A car adventure awaits! Yet, with U.S. gas prices racing past $4 a gallon, inflation isn’t slowing down five automotive aftermarket managers interviewed by AMBW from dreaming up their ideal road trip.
Partly because of the Russia-Ukraine war and the shrinking fuel supply pushing up costs, a getaway may only propel someone so far.
But if Karen Strobel got her way, she would go full throttle in her Mustang and meander south from Maine to the Florida Keys. Strobel, former digital content manager for General Parts Corp., cherishes the shoreline diversity and the variety of food at the local eateries. “I want to try seafood in every east coast state,” tells Strobel.
Careful preparation for driveability and safety for any long-distance voyage should include the fundamentals, each interviewee told AMBW. Retired national sales director for Gates Corporation Rob Larson likes the concept of auto parts stores “to encourage preventive maintenance.” He advises that a “checklist might be helpful for them to follow.” Not every walk-in shopper can be expected to be an expert do-it-yourselfer. In that case, suggests Larson, the counter staff could hand out a list of professional installers willing to perform vehicle inspections.
And that’s exactly what Strobel does — a complete once-over performed by her auto specialist — but with one exception. Her adoration for Mustangs is fun for quick jaunts. Yet for extended miles, she will drive her Ford Bronco. “For a long trek, I think that something with a bit more room and adaptability is needed.”
Strobel’s tune-up requirements begin with an ASE-certified tech inspecting condition of the tires, lights, and drivetrain. “Gotta do a full-blown detail job so it’s ready for the road.”
A 16-hour drive west of Strobel’s Atlanta home, Kyle Byrne from Spencer, Iowa, sticks to a slightly different set of vehicle preventive maintenance standards for the Family Truckster, the name of his Ford F-150 pickup truck.
“When you take the road less travelled, you never know what you might encounter,” cautions the vice president of distribution for Arnold Motor Supply, a wholesale merchant in the Great Plains. Byrne routinely makes supplemental precautions after the service center greenlights the Family Truckster for launch.
No road warrior can be too prepared, says Byrne, who prefers to cruise the secondary routes. Say for peace of mind in case of a breakdown in an unpopulated area, where it might be difficult to flag down a passing vehicle, Byrne stows away a tow strap, booster cables and a tool kit. One time, a scissor jack rescued the Byrne family. “On the seven-hour drive, we blew a trailer tire five miles from home. It was changed in less than 10 minutes, and we were back on the road.”
Something about off-ramping Interstate Highway 80 onto U.S. Highway 6 toward Omaha is one of Byrne’s favorite diversions. He savors the seemingly open-ended two-lane roads that intersect Iowa’s small towns and cities, where more than 50 of Arnold Motor Supply stores happen to be found in similar rural markets across Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois and Nebraska.
Away from managing the company’s inventory, Byrne revels in the thought of sitting behind the wheel and shutting off the mobile devices to soak in what these towns may bring. “These are the roads where you can find the nicest people and some of the best food along the way.”
Making friends along the open expanse across America is the best part of any rolling journey for Jill Trotta. Once a senior official for Repair Pal, a digital app that matches car owners to repair shops, Trotta talks up her big cross-country plans.
Come summertime, Trotta is heading eastward from Oakland, California, for a conference. She is jazzed up about jumping into her hydrogen-powered Toyota destined for Indianapolis, three time zones and 2,280 miles from the Bay area. Trotta is an activist in promoting women in the auto care industry, which explains her plan for attending the gathering. “I’ll be leading a panel there. I’m hoping to be spending the month of June (traveling) and reconnecting with myself and family.”
Trotta finds that operating a hydrogen-run machine is more economical than pure electric. During her formative years as a service manager for several auto dealerships before entering the software field with Repair Pal, she evolved into becoming a subject-matter expert in automotive propulsion technologies. It came in handy for how to prepare for long hauls. “Have a remote battery powered up in case of an emergency. Include water and blankets in the car, as well as some basic tools. I also make sure my roadside card is active,” Trotta said.
As this article was written, further price spikes at the gas pumps began jumping in March shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Economists say that the 40-year high in inflation may force some households to hit the brakes on non-essential activities.
Areas of Los Angeles are charging the highest prices nationwide, according to Steve Hughes, an auto parts consultant for the industry supplier segment. “I just paid $5.35 for premium at the local ARCO station,” said Hughes, who is regularly monitoring ocean freight rates for the Auto Care Association trade group. Downtown L.A. gas outlets are charging close to $7 a gallon, he says. “I’m certain that with the current prices and the upward trends that we are going to see many people rethink road trips.”
Long before the global energy market’s reaction to the war and President Biden’s ban on Russian oil exports, Hughes special-ordered a C8 Z06 Corvette, which he hopes will be delivered by summer. Hughes intends to drive the Corvette on state Route 1 to Monterrey, then north onto Vancouver, British Columbia.
Checking the tires for grip and pressure is a given for Hughes. He insists on injecting fresh motor oil and installing new filters to cover the range. Admittedly compared with other folks, he knows that he is an outlier in the unstable economy. He is grateful to have the financial means to fulfill his dream for a stunningly beautiful drive on the Pacific Coast Highway. “Even though gas is stupidly expensive right now, it wouldn’t deter me from taking a road trip.”