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20 tips & tricks on driving in Tampa Bay Florida

1. Use GPS, use it often.

Yeah, I know, I'm a total GPS freak - but seriously, get one of these. Make sure it's a Garmin. If you don't you will get lost.

2. If a car has bumper stickers on it, assume it's an aggressive driver.

This is actually true anywhere you drive in the USA. When you see stickers, give the guy or girl plenty of room. The more stickers there are, the more the driver of that car doesn't give a crap and will gladly cut you off every time, all the time.

3. If a car has college stickers on it and/or crap on the inside, assume the driver is an idiot.

College students rank as the 2nd worst drivers in Tampa Bay. If you see the stickers, avoid. If you see stuffed animals in the rear, a bunch of crap hanging off the rear view mirror, etc., avoid. If the driver is a male, he'll be speeding all over the place, never use turn signals and go around corners as if the road were a race track. If it's a girl, it's a guarantee she'll be blabbing away on her cell phone and not paying any attention to the road at all. If there are multiple girls in the car, don't go anywhere near them. Not only is the driver blabbing on the cell phone but also blabbing with her friends. It's an accident waiting to happen and usually does.

4. If you see a large stepside 4x4 hauling a box, avoid.

In Tampa Bay people haul everything. Periodically you will see a large stepside truck (why it's always a stepside I have no idea) hauling a large white box of some kind on wheels (obviously). This idiot will drive as if he's not hauling anything and usually make sudden lane changes. The fact of the matter is that he's too frickin' wide to be traveling on county routes, but he doesn't care. The funniest - and most dangerous - is when these idiots try to pull into a 7-Eleven when they clearly can't make the turn into the lot. Curbs will be run over, people will be honking at this idiot like crazy and it causes instant traffic backup.

5. Know how to make a U-turn.

Before I moved to Florida I never made U-turns. Ever. But I fast learned that if you don't make U-turns in Tampa Bay you never get anywhere. You cannot travel thru the region without making one every so often. The trick to U-turns is knowing how tight your vehicle can take a turn and looking both ways while performing the turn. Most people only look the direction they're turning and this is wrong. While turning, look to the other side for traffic coming from that way. More often than not it will prevent you from bashing into someone.

6. Learn how to get your shopping done between 3am and 5am.

This is probably the best piece of advice on this list. Tampa Bay does sleep even though it's a metro. This place is packed with Wal-Mart Supercenters that are open 24 hours a day. I have 9 Wal-Marts within a 10-mile distance of me, four of which are Supercenters. If you purposely get your shopping done any day of the week between 3am and 5am, there will be no traffic, no lines and no stress. While you're out, stop by a 7-Eleven and pick up a coffee; they're open 24 hours also.

7. Learn where the right-turn-only lanes are.

There are many multi-lane county routes that have right-side lanes turn into right-turn-only. If you're in there and didn't want to be there's usually no way out; you'll have to turn right, circle around (usually by a U-turn) and go back the way you came to get back on track. If on the other hand you want to be in the right-turn-only lane, move over well in advance else you'll be in the exact opposite situation.

8. Always park next to a curb or the far side of a parking lot.

If you're able to walk there is no reason to try to get a "good" parking spot near the entrance to anywhere. Getting in easily is not what you want. You want to get out easily. Parking next to a curb will give you room to turn when backing out. If that's not available, park on the far end. If you don't it will actually take you longer to get out of the parking lot.

9. Learn to replace your air filter more often.

There is no snow here and the weather is nice all year. While nice, this also means your air filter will get clogged up quick. In the north you only have to replace this once a year. In Tampa Bay it's once every six months.

10. Learn to replace your wiper blades more often.

In the north I would replace my blades twice a year. In Tampa Bay it's 3 to 4 times a year. Why? Because there's a lot more rain and it's hotter so the rubber wears out faster. Tip: Don't buy expensive blades. Not worth it. Go for the cheapest you can or mid-grade. It makes no sense to buy the expensive ones because all you're doing is throwing money away since they wear out just as fast.

11. Use a windshield wiper fluid with bug-splat repellent in it.

You want this because it will extend the life of your wiper blades. The only bad month for bug-splat is June. The rest of the time you're fine. When your wiper blades start streaking and getting crappy, the washer fluid with the bug-splat stuff in it will clean off the glass relatively easy even if your wipers are complete crap. This stuff is easy to find, just look for the washer fluid that's green in color. It costs about a buck more but it's well worth it.

12. Use the hot setting on your defroster to get rid of glass fog-up.

In the morning your car will usually be completely fogged up on the inside and out. The wipers take care of the outside but not the inside. Run the defroster and set it to hot; it will take care of the fog-up quick. In you're in a hurry, leave it running and roll down the windows while driving so you don't sweat your ass off.

13. Don't bother washing your car in the summer.

It rains almost every day for about 30 to 45 minutes in the summer. So unless you're a neat freak and want a pristine looking car all the time, don't bother washing it from June to the beginning of September.

14. Always carry "emergency" water.

Bottled water is dirt cheap. Buy a few bottles, a six-pack, a case or whatever and put it behind the seat. There will be times when you desperately want a drink while stuck in traffic. Florida is hot and you get thirsty easily. When you want a drink the convenience store will always be on the other side of the road that you can't get to. It happens more often than you think. If you have water you don't have to worry about it. Even if it's warm it's liquid and you can chug it easily. Put your arm behind the seat and grab a bottle. Even if you hate the taste of straight water it will suffice until you can get to a convenience store and get something cold that tastes better. Why would you keep water and not something with flavor? Because water never goes stale. You can keep it behind the seat for years and it will still taste exactly the same when you crack it open. There is never any guessing as to how water will taste when you open the bottle.

15. Fear not the interstates.

Some people who live here absolutely refuse to take the interstates in Tampa Bay such as I-275 and I-4. All I can say to that is that you're going to have to work up the nerve and get on these roads from time to time. To ease off the nerves of taking interstates, follow #1 above - use GPS. It takes away 99% of the jitters.

16. The safest lane is usually the center lane.

Many county routes have 3 lines per side. If you're in the center lane you can skirt around people taking turns from the left and right.

17. Check the weather on the internet for storms before you head out.

There will be times when it will be perfectly calm where you are but 5 miles away there's a storm cell blasting rain on the ground - and you'll most likely run right into it. Best thing to do? Wait until it passes before going out. I suggest Weather Underground for checking weather. Just punch in your ZIP code and click on the radar (that will tell you quick whether something is there or not).

18. If you get caught in a torrential rainstorm, slow down or stop.

Tampa Bay Floridians are very familiar with torrential-style rain. If you run into it, slow the frig down or pull into a local business, stop and wait until it passes. The rain will pass relatively quickly. Compared to northern driving when it rains, you can't see crap when the rain pours here. It doesn't matter even if you have perfect 20/10 vision. When the rain comes you are blinded. Slow down or stop.

19. Don't "tough it out" when it comes to heat.

This applies to the summer. There are some people who will foolishly not run air conditioning in their cars to save a buck on gas in 93° F (or higher) weather. DUMB IDEA. Close your windows and run the A/C. Saving a buck isn't worth it if the heat causes you to pass out and crash into someone or something.

20. Know where bottlenecks occur on the interstates.

An example of this is where I-275 merges into I-75. During most of the morning this is all backed up. Another example is the exit off I-275 that goes to Route 56. That spot gets chunked up quite a bit as well. You can skirt almost all bottlenecks just by exiting the interstate one or two exits ahead and driving up the road a bit afterwards. GPS will help you out immensely in this respect.

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