Snowbirds are taking wing, returning to northern climes as temperatures here climb.
Motorists among them should be aware of some must-do preparations when planning any long drive.
Get a mechanic you trust to check your vehicle before you set out. Today’s vehicles chirp, burble, whistle and talk to you, but those conveniences tax the mechanical and electrical systems in ways mysterious to most drivers.
Things you can do yourself are fairly basic — and thus important:
* Tires: always critical. Check them for wear and tear, not only the treads, but the tire walls, where heat, use and age create cracks. Make sure you have a normal highway-grade tire as a spare — and that it’s full of air.
* Make sure your jack works easily. Check the tools to change tires: lug wrench, a tool to take off hubcaps, a one-foot piece of 3x6-inch plank on which to set the jack for changing tires on an uneven surface.
* Check all engine hoses for cracks (motor heat fries many standard hoses), bulges, bad connections (to radiator, heater, coolant tank, etc.). Do this early: hoses to fit your vehicle many not be in your mechanic’s inventory.
* Check all engine belts, turning them to see if there are hidden cracks or tearing. This is where the emergency panty hose can play their part — if you miss a crack that breaks just as you arrive in the legendary middle-of-nowhere. Folded narrowly, panty hose shape themselves well to the drive wheels that propel a car’s belts. A good pair can last up to 300 miles.
* Clean your battery of electrolyte buildup with a mixture of water and baking soda; an old toothbrush can do the trick.
* Check levels of fluids (brakes, coolant, oil, transmission, window washer).
* Look under the car for fluid leaks. Detect slow leaks by putting a layer of newspaper on the garage floor the length of your car overnight.
*Place your heaviest cargo over the back axel — think of all the topes (speed bumps) and pot holes that exist in Mexico.
* Open cargo spaces of your vehicle should not contain items that can become dangerous projectiles of you come to a sudden stop. Avoid putting objects on the dashboard or rear deck.
*Remember consistent use of the air conditioner severely taxes your vehicle. Local mechanics report that air conditioning problems make up a good percentage of their trade. Rolling down windows may cut your gas economy, but can be a sensible trade-off.
* When driving long distances, carry extra water, coolant, motor oil, engine belts, jumper cables, duct tape, tool kit, two flashlights (large and small), a first-aid kit, all pertinent medicines and two rolls of toilet paper.
* Study a map of the highway you’re taking. Plan your overnight stops so that you don’t drive in the dark — unless you’re getting an early start, at say, 4 a.m. That gives you some cool driving time.
* Remember, Mexican livestock often graze on the shoulders of the road, crossing highways at will. Also, cantina-weary drivers often pull to a stop wherever they are to rest.
* Lock all doors, whether you are in or out of your vehicle.
* Keep in mind that holidays and weekends can mean some service stations may run out of gas. Don’t let your gas gauge drop below a quarter of a tank.
* Keep an eye on your vehicle’s temperature, oil pressure and other warning gauges and lights designed to alert you to possible problems.
* Use highway service stations to allow your car, and you, to rest. Walk around, stretch your legs, get the kinks out, replace snacks and beverages.
* This is where a roll of toilet paper may be useful.
* Your vehicle, heavily loaded with cargo, will take three times the distance to stop than usual, and will be harder to maneuver.
* Do not get distracted changing CDs; pull to the shoulder to deal with such things, including looking for sunglasses – always take a pair. Try to keep snacks, sandwiches and beverages safely placed where you can get at them without taking your eyes off the 18-wheeler coming over the ridge.
* Raw potatoes: For that instant when the nearby ocean beckons you to catch a couple of waves, even though it’s jelly fish season in some areas of the Mexican coast. Rubbing sliced raw potato on jelly fish stings helps.
* Cross the border at one of the less-used ports of entry, crossing early in the morning if possible, to avoid long delays caused by thorough security checks.