Summer is here and many people are looking forward to their first vacations and “road trips” in more than a year. Some also have delayed regular maintenance or put off major repairs due to reduced income and concerns about their existing savings, but now that restrictions on many public activities are easing, they’re preparing to spend more time on the highway.
Summer also is prime time for another group to be out in force on the highway: road-construction crews. Work zones are popping up all over the country again, bringing traffic jams, torn-up pavement and unfamiliar detours. The combination of under-maintained vehicles and less-than-ideal roadways is a recipe for breakdowns, leading to potential sales for parts and service providers nationwide.
The undercar category is especially vulnerable to these road conditions, specifically chassis parts, brakes and tires. When it comes to construction zones, we’re often driving on uneven or rough surfaces, on the shoulder and even on temporary roads. Repeated shocks to wheel bearings, tie rods and suspension components will accelerate wear and tear on these parts, and for components that are already in need of replacement, that added stress may lead to catastrophic failure.
Worn shocks and struts not only affect ride quality, but they also can lead to poor handling and increased braking distances. Brakes are always a critical safety concern, but their importance is magnified in work zones. Stop-and-go driving in a traffic jam means repeated application of your brakes, and panic stops are common. No matter how much signage is placed to warn us of upcoming work zones, there will be someone who waits until the very last moment to decelerate to the zone’s posted speed limit, and quick reflexes are useless without good brakes!
When traffic slows to a crawl in the summer heat, cooling and HVAC systems have to work even harder than those road crews. At highway speeds, air forced through the radiator, transmission cooler and A/C condenser helps keep these components working effectively. Idling, stop-and-go driving and cranking the A/C all place extra demand on these systems. A fully functioning fan will help pull air through those fins, drawing heat out of each system. Coolant, transmission fluid and refrigerant should all be filled to appropriate levels to maximize these cooling effects.
Breaking down is never fun, but it can become even more of a nightmare (for everyone) if it occurs in the middle of an active work zone. Narrowed lanes, construction vehicles and crewmembers and the lack of pull-off areas make finding a safe place to stop much more difficult. If a vehicle becomes immobile and can’t be removed from the travel lanes, everyone suffers. Even if it’s not your vehicle broken down, you may find yourself caught up in the aftermath, so be prepared to sit and wait it out if the situation arises. A traffic jam means that police and other emergency services may not be able to respond effectively, tow-truck operators will be delayed and that guy who was counting on making it to the next gas station on fumes is probably going to need a ride … and a gas can!
As counter professionals and travelers, let’s be prepared for the increased traffic on the road (and in our stores) this summer. We’ve become more accustomed to looking out for each other in the past year or so, but we also should keep an eye on our speed and watch out for our road crews when passing through work zones. Those