Davis says you’ll be seeing a lot of pickups, SUVs and convertibles out there this summer; and unlike in past years when people might rent “fun” cars specifically to drive on vacation, “the latest trend is for people to travel in their own vehicles. It’s a comfort thing as well as being more economical,” says Davis.
“Besides, you can almost customize what you drive these days. People are buying vehicles that are good for more than just getting to and from work and running errands, they’re buying cars that have a lot of storage space and are also fun to drive, ” says Davis, whose show tracks trends in the automotive industry.
So-called cross over vehicles, which combine the features of a car with those of a sedan, minivan or sport utility vehicle, are really gaining in popularity. “They are the widest, most imaginative group of vehicles to enjoy in the history of the industry,” says Davis.
Vehicles that fall into this category include the Pontiac Vibe, Subaru Baja, Honda Element, Scion xB, Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota Matrix, and Chevrolet Avalanche. They cover a broad range of prices from under $15,000 to well over $40,000.
“They are very versatile, there’s no doubt about that,” says Davis. “But like the traditional SUV, they tend to be tall, and taller vehicles by their very nature can roll over easier, so you still need to be extra careful when taking corners.”
Rollovers can also be a worry for another popular summertime car: convertibles. They tend to be slower to respond to driver inputs because they are heavier than your average sedan, but Davis points out, they have come a long way. “Convertibles used to be flimsily made and clumsy to drive, and really rattled over rough roads. Now they are better built, with better suspensions, and are much safer. Along with front airbags, many convertibles can be ordered with side impact airbags, while a few have pop-up roll-over bars that automatically provide extra protection for occupants. Most also offer electronic driving aids like anti-lock brakes and electronic stability systems.
Summer cruising still has the devotion of the American driver as it has for years, but with some 210 million registered drivers on the road, it does require us to be more conscious. Not just about safety, but other drivers, and local laws as they relate to aggressive driving and cell phone use. So, toss the cell phone in the glove compartment, strap on your seat belt and enjoy your next road trip.
Summer Driving Tips ---from the American Automobile Association (A-A-A)
A quick and easy automotive checkup can help prepare a vehicle for the stress of high temperatures and increase its reliability on long road trips.
* Tires -- To help prevent dangerous and inconvenient tire failure, examine tires for uneven or excessive tread wear. Make sure all tires, including the spare, are inflated properly.
* Belt, Hoses and Fluids -- With the engine off, look for worn or cracked belts and damaged, blistered or soft hoses. Inspect the antifreeze/coolant level and condition, making certain the proper 50/50 mixture of water and coolant is present.
* Motor Oil -- Check motor oil level and condition. If driving under extreme conditions, such as very hot temperatures or towing a heavy trailer, switch to a motor oil with higher viscosity. Check the owner's manual for specific oil recommendations.
* Air Conditioning -- A properly working air conditioning system also will help motorists keep their cool in summer heat. If needed, have the air conditioning serviced by a qualified technician, using the refrigerant R-12 in older systems or R-134A in new or modified air conditioners. Do not use non-approved substitute refrigerants.
* Emergency Kit -- Because even properly maintained vehicles can break down, AAA Minneapolis advises motorists to equip their vehicle with an emergency kit containing at least the following items: A flashlight with extra batteries, warning devices such as flares or reflective triangles, jumper cables, a first-aid kit, and a cellular phone to summon emergency assistance.
EDITOR’S NOTES: John Davis is the host and creator of MotorWeek, television's original and most popular automotive series. On the show, he puts all of the new car models through extensive road tests to judge their practicality for buyers.
Davis has owned a variety of high performance cars, including vintage Ford Mustangs, a Chevrolet Corvette and a deTomaso Pantera. MotorWeek offers him that rare opportunity to bring the enjoyment of a hobby to his professional life, and to use his broadcasting, engineering and analytical expertise to bring information and insight to those who enjoy cars.