Getting your car ready for the road

Keep your cool

If you do encounter car troubles while traveling, it's important to stay as calm as possible.

Flick on your hazard lights and slowly head over to the side of the road. Pull your car onto the far right shoulder as far as it will possibly go. Set the emergency brake and place flares or warning triangles behind the vehicle.

Call for emergency road service. You'll need to tell the operator your exact location and give a description of your vehicle including year, make, model, color and license plate number.

Be sure to ask about towing charges and the location of a nearby, reliable repair shop. If your car is still under a new car warranty, you may want to ask about the nearest dealership.

If you're a member of AAA, ask that the car be taken to the nearest AAA-approved auto repair shop. AAA screens each shop for reliability, honesty, fair pricing and training of mechanics. Certified technicians perform repairs.

Another strategy is to take your car to a shop belonging to a national repair network such as Napa Auto Care Center, CARQUEST Tech-Net or Bumper to Bumper Service Centers.

These repair shops offer nationwide warranties and only certified technicians will work on your car.

Check the credentials

If you're unsure about the quality of a repair shop, check to see if the mechanics are certified by National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, or ASE.

ASE-certified mechanics must pass comprehensive exams and must be recertified every five years. If auto technicians are certified, certificates will be prominently displayed in the repair shop.

If your car conks out in a hotel parking lot, ask the concierge at the hotel about a reliable local shop. You won't be the first traveler whose car has broken down at the hotel.

Once your car is taken to a shop, tell the mechanic everything that happened. Don't leave out any detail, no matter how minor it may seem.

"Be as descriptive as possible," Bennett says. "Don't try to hide anything, thinking it will save you money, because everything's connected."

With a lot of pre-trip maintenance and a little luck, you won't have to spend a second of your vacation in a repair shop far from home.


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