Make Sure Your Vehicle is “Road Trip Ready”

Routine repair, maintenance "mythbusting" can help drivers make the most of summer

BOISE –  This Memorial Day, 37 million Americans (including 202,000 Idahoans) are expected to take a trip 50 miles or more from home.  But due to COVID-19 restrictions, some vehicles have been dormant for months, with little or no upkeep.  AAA offers repair tips and busts a few common maintenance myths to help keep a summer road trip from turning into a nightmare.

During a recent survey, AAA learned that many vehicle owners do a great job of relying on a windshield sticker (33%), the manufacturer’s recommended mileage (29%) or a reminder from the car’s onboard computer (29%) to know when it’s time for an oil change.  However, they are far less certain about the timing of other critical maintenance:

Oil changes – 45 percent of drivers believe that their vehicle is due for an oil change every 3,000 miles.  But most engine oil contains lubricants and other additives that extend the life of the oil.  For most cars 15 years or newer, oil changes are recommended every 5,000 to 7,500 miles.  And if you purchase a full-synthetic oil, it might go as far as 15,000 miles between services.

Battery life – 42 percent of drivers overestimate that a car battery lasts five years.  Most batteries hold a charge between 3-5 years, depending on driving habits and other conditions.  If your battery is approaching the three-year mark, it’s a good idea to have it tested before hitting the road.

Brake fluid – 19 percent believe that brake fluid doesn’t need to be changed – ever.  But your braking system is the most important safety device in your vehicle, and most manufacturers recommend replacing the brake fluid every two or three years.  Over time, brake fluid attracts and absorbs water, which can corrode internal brake system parts and lead to failure or costly repairs.

Vehicle warranties – 31 percent believe that in order to maintain a vehicle warranty, all service must be performed by the dealer.  By law, consumers can have regular maintenance and repairs completed at a shop of their choice.  However, vehicle owners should always document any work done by a facility other than the dealer in order to maintain the warranty.

“We often use the phrase ‘make a smart B-E-T’ to remind motorists of some of the most important items on the pre-trip checklist – the battery, the engine, and the tires,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde.  “Like a visit to the dentist, a pre-trip checkup may not be one of our favorite activities, but it can prevent a lot of pain later.”

AAA research found that tire performance in wet weather deteriorates significantly when the tread reaches 4/32”.  To maintain optimal traction, AAA recommends that tires be replaced at that point.

“Just like in wintertime, it’s important that your vehicle grip the road and respond quickly in an emergency,” Conde said.  “Please use the trusty ‘quarter test’ by turning a quarter upside down in your tire tread.  If you can see the top of George Washington’s head, it’s time to think about replacing the tire.”

In a AAA survey, 21 percent of consumers say that they don’t have a trusted repair shop.  AAA routinely inspects more than 7,000 Approved Auto Repair facilities to ensure that they meet high standards for service and quality.  For more information, visit AAA.com/autorepair.

“During the summer months, many families drive to remote areas to camp, play on a lake, or connect with nature,” Conde said.  “Whether you’re planning a day-trip or a longer expedition, we recommend taking plenty of snacks and water with you, as well as a first aid kit and an old towel in case you have to kneel or lay down on hot asphalt to change a tire or work on your vehicle.  And, as always, please share your travel plans with a friend or family member who can take action on your behalf if you fail to arrive or return on time.”