Don’t be one of 7 million motorists rescued by AAA this summer

Many of us look forward to summer as a chance for some carefree vacation time. But if you are one of the 7 million motorists who AAA expects to rescue this summer, an unplanned breakdown could spoil the fun.

"Summer heat takes a toll on vehicles, causing overheating engines, tire blowouts and dead batteries," says Cliff Ruud, managing director of AAA Automotive. "Having a disabled vehicle is a stressful and dangerous situation."

Summer is the peak season for roadside assistance calls, and this year's estimate of 7 million is the highest it's been in recent years, according to AAA. That's partly because overall summer driving is up, with this summer's traffic expected to be the highest since 2005. 

Many dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts can be resolved on the spot by AAA repair crews. But more than 3 million vehicles will experience significant trouble that calls for towing to an auto repair shop.

To be better prepared for a breakdown -- or altogether avoid having to call for assistance -- AAA suggests the following steps:

Get a checkup before you leave on vacation. Get an oil change if needed and have your battery level tested and the tires inspected. This can improve your odds of avoiding a breakdown. And check your tire pressure even while you are traveling.   

Pack an emergency kit. Make sure you have a flashlight with extra batteries and jumper cables. Be sure your spare tire is fully inflated and that you have a jack and tire wrench. If you do get a flat tire or dead battery, with those supplies, you may be able to resolve it yourself without waiting for roadside assistance.

Always have an extra car key. Keep it in a pocket or purse so that it goes with you when you leave the car. If you have a General Motors vehicle (Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, GMC), consider joining OnStar, the company's emergency help service, which can unlock your car remotely.

In addition to trying to avoid a breakdown, keep your eyes on the road. A new survey by tire company Michelin shows that 80 percent of drivers said they tend to drive less cautiously in the summer because of better weather conditions. But in fact, more auto accidents occur during summer months than any other time of the year. 

  • Jerry Edgerton On Twitter»

    View all articles by Jerry Edgerton on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.