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By Luigi Fraschini
Summer isn’t winter. This is not simply a statement of fact: It also has implications on how you drive and the dangers you may face. Because summer isn’t winter, you will not encounter the same kinds of hazards in the next couple of months that you would in December, January and February -- namely, frigid temperatures and ice- and snow-covered roads. (Those living in Florida or Southern California are laughing right now.) But just because you are unlikely to get stranded in a snowdrift next week doesn’t mean your family’s safety isn't at risk. Since getting stranded on the roadside is inherently unsafe, avoiding that scenario is one key to summer safety. Another is maintaining systems that are vital to your well-being. Here's how to do it to ensure your family safe this summer:
Make sure your brakes are in top shape
The fluid in your brakes attracts and absorbs moisture. If you haven't had a brake system flush in the last year, get one. Moisture and brake parts don't mix. Water-laden brake fluid causes severe damage to very costly brake parts and lowers the fluid's boiling point. A lowered boiling point can lead to brake failure during hard or prolonged brake application -- common on long road trips. Heavy traffic and hills seriously stress brakes and brake fluid.
Check tire pressure and tread depth
Many believe the proper tire pressure is listed on the tire itself. But in reality, the number on the tire is the maximum amount of pressure the tire can hold safely when it's cold. To find the recommended pressure -- expressed in pounds per square inch (psi) -- look on your driver's side door jamb, on the inside of the fuel-filler door or in your owners manual and check the pressure before you leave. Also make sure the tread on all four tires is not too worn or unevenly worn, which can signal a wheel alignment problem or the need to replace front-end parts. If your tires are on the bubble in terms of wear, it's best to install new ones now rather than take a chance on them failing while you are on the road. Remember, overinflation or underinflation combined with heavy loads, heat and high speed can lead to a blowout, so take the few minutes needed to check all four tires -- plus the spare.
Wear seat belts all the time, every time
Many of our cars and trucks are now equipped with very elaborate air bag systems that sense the size of vehicle occupants and deploy accordingly. But these systems remain a supplement to the most important safety equipment in your vehicle: your seat belts. Always wear your seat belt, even on short trips. And be sure your children and other vehicle occupants are also belted in at all times.
Once your car is in tip-top shape and you're on the road, remember to stay focused. Summer road trips are filled with distractions. You often travel unfamiliar roads, playing with maps and navigation systems; your kids are hungry, cranky or just inquisitive; your wife is playing music that you dislike; or the cell phone rings, and someone from work wants to speak with you “just for a minute.” All these things distract you from your critical task: driving your vehicle safely. Do your best to avoid them, along with other distractions, and you'll be on your way to a safe and pleasant summer.
Luigi Fraschini Cleveland-based Driving Today Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini writes frequently about driving safety issues.
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