Car care

Summer, officially, will arrive in 30 days. Unofficially, it will begin Friday.

The extended Memorial Day weekend is the annual kickoff to the summer travel season. And it could be a crowded one. AAA estimates that about 43 million people will hit the nation’s roads, rails and airways for a vacation or mini-vacation over the next few days. That would be the second-highest travel volume the association has recorded since it began tracking holiday traffic in 2000.

About 1.5 million more people are expected to travel this Memorial Day weekend compared with last year’s, AAA said. That is a 3.6% increase nationwide.

Highways in this part of the Northeast are expected to be jammed over the next several days. AAA estimates that about 5 million will travel in the Mid-Atlantic region – made up of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey – and that 4.5 million will be on the road.

Advice to motorists: Be patient. Despite the rising cost of gasoline, AAA reported that the vast majority of upcoming holiday travelers – 37.6 million – say they will drive. That’s why INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, projects that travel delays on major highways could take more than three times longer than normal during evening hours.

INRIX, which is working with AAA, predicts that commuters will encounter the most congestion on Thursday and Friday in the late afternoon, when vacationers will share the road with people leaving work early. AAA anticipates longer travel times in major U.S. metro areas, especially around New York and Washington, D.C.

Pump prices are not going to deter travelers, and they are getting breaks on other fronts. Car rental prices, according to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, have fallen 7% nationally compared with last year (average daily rate of $55). And mid-range hotels are 2% to 3% cheaper this year (average nightly rate of $146 and $183, respectively, for AAA Two and Three Diamond Rated properties.)

Holiday commuters, of course, want to reach their destinations safely and undeterred. But some do encounter dead batteries, flat tires and being locked out of their vehicles, among other disruptive hassles. AAA said it expects to respond to more than 353,000 motorists who have broken down. A tip from the association: Take care of maintenance while you still can and pack emergency items and supplies.

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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