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Make sure your road trip doesn’t end with a ride in a tow truck

We're planning to do a road trip this summer and wonder what we should remember to prepare before setting off? – Jane & Travis in Coquitlam, B.C.

Unlike winter road trips, when sub-zero survival and peak vehicle condition are typically top of mind, safety often takes a back seat in warmer weather as we focus instead on which tunes to play and the sights to visit.

If you're planning to venture outside the comfort of your daily commute this summer, have your vehicle serviced first.

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"It's the critical fluids, things like coolant for your engine and oils in the various components of your car, making sure those are topped up and not leaking. Making sure the tires are good, the belts and hoses, a general visual inspection to ensure all the things are working the way they're supposed to, that nothing has come loose from the car and is hanging down," says Ken Cousin, spokesperson for BCAA's Road Assist.

"Just because your car may be newer doesn't mean that some of these things should be overlooked. There are a lot of pieces in an automobile and things tend to go wrong regardless of age, and that will pretty much put a halt to your vacation," says Cousin.

In a survey recently conducted by Ipsos Reid for BCAA, one-third of drivers in the 18-34 age bracket said they don't have their vehicle serviced before a road trip.

"We see more overheating and charging system failures in the summer, because as your systems are working, they're going to get hotter. We see more fuel system failures; cars run on electric fuel pumps now, they get hot and that can be a problem. This can happen all year, but it's more common in the summer," says Cousin.

In case of emergency, you'll want your usual jumper cables, flares, a flashlight and first-aid kit – and remember to pack proper footwear in the event you have to walk. Carrying some non-perishable food and lots of water is also important.

Reflective clothing or safety vests, and even a pop-up safety cone, are essential. If you break down at night on the highway, you want to be seen.

Carrying a small fire extinguisher is also recommended. "It's good to have in case something happens to you, and also if something happens to somebody else. Depending on where you carry it in the car, it can also be used to break a window if you need to get out," says Cousin.

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GPS and cellphones are the modern navigation tools, but if these technical wonders fail, old-fashioned maps will come in handy.

"Tell people when you expect to be where. We've all heard the stories of people disappearing, and others not knowing for several days that they're missing. If you said, 'I'm going to go somewhere very rural, and I'll check in at this time,' that would be a good idea. Because sometimes GPS and phones don't work in all areas," says Cousin.

Although you're on vacation, don't let your defensive driving skills lapse.

"Most people think it's the other guy that they have to worry about, but everybody has a part in making sure the roads are safe. You have to be rested and make sure you're prepared. You don't want to finish work at 6 p.m. and decide to start your vacation a few hours early and drive all night," says Cousin.

Remember, some RV owners only dust off their rigs once a year, and aren't necessarily adept at manoeuvring a 30-foot machine at 100 km/ph.

Finally, if you're heading south, don't forget to carry travel medical insurance, no matter how short the trip.

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"As the survey indicates, there are too many drivers leaving home unprepared. Time is precious, and the last thing you need is your vacation interrupted. We're there for you if you need us and while it's a lot of fun to ride in a tow truck – it's not most people's idea of a great vacation," says Cousin.

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About the Author

Joanne Will is based in Toronto. She has been a regular contributor to The Globe and Mail since 2009. In 2014, she was a Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. More


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