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Embarking on a Summer Road Trip? Tips on Staying Safe Behind the Wheel

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author photo by Lindsay Martell August 2017

Bags packed? Check. Mail on vacation hold? Check. Car outfitted with the best tech for staying safe? Er ... kinda check?

If you don't have all the accessories, gadgets and stay-safe gear you need for the summer trekking ahead, don't chuck the maps and unpack the cooler just yet. Here's a list to keep your road trip smooth and bump-free.

Old-School Navigation Systems

A stand-alone navigation system won't set you back too much (the Garmin Drive retails for $159), and it can be a lifesaver when cell service drops out. According to Richard Reina, product trainer at CARiD.com, aftermarket nav systems are far from dead. Aside from using more reliable satellites for better signal strength, today's portable units offer larger screens, updated maps, voice commands and even rear camera connectivity. They plug into your vehicle's 12-volt outlet, so you don't have to worry about the battery running down. Another bonus? You can move it from car to car.

Backup Cameras

According to Reina, things like backup cameras and navigation systems, while useful year-round, are even more useful if you're taking a long trip into an area with which you're less familiar -- and with children in tow.

If you have an older car without a backup camera, invest in an add-on one before you set out. You'll find designs that replace your factory inside mirror with one that contains the camera's image; or you can opt for one that ties into your car's radio display. Other simple cams offer a screen to mount to your dash or windshield.

You'll be hooked up in no time, as most of the units are plug-and-play, and some models use Bluetooth. You won't be forking over much for these units -- this one from TopTierPro is a mere $49.

360-Degree Cameras

Need a more expansive view? A 360-degree camera is like four sets of eyes that captures the view around all sides of your vehicle. Then, it digitally combines the images to provide you with one concise picture showing views from the front, back, left and right. The aftermarket systems can be either vehicle-specific, using a factory screen, or universal, in which case a screen is provided. Installation is tricky and more complex than the single-lens backup camera, and so experts recommend the system be installed by a professional. Car buffs love the ones from Brandmotion.

Parking Sensors

Got a driver in the fam who's a little proximity-challenged? A parking sensor is a great accessory for those of us who bump the curb more often than we'd like to admit. Sensors mounted in front, rear or both bumpers act like a radar and are programmed to know when your ride is getting close to another object (be it another car, fence or parked bike). Inch too close and you'll hear a beeping sound. These systems won't set you back too much, and installation can be done if you're somewhat savvy with tools and basic wiring. Zone Tech makes one that tops many "Best Of" lists and costs under $16.

Compact Battery Jumpers

Forget lugging around bulky cables. Get yourself some 12-volt battery jump-starters, which are not much larger than a smartphone or tablet. Some models even include an air compressor for inflating a low tire, like this model from STANLEY Tools, which costs around $65.

Tool Set

You never know when you need a little set of tools to get you out of a jam. You shouldn't have to spend more than $20 to snag a screwdriver, hammer, a few wrenches, zip ties, duct tape, etc. to have with you should an emergency pop up. No one wants to put the brakes on a vacay while waiting for help to arrive. Be prepared to do basic fixes yourself.

Safety Triangle

If you happen to break down, an inexpensive folding reflective triangle can make the difference between safety and disaster, says Richard Reina. It alerts other drivers to your presence, and that will give you greater peace of mind. Deflecto makes an inexpensive one (around $25) that's a cinch to set up.

Emergency Jump-Starter

Jump-starting a car can be tricky. Why not invest less than $50 for an emergency jump-starter? It allows you to get your car fired up without leaving the driver's seat. This one from Mighty Jump PRO costs $49, and when plugged into the dashboard cigarette lighter it can charge the car battery via the vehicle's internal wiring. These devices are small, rechargeable and quick to charge. It takes just 10 minutes to charge a battery enough to start the engine.

Consider yourself prepped and ready to cash in those vacation days. Your road-trip adventure awaits.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Embarking on a Summer Road Trip? Tips on Staying Safe Behind the Wheel - Autotrader