Summer is the perfect time to take a road trip or visit friends and relatives who live far away. Your car is a gateway to visiting the big city, going on a fishing trip, taking a hike in the woods or just barbecuing at the lake. Before leaving for a trip, you should ensure that your vehicle is in proper working condition. After all, nothing ruins a warm sunny day like getting stranded on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck. Follow these five easy steps to make sure your summer road trip is a safe and inexpensive endeavor.

1. Check your tires

Checking your tires is a good idea when you go on any long trip, no matter what season it is. Over time, your tires can become deflated and may need to be topped off with some air. Usually, your car's owner's manual will have the proper air pressure. You can also check the driver door jamb for a sticker with the prescribed pressure levels. Low tire pressure can hurt your car's fuel economy and make it harder to steer, which is a serious safety issue.

Also, make sure you have plenty of tread (using the penny test), and that the wear is distributed evenly along each tire. If your tread is low or worn unevenly, visit a tire shop to remedy the problem as soon as possible.

2. Get your brakes inspected

Your brakes are among the most important safety devices in your car. Worn-out brakes can mean the difference between a harsh stop and a serious accident. If you haven't had your brakes checked in the past year, swing by a local shop to have them inspect the wear on your pads. For most cars, a visual inspection takes only a few minutes and can literally save your life.

3. Inspect your belts

As a car ages, the belts become dry and brittle, causing them to crack and, eventually, break. If your belt snaps on the road, your car will cease working and you'll lose a lot of time and money having it towed to the nearest shop. The time it takes to get a belt inspection is a tiny fraction of the time it takes to get pulled home from the middle of nowhere.

4. Top off coolant

Your car's cooling system is particularly critical when the weather heats up and you're running the air conditioner to stay nice and frosty inside. If your car's low coolant light has come on in the last few months, open up the hood and check the coolant level. Most cars have a built-in gauge that indicates the proper level. Only check your coolant level when the car has not been driven recently, and make sure to top off with distilled water to avoid impurities.

5. Refill window washer fluid reservoir

During a long trip, your windshield will assuredly become covered in dust and dead bugs. To make sure you can quickly and easily remove these without having to stop at a gas station, ensure that your window washer fluid reservoir is full. You can buy the fluid at your local auto parts store, and it's usually relatively cheap. The window washer fluid reservoir on most cars is easy to find under the hood, as it's indicated by a picture of a windshield on the cap.

Stan Markuze is the founder of PartMyRide.com, the online marketplace for original used auto parts.

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