Trip Planner

Don't drive 15 hours a day.

Think your reaction time is just as good at 10 p.m. as it was at 7 a.m.? You're kidding yourself. Professional truckers aren't supposed to don't drive more than 12 hours a day - and for good reason.

And, even if you're keeping it under 12 hours, it's still important to stop frequently. Take a 15 to 30-minute doughnut break and stretch every few hours.

Don't drive at a sustained, very high speed all day.
It's very hard on your car.

Check your air pressure before you start driving every day.

Improper air pressure can lead to poor handling, or in extreme cases, a tire blowout. Check your tire pressure every day - before you start driving. If you check your tire pressure during a pit stop, the pressure reading will be high due to the heat created by driving.

Keep your eyes on your gauges.

Unless you're driving a Hummer, the gauges on your vehicle aren't just there to make the dash look pretty. They're there for a reason: eventually, something will go wrong - and your gauges might tip you off, before it's too late.

Here are some specific tips for five of your car's most important gauges:

If the reading is above normal, slow down for a while and see if the needle returns to its usual location. Speed, a heavy load, and extreme heat can cause the engine to run hot, even if nothing else is wrong. But if the temperature does not return to normal at slower speeds, drive slowly to the nearest safe pit stop and have a mechanic check it out. If the gauge gets near "H," or the "HOT" light comes on, it's best to pull over immediately and call for help so you don't do permanent damage to your engine.

This indicator doesn't measure the amount of oil in your car's engine -- it measures the pressure of the oil. And the results of ignoring this gauge can be disastrous. If you keep driving with the oil light on, your car could melt down in front of your eyes in a mile or two.

Unfortunately, there's no way to tell whether the problem is just a malfunctioning sensor or something far more serious. So, we recommend you pull over as soon as it's safely possible to do so, turn off the engine and check your oil level. If you're lucky, you'll just need to add oil (lack of oil can cause low oil pressure). If you're unlucky, you'll be glad you got that car club membership and the cell phone.

If this light comes on, it means that your car isn't creating the electricity it needs. You may have less - and sometimes a lot less -- than an hour of driving before your engine shuts down. If the battery light comes on, immediately shut off all accessories, like the radio, air conditioning, heater fan, navigation system and electric George Foreman grill the kids are using in the back. Then pull into the nearest gas station and ask them to check your car's charging system.

If this light comes on, it is generally not an emergency. All it usually means is that your vehicle's computer has detected an irregular reading in one of the many engine sensors that it monitors. Often, the problem is related to the emissions control system, which can wait until you get to a mechanic. Don't panic over this one.

By the way, why is it that the Czechs get to make all the check engine lights, anyway? What is it that they know that we don't?

If the gas light comes on, it's a clear indication that the person behind the wheel is in too much of a hurry, or is testing some hare-brained theory about the hours saved by saving one or two pit stops over the course of an entire vacation. In our humble opinion, if the gas light comes on, you might want to start thinking about finding someone else to drive.

Whatever happens -- relax. Remember: You're on vacation!