Memorial Day traditionally signals the start of both the boating season and the summer driving season. Schools are out and families hit the road for summer vacations to visit family, friends, and destinations they couldn’t get to during the school year. Gas prices always go up a certain amount this time of year as demand for fuel escalates with more cars on the road driving more miles.
Gas Prices Are Down. A Lot.
2016 is shaping up for a less-painful summer driving season than in years past. Gas prices are at their lowest point in over ten years - $2.26 per gallon national average for Memorial Day weekend, down from $2.71 on Memorial Day 2015. This has translated to real and significant savings for the American family. Through the first five months of 2016, Americans have saved more than $15 billion in gas money over the same period a year ago. That means extra discretionary income to spend on traveling over the summer.
These gas savings have directly influenced consumer behavior – a AAA survey indicated that 55% of Americans are more likely to take a road trip this year, directly because of lower gas prices. Long wait times at the airport may also be a contributing factor. The horror stories at some airports of missing flights despite getting there 3 hours early would normally be enough to turn off even the most adventurous traveler. To be fair, the actual wait times really aren't that bad - 99% of air travelers get through security in less than 15 minutes. But the perception is what drives behavior, and at least some of the summer road trippers this year will be on the road because they were scared off by what they think might happen at the airport.
Where are people heading this summer? Turns out, the top destinations are a mix of warm weather spots and historic American cities. Travel agencies report that the top 5 summer destinations will be Orlando (hello, Bell Performance), Myrtle Beach, Miami, New York City, and Washington D.C.
Summer Driving Tips for 2016
Assuming that you’re one of the many who plan to head out to new destinations this summer, here are some handy reminders to help you get the most out of your summer driving this year.
Check Your Tires
We’ve done other summer driving safety blogs before, so no need to rehash the same advice every year. Just the important stuff, though. AAA recommends that, before setting out on the road, you check your battery and tire condition.
Tires are the most common thing to fail on a road trip. Check the tire tread for uneven wear that might indicate a problem. Make sure to check your tire pressure as well – get an inexpensive pressure gauge and check the tire pressure when it’s cold. What pressure should they be at? The sticker in the doorjamb will tell you the recommended tire pressure. Just remember, inflating a tire to a higher pressure gives better gas mileage but is less safe in rainy conditions. Inflating tires to a lower pressure gives the opposite – more safety in wet conditions but a little bigger hit on your gas mileage.
Check Your Battery, Especially If Your Typical Driving Patterns Are Short Distances
On the other hand, car manufacturers in Germany and Japan report that battery failure is the most common complaint from their customers. And there’s nothing different between those countries and the United States. Car batteries are a set-it-and-forget-it proposition for the average family, so it’s always a surprise when the battery fails at the least convenient time.
Today’s cars are packed with more power-draining “auxiliary features” than ever before. Taking a lot of short trips, over time, can cause the battery to undergo acid sulfation – a condition where the electrolyte in the battery becomes more concentrated at the bottom of the battery, leaving the top portion of the battery electrolyte-poor. Think of it like a cup of tea or coffee whose sugar has settled to the bottom of the mug.
Normally, this problem is avoided by giving the battery sufficient time to recharge on trips. But if you drive short distances with lots of things running (stereo, GPS, wipers), your battery is at higher risk of not being able to properly recharge. It ends up running on low charge for extended periods of time, and that puts you at greater risk of being stranded on your summer trip when your battery finally decides to give out.
The solution is to check your battery terminals for signs of corrosion. Clean them off with baking soda if you see any – disconnect the whole terminal, and don’t just pour baking soda + water on the top. Also, take your vehicle to your local big box auto parts store (AutoZone, O’Reillys, etc) and have them run a simple free battery charge test. That can give you a good answer as to whether your battery is on the brink of failure.