Safety a priority for summer driving

Make sure your car is in good shape before heading out on any summer roadtrips.

Summer is here.  Finally!  Just in time for my summer vacation.  Looks like I am going to be doing a lot of driving this summer and sure enough I forgot to buy myself a real driving machine.  Another summer at the helm of my minivan.

I still think of my minivan as new but it now has 170 000 kilometres and is 2004 vintage.  Eight years old.  Not many years ago an eight year old vehicle was old.  Now it is not even average as the average Canadian vehicle is 9.7 years old.

As I scrambled to get my vehicle ready for summer vacation I had to prioritize what needed to be done.  Safety first; yes.  New summer tires first.

On first inspection I thought maybe I would get another summer out of my tires.  There was legally still enough tread left but then I got to thinking.

Have you noticed the conditions of our roads lately?  It seems to me many of our highways no longer drain water off like they should.  Driving in wet conditions there are usually two grooves in the lane full of water.  I assume these are the result of all the heavy truck traffic.  Were our roads always like this?

Highway speeds require good tread depth to prevent hydroplaning (when your tire actually rides on the water not on the road).  Tires are expensive but hydroplaning is down right dangerous.  New tires it is.

When I buy new tires I always go for a performance tire.  Maybe I can make my minivan handle like the BMW I am dreaming of.  Not likely but high performance tires do sharpen your vehicle’s reflexes while increasing wet and dry traction.

The tradeoff here is performance tires wear out faster but stopping faster or out maneuvering that white tail is  a safety feature.

I knew my brake pads were getting thin.  Thin is not unsafe though.  Having 20 per cent of your brake pad material left instead of 80 per cent has no effect on how your vehicle is going to stop.

If your trip is long enough that the material left is going to be used up then replacement is necessary.  In my case I knew I likely would end up running out of pad material before I got home.  New front pads were in order.  Even more important to me though was the vibration I was getting under braking as the brakes heated up.

As far as I am concerned this vibration is a safety issue.  When your steering wheel shakes in your hand or the brake pedal pulses under pressure something should be done.   I know a lot of people live with this problem in our area but this vibration is increasing your stopping distance as well as taking its toll on your suspension and steering system.

Fixing this problem requires a professional brake job.  Attention to detail is required as much as the use of high quality parts.  Our mountain highways place high demand on our braking systems.

Maintaining smooth powerful brakes requires high quality brake rotors mounted and finished precisely.

The brake pads must be at least the quality of what came on your vehicle.  There are no standards for brake pads so get professional advice.

In my case I had located and purchased the quality brake parts I required ahead of time.  All I needed was the time for installation.  Got it done a couple days ahead of schedule.

I am happy with my new tires and brakes but I forgot about my shocks and struts.  Do you know where I can get a set of BMW shocks and struts for my Honda Odyssey?  I don’t.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. He will write every other Thursday. E-mail:

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