* Check tire pressure monthly and before long trips. Properly inflate all four tires, plus the spare, to the vehicle manufacturer's recommended levels. Tires can lose up to 1 pound per square inch per month under normal conditions. Use an accurate tire gauge to check tire air pressure monthly and always when the car is cool -; meaning the car has been driven less than 1 mile or has not moved in at least three hours.
* Check tire tread. Tires should have at least 1/16 inch of tread depth. To perform the "penny test," insert a penny in the tread at several points on the tire, with President Lincoln's head pointed down. If you can see the top of Lincoln's head at any of the points, the tire is worn out and requires replacement. Remember, this test is only appropriate for tires on passenger vehicles.
* Check fluids. Fluid levels should be checked and filled if necessary, including engine oil and coolant, brake, transmission, windshield washer and power steering fluids. And don't forget to check the gas.
* Do not overload the vehicle. Just as lighter loads increase fuel efficiency, overloading creates excessive heat inside your tires, robbing you of fuel economy. Overloading your vehicle can also cause excessive or irregular wear or early removal of tires if tires are not properly inflated or in good condition.
* Pack an emergency kit. Emergency kits will prepare drivers for unexpected breakdowns. Suggested items for a vehicle emergency kit include: jumper cables, a flashlight and batteries, a reflector, protective gloves, a basic toolkit, flares and matches, a gallon of water, nonperishable food, a 12-volt portable air compressor and a blanket. An auto club membership may also be helpful. Also, make sure your cell phone is charged.
Trisha Hessinger is automotive education specialist and national spokeswoman for Firestone Complete Auto Care.