Don't wait until you're in an emergency situation to think about the safety of your vehicle. With a little preventative maintenance and some preparation, you'll always be ready for any issue that may arise.
1. Have a mechanic give your car a checkup every year or every 12,000 to 15,000 miles. This checkup should include tires, belts and hoses, fluid levels, brakes, the front end, the spare tire, the battery and terminals, and the engine electronics. Have the car looked at before a long trip if it is getting old or if you have any doubts.
2. If you are ambitious, learn how to check your own oil, brake fluid and power-steering fluid. The old rule of thumb of changing the oil every 3,000 miles may not apply to newer cars. Follow your owner's manual for oil-change recommendations.
3. Keep your tires properly inflated; you'll be safer and more comfortable, and your tires will last longer. You'll also save money on fuel. Get a tire pressure gauge and check tire pressure about once a month.
4. Be prepared for emergencies. If you have a cell phone, take it with you. Keep jumper cables in your trunk, along with flares, matches and warning flags or reflective triangles to place behind your vehicle to alert other drivers in case of breakdown. Also, keep a properly inflated spare, a jack, a wheel wrench, a flashlight with fresh batteries, towels and an exterior windshield cleaner. Tote a gallon jug of tap water for long trips in case the car overheats.
In winter, don't forget an ice scraper, snow brush and small shovel. If you're handy, keep a tool kit with screwdriver, pliers, hammer and duct tape for makeshift hose repairs.