Summer Driving Hardly Carefree

“Here comes summer; school is out, oh, happy day!”

Those are the words of a now-obscure 1959 Jerry Keller hit song, and they promise a carefree season of endless fun. Not so fast there, driver. With the summer travel season looming, AAA has announced that it anticipates coming to the rescue of 7.3 million stranded motorists. During the months of June, July and August, the auto club expects a nearly 1.5 percent uptick in roadside assistance requests compared to the summer of 2008 that we all remember so fondly. Why is this summer expected to be worse? 

“AAA believes a combination of lower gas prices, consumers holding onto their vehicles longer and some motorists cutting regular maintenance from their budgets will drive an increase in the need for roadside assistance this summer,” said AAA Automotive Services Vice President Marshall L. Doney, and he’s a guy who knows.

Some of these problems will be relatively minor. On a yearly average, AAA says it is able to remedy problems at the roadside two out of three times, avoiding the need for an inconvenient vehicle tow. But the motor club has also learned from experience that the number of motorists who suffer major vehicle problems requiring a tow usually spikes during the summer months. This summer, AAA estimates it will tow nearly 3.2 million vehicles. Since you don’t want your car to end up on a hook, there is a lesson to be learned here.

“No one wants to have their day disrupted by a broken-down vehicle, especially when they are on vacation,” said Doney. “Many of the problems that end up with the vehicle on the back of a tow truck could have been prevented with regular maintenance.”

Here are some things you can do to decrease the likelihood of your vehicle leaving you stranded:

  • Think regular service Have your vehicle serviced frequently, based on the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule. Identify a quality repair shop and use that facility for all of your vehicle repairs and maintenance. Repeated visits to a trustworthy shop allows a motorist to develop a good working relationship with the service staff and lets the repair technicians get to know the vehicle and make needed service recommendations in a timely manner. Consumers can look for a “AAA Approved Auto Repair” sign at local auto repair facilities or search online for a shop that’s met AAA requirements.
  • Mind the hot weather Be aware that heat is not friendly to tires. The number of motorists seeking assistance with flat tires traditionally rises during the summer months. The motor club estimates it will come to the rescue of more than a million motorists with flat tires this summer -- more than any other season. While it can be difficult to avoid an errant nail in a tire, some tire problems can be caught or prevented before motorists hit the road.

    To ward off tire trouble, regularly check and adjust tire pressures to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended settings. Inspect the tire sidewalls for cuts and bulges, and check the tread for excessive or uneven wear, which indicates the need for wheel alignment and/or tire replacement. For maximum life, rotate tires at the mileage intervals specified in the owners manual and don’t forget the spare. Make sure the spare is properly inflated and in good condition.
  • Check the battery Many motorists are aware that cold weather can take its toll on automobile batteries, but few realize that summer heat also contributes to battery failure. High ambient temperatures accelerate the rate of corrosion on a vehicle’s battery terminals, which can leave you stranded without warning. AAA anticipates it will jump-start or replace more than 1.3 million batteries this summer. To avoid this inconvenience, ensure the battery cables are securely attached and keep the battery terminals free of corrosion. It is not enough to simply remove external corrosion either. Proper cleaning requires disconnecting the cables to clean the areas where the ends contact the battery terminals. Most batteries have a three- to five-year service life. If your battery is nearing the end of its life cycle, have it tested to see if a replacement is in order.