
If you're planning on bringing a friend along on the trip -- and that friend will help with the driving -- you may want to check with your auto insurance company. Are you covered if someone else drives your car? According to Progressive, you most likely would be covered for a road trip. If someone uses your car infrequently and has your permission to do so, your coverage probably will extend to your travel pal.
Pack a roadside emergency kit along with your luggage. It can be invaluable if you end up stranded far from home. NHTSA suggests including a cellphone, first aid kit, flashlight, flares and white flag, jumper cable, jack and mat for changing a tire, work gloves, basic repair tools, non-perishable food and drinking water. You may want to include a map of the area where you'll be traveling, even if you are using a GPS device for navigating.
Are you planning on renting a car once you reach a destination? Rental car companies offer a variety of coverage types, but according to the Insurance Information Institute, some of them may duplicate coverage that you're already paying for in your own auto policy. To make sure that you get the protection you need, check with the rental company about the policies it offers, and then call your insurance company. Compare your current coverage with that offered by the rental company, and decide what (if any) additional coverage you need.

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