Summer Traffic Hacks That Everyone Will Benefit from Knowing

Quick Facts:

  • Americans drive, on average, the least during winter months (January through March) at 25.7 miles daily; they drive the most during the summer months (July through September) at 30.6 miles daily. [AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety]
  • By easing into a stop, rather than slamming on the pedal, you’ll extend the life of your brakes and get the appropriate 20,000-30,000 miles rather than 10,000. If you drive a higher-end car, the wear will be even quicker. [Money.com]
  • Keeping your tires inflated can improve your gas mileage by 3.3%, saving drivers anywhere from $112 to $800 a year. [Money.com]

If you’re like many Americans, your summer plans include some sort of road trip. A trip to the beach with your kids, a camping trip with friends, a family cookout–three-day weekends just beg us to hop in the car and go someplace.

Memorial Day is the first summer-ish holiday, ushering in three solid months of sunshine and adventures. The American obsession with summer road trips goes back to the days when Henry Ford first made cars affordable enough for the average person to buy one and start casting their gaze beyond their hometowns. Big cities were suddenly within reach. A trip to the coast or the ski slopes wasn’t automatically out of the questions for everyday Americans. And a nation of explorers became obsessed with the wide open road.

Despite the rise in gas prices, AAA estimated that nearly 43 million Americans hopped in their car for a Memorial Day trip this year. It’s a big jump from last year (3.6%), and the second highest volume since AAA started keeping records back in 2000. Long live the American Road Trip!

Whether you’re headed to a three-day weekend adventure or just trying to navigate the daily grind, traffic patterns are probably going to give you a headache. The last thing you want is to let a roadside breakdown or hefty repair bill ruin your summer fun. Openbay is here to make sure that doesn’t happen with some helpful hacks to be a road trip/traffic/commute warrior.

Keep Cool(ant) All Summer Long

One summer when I was 13 years old, my dad took us on a magical trip from Texas to California. We stopped at Big Bend, the Grand Canyon, and Four Corners. Somewhere between Las Vegas and the Pacific Ocean, our engine overheated. We spent the next 50 miles blasting the heater on high while driving through Death Valley, praying we’d make it to the next auto repair shop. Want to know what I remember about that trip? Not the majesty of the desert mountains. I remember hanging my head out the rear window like the family dog, desperate for any hint of cool air. Avoid this disaster by following some simple preventative measures to keep your engine cool and your ride smooth.

Your car’s engine uses coolant to absorb heat and transfer it to the radiator to cool it down. Once it cools, the coolant is sent back into the engine to repeat the process. So now you know it’s essential to be aware of coolant levels and signs of a faulty radiator. Check manufacturer guidelines for coolant change intervals. If you follow them, your radiator should last the lifetime of your vehicle.

Coolant leaks or an OVERHEAT light on the dashboard are immediate signs of a faulty car radiator. If you notice these signs, immediately pull off the road in a safe place and shut off the engine. Wait five minutes or so before opening the hood to keep hot steam from scalding you. When it’s safe, you can check the coolant level with caution to avoid severe burns. If the level is low, you may be able to top off the coolant with ordinary water and proceed to the repair shop. If the overheating is not caused by an obviously low coolant level, you’re going to need a tow. If checking the level is not something you feel comfortable doing, don’t press on—call for a tow.

Don’t Ignore Your Belts

If you drive anything newer than a 1990 model, you’ll likely find a serpentine belt under your hood. Made from rubber, these belts will stretch, dry out, glaze over and crack over time. Serpentine belts are easy to replace, but if you’re not proactive and you drive until they break, you’ll end up stranded on the side of the road. Serpentine belts last a lot longer than older V-belts ever did, but they still wear out over time. The typical replacement interval for serpentine belts is around 90,000 miles. Driving in severe climates, especially near the ocean, and extra idling can subtract from these estimates. We recommend having a mechanic check for signs of wear and cracking at the beginning and end of winter and summer.

Brake! Brake!

Any commuter will tell you that during rush hour traffic, their foot is hovered over the brake far more than on the gas. It can feel like an actual triumph when you get to the point where you can oh, so slightly apply pressure to the accelerator–only to then have to slam down on the brake pedal, yet again. Traffic is hard on brakes, so make sure you pay attention. Do your brakes squeal in protest at the slightest pressure? Does the car pull to one side as you brake? Do you have to pump your brakes more than usual in heavy rain or other undesirable weather? Noisy brakes should always be inspected by a mechanic. If the brake pads have worn down to the point of metal-to-metal contact, you may be damaging your brake rotors or drums to the point where they need to be replaced. Worst case scenario, your vehicle may not be able to stop safely. Don’t wait until it’s too late to repair your brakes. They’re your last line of defense, after all.

Easy Ways to Avoid Engine Damage

Is there anything more aggravating than being stuck inching along at three-miles-per-hour. Gridlock is a living nightmare, and what it does to your patience levels is mirrored by what it’s doing to your vehicle. Stop-and-go traffic is taxing on your vehicle. When your engine is just idling, your car’s ventilation system is at its weakest. Harmful deposits can build up over time (acidic combustion parts and incompletely burned fuel), which can cause serious damage to fuel injection systems and combustion chambers. It doesn’t take a car expert to know that a damaged engine can cost you the big bucks.

The easiest way to prevent this? Frequent maintenance. Flush and replace fluids (brake, antifreeze, transmission, power steering and engine oil) according to manufacturer guidelines. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of regular oil changes, especially if you’re stuck in stop-and-go traffic on a regular basis. Seriously. It can be easy to keep putting off regular oil changes, just like you put off going to the dentist or doing your taxes, but they all have consequences. If you keep saying, “Meh, I can go another 200 miles,” don’t be surprised if one day your engine starts clanging away in that ominous way that means you’ve got some serious repair bills coming your way.

Fuel Economy: Get More Bang for Your Buck

Older vehicles (pre-2007) are likely not equipped with a tire-pressure monitoring system (TPMS). A good habit to build is checking your tire pressure every time you get gas. Most service intervals are now every six months, that’s a long time — too long — to go without checking your pressures. Better yet, invest in your own digital tire gauge to keep in your car. When tires are low on air, they cause greater drag and make your car work harder; this decreases your fuel efficiency, and puts an unnecessary drain on your wallet. More importantly, low tire pressure could put you and your passengers at greater risk of an accident. When in doubt, pull into an auto repair shop. Many mechanics will give you a complimentary tire-pressure inspection.

Congestion Pricing: Will It Help?

As if the prospect of wear-and-tear on your car and a bummer road trip experience weren’t enough, traffic has one more card to play: congestion pricing.

In an effort to combat climate change, many metros are implementing tolls to drive into heavily trafficked areas. In March 2019, for example, environmental and transit activists won a decade-long victory that made New York the first US city to approve a plan to charge for access to busy urban roads during rush hours. London, Stockholm, Milan, Washington. D.C., and soon perhaps Philadelphia, L.A., and a slew of other cities are implementing similar measures.

If you’re going to have to pay more to commute, why wouldn’t you look for ways to save money in other areas like car repair? Be proactive, people. Openbay.com makes it easier to find a trusted mechanic and select the service estimate within your budget. Just like the dentist tells you, being proactive is the way to avoid the astronomical cost and pain that comes with waiting too long to make good decisions.

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