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Is your car ready for road trip travel?

March 25, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Spring break is a time when many families take short road trips, but is your car ready for the travel? The last thing you want is a breakdown that could leave you stranded on the highway. Consumer Specialist Ric Romero has some advice on how to avoid some unwelcome surprises. Blowouts, dead batteries and broken drive belts can all be avoided. With the help of Consumer Reports auto experts, we show you how to deal with car breakdowns, before they happen.

It's one thing if your car needs to go into the shop for repairs and you can make it to a mechanic, but it's quite another if you're out in the middle of nowhere. For most of us, today's cars are a mystery under the hood because of all of the computer electronics.

"There are a lot of things that can go wrong," said Mike Quincy, an auto expert with Consumer Reports.

Quincy says there are ways to prevent some of the most common breakdowns. Take tires for example.

"Check your tires, make sure that the air pressure is exactly the way the manufacturer wants it. Not only will the tires wear better. They'll be safer and you'll get better gas mileage," said Quincy.

Another common breakdown problem is a fluid leak, although, not all fluids coming from the car mean trouble.

"Sometimes you can just get a little condensation from the air conditioner system. It's just water that harmlessly comes to the ground," said Quincy.

But if the fluid is black, that's oil. If it's green, orange or yellow, it's radiator coolant. And if it's brown or reddish you've got a transmission or brake problem. All of these need to be looked at right away.

When the engine won't turn over or start, it usually means a dead battery. So before that happens, "Get it inspected, make sure you bring it into a mechanic. They can get a sense of where the charge is, how old the battery is," said Quincy. "Most batteries have a date stamped on it. Definitely check the alternator as well."

A blown fuse may be impossible to prevent but before it goes, "Have some extra fuses and a fuse puller. It's good to have a little emergency kit in your trunk," said Quincy.

And then there are the drive belts. "You can inspect that, see if it's warm, if it's loose, or if it hasn't been replaced in a while. And certainly more important things like a timing belt, you need to get that replaced on a regular basis," said Quincy.

And don't forget about your windshield and window washer fluid. Many accidents are a result of poor visibility. You might want to carry extra wiper blades in the trunk of your car, as well as non-freezing washer fluid.