Road trip vacation tips and resources

stockphoto from MS Office Images

Let’s face it: Summer driving in Arizona deserts can wreak havoc on our vehicles, temperament and wallet. Once again I have compiled some hot weather driving prevention measures, safety precautions and travel tips from which we can all benefit:

Car check. The best time to “summerize” your vehicle was probably back in April, before the temperatures soar above 100 degrees. But if you’re just getting around to it; don’t forget to:

  • inspect your tires for wear and proper pressure. (Don’t forget the spare tire too!)
  • flush radiator and add new coolant
  • check your battery (Arizona heat allows a battery life of about two years — if you’re lucky!)
  • replace windshield wipers (It’s easy to forget about doing anything with wipers until the first heavy monsoon rain.)
  • check oil condition, level and filters
  • replace air filter
  • fix windshield dings and cracks, or replace windshield if necessary (you know how these grow and expand during extended freeway driving)

Emergency car kit. You probably should carry these items year-round, but they are especially important if you plan a motor vacation. Include:

  • duct tape
  • black electrical tape
  • flashlight with fresh batteries
  • jumper cables
  • safety vest
  • tow rope
  • water for radiator
  • flares
  • cell phone and auto or solar charger
  • first aid kit with motion sickness pills (for the passengers in back)
  • umbrella, hat and sunblock (in case you breakdown in an unshaded area)
  • drinking water and nonperishable food items (crackers, nuts – items that won’t melt)
  • car towels, rags for handling clean ups
  • “Ove Glove” for handling hot surfaces like the steering wheel
  • windshield shade (so you won’t need to use the aforementioned Ove Glove)

Avoid distractions. Keep kids busy with activity packets and travel games. Stow away cell phones or allow use by passengers only! Absolutely no texting or phone calls while driving! Load those DVDs for the backseat,  “Radar Love” travel tunes and audio books BEFORE you start driving.

Navigation aids: GPS, maps, itineraries, etc. (Don’t throw away those paper maps yet! They can still be used as backups.) Get the latest road trip travel apps and updates for your iPhone or Android. Find out how to access the current highway construction locations and roadway conditions? Call 5-1-1 in Arizona or visit the Arizona Dept. of Transportation website.

Other important stuff: Never leave home without: driver’s license, car insurance papers, automobile club identification card, credit cards, passports for driving outside the US. Plus, keep photocopies of all these documents in a separate location.

More driving vacation resources and information:

1. Don’t forget about Fido! Here’s my blog post about pet travel.

2. Get to know ADOT’s Highway Hawk.

3. Information about motorist Freeway Services from Arizona Dept. of Public Safety.

4. Road trip tips with many good suggestions from Fodor’s reader forums.

5. Great info on a variety of motoring topics from the forum page at Roadtrip America.

Readers: This is just a partial list of road trip packing lists, driving necessities and services. What’s on your list?


Gas saving tips for motorists

With gas prices escalating again to expected highs of $4.00 per gallon or more, it’s wise to take another look at our driving habits.

The Department of Energy’s consumer website offers motorists advice about keeping your car in shape, planning trips, choosing a vehicle and the following, about driving more efficiently:

Drive Sensibly

Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas. It can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town. Sensible driving is also safer for you and others, so you may save more than gas money.

Fuel Economy Benefit: 5–33%
Equivalent Gasoline Savings: $0.17–$1.15/gallon

Observe the Speed Limit

While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph.

You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.28 per gallon for gas.

Observing the speed limit is also safer.


Fuel Economy Benefit: 7–23%
Equivalent Gasoline Savings: $0.24–$0.80/gallon

Remove Excess Weight

Avoid keeping unnecessary items in your vehicle, especially heavy ones. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your MPG by up to 2 percent. The reduction is based on the percentage of extra weight relative to the vehicle’s weight and affects smaller vehicles more than larger ones.

Fuel Economy Benefit: 1–2%/100 lbs
Equivalent Gasoline Savings: $0.03–$0.07/gallon

Avoid Excessive Idling

Idling can use a quarter to a half gallon of fuel per hour, depending on engine size and air conditioner (AC) use. Turn off your engine when your vehicle is parked. It only takes a few seconds worth of fuel to restart your vehicle. Turning your engine on and off excessively, however, may increase starter wear.

Fuel Cost Savings: $0.01–$0.03/min. (AC off)
$0.02–$0.03/min. (AC on)

Use Cruise Control

Using cruise control on the highway helps you maintain a constant speed and, in most cases, will save gas.

Use Overdrive Gears

When you use overdrive gearing, your car’s engine speed goes down. This saves gas and reduces engine wear.

Note: Cost savings are based on an assumed fuel price of $3.48/gallon.

Data Sources

Estimates for fuel savings from sensible driving are based on Energy and Environmental Analysis, Inc., Owner Related Fuel Economy Improvements, Arlington, Virginia, 2001.

Estimates for the effect of speed on MPG are based on a study by West, B.H., R.N. McGill, J.W. Hodgson, S.S. Sluder, and D.E. Smith, Development and Verification of Light-Duty Modal Emissions and Fuel Consumption Values for Traffic Models, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, March 1999.