A Few Road Trip Observations

I’m away from home right now, family had to make an unplanned road trip for a funeral. A few thoughts…

I certainly believe that air conditioning is a luxury and not a necessity. I spent many vacations on vinyl seats in 90+ degree weather as a youngster. But having made a 900 mile drive straight through in 100 degree weather with 2 young kids and a sad wife, air conditioning made the trip infinitely more tolerable. To those who contemplate keeping the a/c off (if you have it) in the name of economy, you’re crazy.

Traveling through southern Idaho I encountered 3 state troopers in a 2 mile stretch, all with radar guns. A quarter mile past the first was an obviously overheated car on the shoulder. Just past the third was a woman with a blown out tire talking on a phone and fussing with a jack (I stopped to see if she had help on the way). Now I was banging along at 85mph. None of the troopers stopped me for speeding, none helped a stranded motorist. What exactly are they doing?

Along the lines of “the shoemaker’s kids have no shoes”, I’m a professional mechanic and I regularly admonish my customers to regularly check oil, coolant, and tire levels. Do you think I opened the hood once between Seattle and Salt Lake City?

Your observation about AC reminds me of a segment on the show some years back. Some guy called in saying that when he was driving with his wife in hot weather he would NOT use the AC but would instead turn the heater on full blast because it helped cool the engine down. His wife would complain, and he called Tom and Ray to get their opinion.

As you might expect, Tom amd Ray told him he was “optimizing the wrong variable,” ie ignoring his wife’s comfort for the sake of some imagined benefit to the car (naturally this guy was an engineer…) Poor wife…I can’t imagine she stayed married to him very long!

And you wonder why the divorce rate is so high? In Minnesota, the patrol always stop for cars on the side of the road. The problem is they may not come by for a half day if not called. If the cars are unattended, they get the date and time written on the window to show that the car had been checked out. In the metro area they also have the “Highway Helper” trucks that patrol the road with emergency supplies. Actually used them once. They can have a tow truck on the scene immediately instead of waiting for an hour. I’ve noticed many more patrols in Indiana and Ohio than Minnesota but they seem to have more time on their hands and more interested in speed than anything else.

With most modern cars, keeping the windows up and the AC on gives better mileage than windows down. The AC compressor uses less energy than overcoming air drag and reduced streamline with windows open.

To those who contemplate keeping the a/c off (if you have it) in the name of economy, you’re crazy.

The engineer keeping his A/C off and turning the heat on in hot weather is a great example of too much knowledge combined with no darn sense. The cooling systems in cars are designed to handle that heat. I remember driving in heavy stop-and-go traffic in my Saturn with the A/C blasting when it was 102° outside. The A/C kept the radiator fan on and the engine temperature gauge stayed right in the middle of the “Normal” range.

If you’ve got working A/C then use it. Any fuel mileage loss will be minor.

The state patrol around here is a bit more strict about pulling people over and more often than not, will stop if a motorist is broken down.

As to your question about whether or not you opened the hood between Seattle and Salt Lake City, I’ll go out on a limb and say no.
The reason for my answer is that I think that you as a pro mechanic are kind of in tune with your car. You’re aware of oil consumption if any, tire pressure losses if any, and likely monitor the car constantly for temperature variations, noises, and symptoms. Just guessing…

My favorite road trip was a 'round the country trip in a '69 (?) VW camper…definitely no AC. The most memorable moments were repair-related. First, an exhaust manifold leak. I found a VW specialist in OKC who was able to drill out and replace a broken manifold bolt. He charged me just 75 bucks (in 1993 dollars), and the repair held for the rest of the trip.

The next crisis happened somewhere in New Mexico, going uphill in the middle of nowhere, began losing power. I managed to pull off into a deserted picnic area and pulled out a few tools. It felt like fuel starvation, so I pulled the carb off, took it apart on a picnic table, when it started snowing and getting dark. I got the carb cleaned out, back together and onto the engine at nightfall and prayed the thing would start before my battery died. After much cranking with the battery near dead, it finally caught and ran like a champ. That was my finest roadside repair ever.

That old thing was a safety hazard, but you couldn’t beat it for ease of repair.

Some things are unforeseeable, Driving through Nebraska charge warning light, the car died when we slowed down in a town, corroded battery cable, Naples FL no start, bad connection on the starter motor, Black river falls WI, my nemisis, 4:00 changing fuel pump in the parking lot of a napa in 15 degree temp, wifes van, oil light came on, bad sending unit, and death valley, car overheating and had to turn the heater on to make it across, the heat, no ac at the time exceeded the cooling capacity of that 71 nova. Stuff can happen to anyone anytime.

Our last road trip without A/C was a 7000 mile trip through the Western US and Canada in 1977. I had 3 migraines because of the intense heat a and road noise, and swore the next trip would be in an A/C equipped car.

In 1978 we made another road trip with A/C and have never looked back.

One reason among many that I love my 2002 Sienna is that sucker runs cool. Once it warms up the heat gauge might as well be welded into place. Driving in the Hill Country at 70 mph in second gear going up a long hill when the air temperature is over 100 F. and it doesn’t move. Twenty below and it doesn’t move once it’s warmed up. I have never owned a car that didn’t get awfully hot when it was hot out. The previous car, a 1989 Caravan, ran hot all the time, and once I had to replace the head from overtemp. The radiator in the Sienna looks twice the size of the toy radiator in the Caravan.

The a/c is almost always on, no matter where I am driving.

@ok4450, oh yeah, I’m in tune…I can tell just by listening whether the engine is half a quart low or the temp is 205 or 198…ha ha.

I know I burn a quart about every 3000, but isn’t not checking how trouble starts? Also my normal driving isn’t 85mph and 104 degrees. One day it’s going to burn more but how will I know if I never check? I did check once I got here, about a third of a quart down.

Once as a young kid I topped of my radiator one morning and hit the road. When I opened the hood in Sacramento I saw I left the radiator cap off and lost more than a gallon. Good thing it was winter!

When I was a kid, our family of four would take annual road trip vacations in a Chevy station wagon, tent camping, ice box, and…no a/c.
We saw all the national parks from coast to coast.

I remember well the ‘‘buffeting’’ of wind in the open windows as we drove and it was never a confusing phenomenon …like in a recent post here where the poster was just baffled by the noise in the car with a window open.

I would curl up on the floor board of the rear seat and my older brother laying on the rear seat to sleep or kill time while driving. Yes we had seat belts , but this was back in the day. ( my dad ordered seat belts the second they werte offered as an option and even added belts to an old corvair. )

Ken, sounds like our family vacations, but with four kids there was no room for lounging, even in a full-sized Ford Country Sedan wagon. My brother and I slept in the back of the station wagon while the others slept in the tent. At least we had a foam pad instead of air mattresses that would leak and leave them sleeping on the ground. We finally got a car with AC when I was seven. Oh, bliss! We lived in LA so every way we went east there was at least one day of blistering heat. We had wet wash cloths soaking in ice water we’d pass around, but that always gave me a headache. It seemed like some belt or hose would fail in the first few hours and cause a short delay, but then we’d be OK, though I do remember at least one unintended day in Salina, UT while the car was fixed. Cars are so much more reliable now. Not much we could do but play in the park a few blocks away, and Utah in mid-summer is not that nice.

But I lived for those vacations and became navigator when I was about 12, I so loved having the road atlas on my lap. Still do. I got heavily involved in planning the trips, too, so got to see all kinds of lesser sights my father would have blasted right by. Once he got on the Interstate he wanted to keep on going straight ahead with just stops for gas and food. In an odd way he really liked driving, but not in the way most do. For him the Interstate system was magic, a huge machine he got to be a piece of. Little roads were nice, pretty, sure, but the Interstates were power. During my childhood I-40 was being gradually completed, replacing old US 66. My father was so excited to see what new segments were open each year. Some, like the stretch through Albuquerque, were appreciated by all of us. It was terribly slow on surface streets. It was also nice bypassing the grim poverty of the Navajo towns of Arizona and New Mexico. Gallup being worst. But only my dad could be thrilled about bypassing all the tiny towns out in the Mojave Desert and in western Arizona. The new routes had no services for a few years. The funny little towns had goofy ‘trading posts’ selling cheap turquoise jewelry and fake arrowheads. We never got to buy anything, but stopping let us stretch our legs and enjoy their AC before we had our own. Maybe buy a grape soda to share. Or black cherry Shasta if I was really lucky, though I had to share it with my mother. A whole can of soda just for yourself wasn’t done. ‘Pop’ was a treat, not just a drink. Yes, this was circa 1970, but my parents were raised in the Depression, and those habits lasted a long time.

I remember one grand cross country camping trip in 1969. '66 Valiant Custom 200 with a 225 slant six pulling a Canadian Tire tent trailer. We drove from Ontario to BC and came back through the US mid west. We were somewhere in Idaho when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon and I recall watching the grainy broadcast through the camp ground host’s living room window. It was hot but the car had great floor vents, no draft windows and mostly cloth seats so we were never really uncomfortable. Our dog used to sit at my feet in the front seat, nose buried in the floor vent, periodically blasting my legs with with enormous wet sneezes. I’m without AC currently and have been for a number of years. The only time I missed it was last summer when we got stuck in a huge traffic jam on the 401 in the middle of a heat wave. I spent most of that time mentally figuring an AC restoration budget as my wife and son stoically wilted alongside…