Road trip

Before you pack up the car and head off on vacation this month, make sure you're prepared to get there safely. Have you checked the engine? What about the tires?

This holiday weekend alone, AAA of the Carolinas in Charlotte predicts more than 1.7 million Carolinians will travel out-of-town by roadways and airports. More than 214,400 of those will be South Carolinians driving to summer vacation destinations.

But getting stuck along the roadside with a flat tire or, even worse, a vehicle with some sort of mechanical problem, could put a crimp in the best-laid vacation plans.

To keep your car from ruining your trip, Jayne Cannon, spokeswoman for AAA of the Carolinas, and Cpl. Bryan McDougald of the S.C. Highway Patrol offer a few preventive tips, and suggestions on what you'll need and what to do if you're stranded.

Things to do, have handy before you leave

• Check fluids in your car's engine, hoses, belts and, most importantly, the tires. It's better to get new tires if the existing ones have bald spots.

• Check windshield wiper blades to make sure they are in good working condition.

• Keep an emergency kit in the vehicle. It should include warning devices such as reflective triangles or flares, a gallon of water for the car if it should overheat, an air compressor, first aid supplies and dried snacks. Also keep a flashlight close by. Be sure to remove the batteries from the flashlight when it's not in use.

• Keep a bright orange or yellow sign in the car that says "Emergency, call 911" to hang in the window of the car.

• Make sure cell phones are charged. Keep a portable charger in the vehicle to use in case the car's battery is working.

• Be sure to put fuel in the vehicle before leaving town. Always keep the gas tank at least half full, especially when you're traveling in unfamiliar territory.

• Get directions before leaving home. Directions can be obtained from several Web sites, including MapQuest and AAA.

• Keep safety belts buckled at all times, and make sure all passengers are properly buckled.

• Don't speed. A speeding ticket can ruin a trip. Plan enough time to arrive safely to your destination.

• Take well-traveled roads. Don't take shortcuts.

• Let someone know when you are leaving, the route you are taking and when you plan to arrive.

• Always check the weather and keep up with road closures.

What to do if you're stranded

• Get your vehicle off the roadway and onto the shoulder of the road as quickly as possible.

• Call 911 or *HP for assistance.

• If you can't reach help yourself, place a bright orange or yellow sign up in the window of the car that says "Emergency call 911."

• Retrieve reflective triangles from the emergency kit and place them 200 to 300 feet outside of the car.

• Don't leave passengers alone to get help. Stay with them in the car and wait for assistance.

• Always be aware of your surroundings and know your exact location so help can find you.