(AOL Autos) -- Summer vacation means one thing to many families: road trip.
Road trips are still one of the most cost-effective ways to explore the country and bond as a family.
Even with fuel prices skyrocketing, heading out on the road is still one of the most cost-effective, and fun, ways to explore the country and bond as a family.
Before you hit the trail, we have a few suggestions to help make your family road trip a smooth ride.
An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure. Some of our suggestions fall into the category of routine maintenance; some can be considered emergency preparation; some suggestions are designed to help you get more out of your trip.
All of the suggestions should help you to drive safely and allow you to enjoy getting to your destination.
1. Maintenance: tires
Be sure to perform a thorough inspection of all four tires (and your spare) before you hit the road. Check for proper inflation, your owner's manual will tell you the right pressure. Check the tread depth and condition, and inspect the side walls for any cracks or bulges.
2. Maintenance: hoses and belts
It's time to open that hood. With the engine off, make a quick visual inspection of all of your hoses and belts. Look closely at the edges of the belts for any stray threads or roughness. Look at the hoses and clamps. Give the hoses a squeeze, if they feel too spongy, they may need to be replaced.
3. Maintenance: fluids
Now is a good time to get an oil change, and to install a new oil filter. While you're at it, make sure that your antifreeze, brake fluid, power steering fluid and transmission fluid levels are at full and that the fluids are within their useful lifetimes. Don't forget your windshield wiper fluid and blades -- you want to actually see the country.
4. Maintenance: brakes
You've checked your brake fluid, now it's time to inspect your brakes. First, use your ears: do you notice any scraping sounds when you apply the brakes, or any squealing (like metal-on-metal)? Those are bad sounds for brakes. Now use your nose: any burning smell? Finally, your eyes: inspect those brakes for obvious rust, pitting or damage. Have your brakes inspected if you are unsure about their condition.
5. Maintenance: air conditioning
Summer means heat. Nothing can spoil a road trip faster than a bum air conditioning system. Luckily, a little prevention can help keep things cool in the cabin. Ask your mechanic to check and change your cabin air filter, and to let you know if your system needs flushing.
6. Emergency preparation: cell phone
One of the best emergency tools you can carry is a fully-charged cell phone. Don't forget to carry a cell phone charger or two in your vehicle as well. If you don't want to have an ongoing cell phone bill, pick up a "pay-as-you-go" cell phone to keep in your glove compartment, strictly for emergency use.
7. Emergency preparation: first aid kit Even if you have a cell phone, you may need to administer first aid to someone in your family or to a stranger. Be sure that you have a well-stocked, fresh first aid kit with bandages, gauze, pain reliever, allergy medication and antiseptic. You can buy a good starter kit for around $20, and customize from there to meet your family's needs.
8. Emergency preparation: tools
Don't head out on your road trip without a few basic tools -- A selection of screwdrivers; a hammer; a rubber mallet; an adjustable wrench; a lineman's pliers; a wire cutter; a pair of needle nose pliers; some baling wire; a can of WD-40; and a rag. You never know when a simple tool can save your family vacation.
9. Fun and learning: maps and navigation
Spontaneity is great, but when it comes to a family road trip, a little planning goes a long way. Grab some maps, and spend an evening as a family planning your adventure. Even better, invest in a portable GPS Navigation unit and program your trip into the computer before you head out. AOL Autos: GPS showdown
10. Fun and learning: in-car entertainment
Sure, you can buy DVD players, MP3 players and portable gaming units for each passenger in your vehicle. There's a place for that. But don't forget about good old-fashioned family fun. Organize a sing-along, play license plate bingo, point out interesting landmarks or even talk to each other. Your road trip can start a great family journey that never ends.
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