"You put a lot of miles on this car!"
That was the exclamation from the employee at the tire store, a destination that was the extent of my road tripping in recent weeks.
The guy was right. I'm passing the 240,000-mile mark on my 2003 Ford Mustang, a reliable buggy that never has offered me much in the way of major mechanical problems. Excuse me for a second, as I knock on any available piece of wood within reach of my desk.
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Still, at that advanced age, the car is starting to show its wear. It's leaking pretty much every variety of fluid under the hood — oil, power steering, coolant. One corner of my trunk is devoted to reserve supplies in case of emergency.
In the past year I also have dealt with a mystery electrical problem, which turned out to be connected with one of the fluid issues, as crazy as that sounds. And the automatic window on the driver's side won't go down in hot weather. It started working again during Central Florida's cold snap this past week.
I offer this background so readers will know that each road trip for this column involves an increasing amount of risk that I'll be standing next to some rural highway, perhaps with an empty quart of oil in my hands.
For that reason, I checked with the American Automobile Association for tips about how to deal with breakdowns. Good to know before holiday travel:
•Note your vehicle's location. Look for major intersections, well-lighted areas, landmarks, mile markers and other information that might help you connect with assistance.
•Assess your operating problem. Be aware of steering problems, steam or smoke coming from the hood. In case of a flat tire, slow gradually and pull to the side of the road. If your engine stops, put on safety flashers immediately and move out of traffic.
•Alert other motorists. Raise your hood. Tie a red scarf to the antenna or door handle. Use the safety flashers to let oncoming drivers know that you're stopped.
•Communicate. Use your cellphone to call for help. Stay with your vehicle until help arrives, if possible.
Visit aaa.com for other tips — and if you see a guy with a baseball cap and a reporter's notebook next to a stalled Mustang, stop and say hello.