Is your car ready for your Memorial Day Weekend road trip?

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Many people have concerns about taking their cars on long trips, especially if their cars are getting on in years or mileage. Truth is, long trips are actually easier on your car than day-to-day driving -- but a breakdown far from home can really ruin your fun. A few simple checks will stave off many common problems. As with most things, it's best to start early.

Before you go:

Get any major repairs done. If your car needs major repair or maintenance, do it at least one month before you go. That will allow plenty of time for any problems related to the repair to pop up.

Check the coolant. If your destination is a lot warmer or cooler than home, check (or have your mechanic check) the coolant's mixture of antifreeze and water to make sure the car is properly protected. If the coolant needs to be changed, do it (or have it done) now.

Check the tires. Make sure your tires are inflated to the proper pressure. Low pressure can cause extra heat buildup that can lead to a blowout at high speeds. Follow the instructions for checking tire pressure in your owner's manual. While you're down there, check the tire tread. Put a penny, edge on with Lincoln's head pointing down, in one the grooves of the tire. If you can see the space above Abe's head, it's time for new tires.

Check the spare tire. Make sure the spare is fully inflated and that the jack, wrench, and other tire-changing bits are in the trunk. If your car has wheel locks, make sure you have the adapter for the lock-nut.

Check the glovebox. Check for the owner's manual and registration. If the manual is missing, consider ordering a replacement before you go. Some automakers have manuals in PDF format on their web sites. Check the registration to make sure it won't expire during your trip. Consider carrying it in your wallet in case the car is stolen.

Get any scheduled maintenance done. If you think your car is going to come due for an oil change or other maintenance during your trip, get it done now.

Clean out your car. The more stuff you haul, the more fuel you burn. Clean mercilessly. If you're going to the Grand Canyon in the summer, do you really need those snow chains? My rule: If in doubt, take it out. If you miss anything in the next 6 days before your trip, you can always put it back.

Check the air filter. A clogged air filter reduces fuel economy. They're inexpensive and easy to change. If your current air filter has been in the car for more than 10,000 miles, it's time to clean it or change it.

Buy a road atlas. If you don't have a current road atlas, get one. Hours and hours of expressway can get boring. Getting off the beaten path can add an entirely new dimension to your trip.

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