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Your Road Trip Ride

The car you take on a road trip is something to consider.  Unless you’re loaded, you’ll want something that’s not too thirsty.  Comfort and convenience are certainly factors, each of us has their own must-haves.  Primarily, you’ll want something that’s not likely to leave you on hold with AAA.  You do have AAA, right?

There’s something attractive about the idea of an SUV for road trips.  It could be the extra space or better visibility, maybe the ability to get a little off the beaten path.  Big cars have a leg up too, your butt would very much appreciate a Caddy on those concrete roads in Jersey.  18 MPG might dash those dreams for most of us.  I’d rather spend $45 on gas every 400 miles than $95.  I also prefer a car with some agility, which is not at the top of everyone’s list, but I feel it’s a matter of safety on freeways.  For these reasons I choose the sport compact variety for long trips.  Not everyone will choose one, but it is a good compromise for all-around enjoyment of your trip.  Crossover SUVs, which are a little larger and are based on FWD car platforms are also a good choice if you want a little more room, and can afford a little more gasoline.  Also gaining popularity are touring versions of popular compact and mid-size sedans, which are well equipped and have a little extra space in an extended hatch area.  There are features worth having on any road trip car.  High capacity music storage, like an iPod connection or in-dash disc changer that plays MP3s, and rear seat entertainment if you have kids that may occasionally journey with you.  Tire pressure monitoring, so you know about a low tire before it becomes a shredded tire.  A cargo cover on hatch backs to make your belongings less enticing to less scrupulous passer-by.  Quality all-weather tires with a high tread wear rating will keep cool on long drives and keep standing water from putting you in a ditch.  Try and remember that you get what you pay for with tires, and don’t compromise there.  Cruise control will allow you to move your right foot once in a while, before it falls asleep.  Hands-free bluetooth connectivity is now widely available, and having a cell phone in your hand will get you a ticket in many places.  In-dash navigation is far less likely to be stolen than a universal unit, and won’t obstruct your view of the road.  Tinted windows are nice for privacy or keeping the sun and heat out, but not always legal and they do hamper visibility at night.  High intensity discharge lighting isn’t a bad idea, but be aware the bulbs are difficult to find in the event of a failure.  Fog lamps are always a great idea.  Finally, look for places to secure your things.  Less loose things in the car is better, both in spirited driving and a collision, so an extra glove box and dash/door/backseat storage is good to have.

My sport compact of choice is an 07 KIA Spectra sedan, with some performance modifications.  It doesn’t attract too much attention if I don’t want to, and gets fuel mileage in the mid thirties.  I have room in the car for everything I bring with me on long trips, plus a passenger and whatever they deem necessary to bring with them.  I have owned it since new and maintain it very well, resulting in perfect reliability so far, without a single mechanical breakdown.  I have an in-dash navigation unit with bluetooth and SD card slot that store 32GB of music for days of random playback.  I have the factory tire pressure monitoring installed in the 17” Yokohama Avid ENVigor tires.  The Spectra comes with a overhead console with storage for my spare set of glasses, or possibly sunglasses.  It also has a pair of 12V power outlets in the center console to charge my cell and handheld radio.

Liberty park 2

Whatever you choose to drive on that long trip, be sure it’s modern and well-maintained.  Fresh wipers should always be on the car before a long trip, and it’s a good idea to change the tires if they’re more than 60-70% worn, especially in the winter.

Don’t Ask for Directions

Deciding on a route for a road trip is as important as where you want to go.  This doesn’t always have to be done in advance, sometimes it’s fun to get lost, without actually getting lost.  Being a good navigator isn’t just about being able to read a map, you should be resourceful in finding your way without one if required.  It’s one of those things like being able to know roughly what direction your headed based on where the sun is at a certain time of day.  There are patterns that will help you do this, and once you get a hang of it, it can make you look psychic to people who aren’t as adept.

Understanding the basic history of our highway systems and how they work goes a long way in keeping you from getting lost and planning where you may decide to go. Some roads in the eastern states have been established since colonial times, only changing alignment from time to time where it was required in densely populated areas for other public works projects. It’s possible to trace many major routes’ beginnings to trails used for western settlement. This is because those routes were established as the easiest way to get to somewhere worth going when it was difficult to travel across those long distances. Today these routes are cheaper and safer to use, leading to those places that are now large cities built because of their worthwhile locations. Trails were widened and worn into auto trails, then paved and improved over time into main streets and highways. Main roads were later assigned numerical designations to bring easier navigation by state governments before in 1926, a US highway numbering system was approved, replacing many of the previous route designations. For example, US route 1 was the ‘Atlantic Highway’, part of which was ‘NE 1’ in the New England road marking system of 1922. The US system was expanded and improved until the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 formed the Interstate highway system, which are freeways built for higher speed that supplement the other road systems. These newer highways have features that permit safer travel at higher speeds without interruption. These features include limited access with organized and numbered exits, wider and generally smoother road surfaces with out-of-lane breakdown areas, and secondary routing around heavily congested cities. These opposite characteristics give completely experiences while travelling. US routes tend to go through the middle of most towns they cross, with many stoplights and slower speeds due to the thickly settled nature of those areas. Interstates are much more time-efficient, with long stretches of smooth highway and not much else. Both will show you all of the scenery this country has to offer, but they deliver it differently. On US routes you will see more of the history and character of each specific place you may pass through, but if you’re going a long distance, you’ll probably need the shorter travel time promised by travelling at 70 MPH.

Our national highways are numbered a specific way, and will help you navigate.  Single and double digit numbered roads are numbered odd or even, depending on if they run roughly north-south or east-west.  US 1 runs north to south because it’s an odd number, US 2 runs east to west because it’s even.  We use that method for both national highway systems to make the rules easy to remember.  Because they are numbered the same way, the interstate and US grids are inverted.  The US route system has it’s lowest numbers starting in the north and east, and the interstate system has it’s lowest numbers in the south and west.  In the middle of the country, some numbers are omitted to prevent a US route and interstate with the same number in the same location.  For example, interstate 60 does not exist because it would run very near US 60 in the same direction.  Some double digit interstate numbers are also re-used when far enough away from each other, there are two I-84s, one from PA to MA and the other from UT to OR.   Triple digit highways are spurs of their parent roads, and have different rules for US and interstate systems.  Interstate 295 leaves 95 to bypass Providence, RI and rejoins 95 again, forming a loop because it’s first digit is even.  Interstate 195 intersects 95 in Providence, as a spur of 95, because it’s first digit is odd.  These triple digit interstate numbers are commonly re-used in other states.  US 202 is a spur of US 2, but does not rejoin it, instead the first digit indicates that it is the second spur of US 2 along it’s route.  Triple digit US route number may not be re-used anywhere else.  Double digit highways ending in 0 are mostly major cross-country routes.  US routes ending in 1 or 5 are major north to south routes.  One notable exception to the US numbering system is US 101 in CA, which is not a spur of US 1 on the east coast, but numbered as if it were a double digit route.

All of this will help you if you know a small amount of information about what roads cross at your destination.  Even if you run across an exception to the rules, with some practice you’ll recognize what’s happening without much trouble.

Road Trip For Everything You Can.

If you have a driver’s license, and a car that you can sit in for more than an hour, you should drive for fun.  You may not want to drive across the country, but chances are you have at least driven a few hours out before, and enjoyed something about the trip.  It may have been the change in scenery, may have been the destination, or may have been the sort of meditation that happens when your only task is operating a vehicle you’re very comfortable with.  America is a very big place that an extensive road system has made very much smaller.  We are lucky to have well maintained highway systems that are fairly organized and have been around long enough to collect history by way of the towns that developed along their routes.  Why not use them for entertainment?

Travelling by road takes time, and if the destination is the star of your next vacation, driving there will take time away from enjoying Disney Land.  You don’t always need to go to Vegas for a whole week to have fun, and a road trip has a good chance of costing you less money.  You don’t need to go very far either, there are many things to see and do only a few hours away, so a trip doesn’t require a vacation from work.  Our country has over 200 years of history to discover, every type of natural wonder to see, and every kind of weather to do it in.  All you need is some time and a car.

I’d always suggest you start small if you haven’t done this before.  Daytrips help acclimate you to driving for longer periods in comfort, and prove the reliability of your chosen ride.  They’ll also provide good experience in navigation and preparation that will build for longer journeys.  You will learn what thing you like to have with you, and what (if any) company you like to entertain.  It’s possible you don’t have a very comfortable or economical car for driving long distance, which may dictate shorter trips until it’s last trip to get traded in on something better.

So where do you want to go, and what do you want to see?  There are endless options at various distances for you to choose.  The destination can be anything from seeing the grand canyon to just getting a slice in Manhattan.  Everything else is just details, and even that can be fun.

Your Wrenching Buddy

You have one, everyone does.  Most have a few guys that might show up at the garage on a Saturday.  I’m talking about the one guy who will be there almost all the time.  You may not even touch the tools once, and just watch TV and shoot some pool.  They don’t last forever, I’m on my fourth I think, but you will always have one.  If not, you probably aren’t really a gearhead.

You think the same broken parts are funny.  You marvel at similar fuel-to-violence converting machines.  If you require stiches, he will direct your significant other to the emergency room he took you to, as long as you didn’t bleed on the carpet in his car.  You might wrench at his garage, he might wrench at yours, neither would complain about the space the other takes up in his garage.  You very carefully put your buddy’s tools back where they were catalogued without being asked.  You go to cars shows together, the bar, the parts store, and the local burger joint.

Your wrenching buddy has your back.  I once told my good friend Ray about trouble I was having with my girlfriend hanging around with another guy.  He asked me where we were going to find him, like with shovels.  He was serious.  To this day that guy and my ex have no idea how much peril he was in during the time I considered Ray’s offer.  I used to wrench on my motorcycles at Ray’s house.  I ate dinner there once or twice a week.  We drank a lot and he had a pool table.  We’d talk trash about each other’s significant others.  Went off-roading in the woods behind his place with our trucks or his ATVs, and once with a certain murderous KTM dirt bike.  I was treated like one of his family, by his family.  I rode his Dyna to his December funeral at the request of his mother, leading the rest of our friends and his son (who had just started riding.)  I have the honor of remembering him say the words “I consider you the best friend I have in the world right now.”

My current wrenching buddy is my brother.  We rent a small garage to store and work on our fourteen bikes.  A few of our friends bikes come and go also.  We are there together once a week or so, offering advise and a spare hand.  This is important, an indispensible resource for every grease monkey who picks up a wrench.  A second set of eyes, two brains better than one, a spare hand, pick your cliché.  Give him grief, but try not to piss him off too much, he may be hard to replace.

Where are you wasting you money?

You’re in the local chain parts store for car wax and tire black, looking around in the isle of chrome and other things you don’t need, holding a basket like it’s an Easter egg hunt.  You see something that not only fits your ride, but is only $12.  It’s a fully adjustable TV cable bracket, made of the finest chrome-plated 22ga Chinese steel.  It mounts semi-securely under one of the carburetor mounting bolts.  Your kick down cable has been at a scary, going to get stuck at wide open throttle look to it since you installed that taller intake a while back, and there’s no way your drum rear brakes could possibly hold back the fury of your 302.  It would be negligent not to buy this, you could hit a buss full of nuns one day if you don’t take action.  Your reasoning is defendable to the wife, so it’s ok for it to be on the receipt.

You are also a fool.  There’s a perfectly good factory bracket installed on your car.  When it became insufficient, you bent it slightly and it *kind of* works.  There have to be five or six companies making OE quality brackets, in a variety of finishes.  They aren’t in the chrome-and-you-don’t-need-it isle across town though, and you would have to order it from a performance supplier.  I know we’ve all been caught by a surprise when trying to get something done that we thought was a simple modification.  Settling for the cheap and easy way out when you don’t have to is going to ruin that project.

There isn’t a standard set of rules for what you should or should not do when modifying a project car.  There’s only common sense and experience.  If you lack one of those, you should ask your wrenching buddy who hopefully has the other.  If the wrenching buddy doesn’t have the other, you both would be better served if one of you asked for help.  Insert drinking game tie breaker here if you like.

I’ll give you a hint:  If a bracket for an adjustable kick down cable has it’s own adjustment, it’s not adjustable because you need more adjustment.  It’s because it doesn’t have an application on the back of the package.  One size fits none.

How to end a tire in 2 minutes or less:

Preparation:  Install, then wear out a tire.  Pick a venue where the activity will be acceptable.  Haul your junk to said venue.  Bring friends or relatives, or both, to record the process for later review.

1.  Get the go ahead from venue organizers.

2.  Follow directions as to where it is appropriate and relatively safe to end your tire.

3.  Check for people who may not be smart enough to stay away from an eminent danger of flying debris.

4.  Accelerate the tire(s) to a high rate of speed while in a stationary position.  (Smoke may occur, this is normal and desirable.)

5.  Avoid molten tire debris until you hear a pop, then decelerate what remains of the tire as quickly as possible.  This will prevent damage to other components.

Optional:  Make funny remark about needing an inspection sticker at this point.

6.  Post the recording to Youtube for others to enjoy.