Road Trip Prep
Planning on going on a road trip soon? Before you do so, you should check your car to make sure that it is in good condition and running smooth. Even a small problem such as a worn windshield wiper, out-of-balance tire or improper wheel alignment can cause a lot of troubles during a long drive.
We have included some simple tips on how to prepare your vehicle for a trip. However, this checklist does not include many other important items such as brakes and suspension components that may only be inspected by a qualified mechanic in a garage with the car on the lift. Book an appointment with your dealer or mechanic before your trip. Ask for one of those maintenance packages with an oil change, tire rotation and mechanical inspection.
- Have a look in your vehicle's owner's manual and don't forget to keep it in your glove box on your trip. The owner's manual contains a lot of useful information from how to tow a trailer, change a flat tire and where the jack is located. If you need to top off engine oil or other fluids during a trip, you can find the fluid capacity specifications as well as recommended fluid types in your owner's manual. It also contains instructions how to jump-start a car if the battery dies, what to do if the engine overheats, how to change a headlight bulb and many others. If you don't have an owner's manual, many car manufacturers offer to download an electronic copy of the owner’s manual. You can order the printed version from your local dealer.
- Have a look under the hood. Does anything look out of place? Are there any leaks, loose clamps or kinked hoses? Are the battery terminals clean? Does the drive belt look warn out?
- Check the fluids in your car. Checking the oil, coolant and brake fluid levels may help you avoid an accident or an unnecessary breakdown. Visually check the engine coolant (antifreeze) level in the overflow tank and top of if low. Low brake fluid level may indicate worn out brake pads - have your brakes checked. If your next oil or transmission fluid change is due soon, definitely do it before a trip. A long trip can put additional stress on your motor. Check the power steering fluid and don’t forget to top up the windshield washer fluid.
- Make sure your heater / air conditioner works properly. Check your car’s air filter (pollen filter). If it's been a long time since you changed your air filter, it might be a good idea to change it before a trip. A dirty air filter will cause lack of power and restrict air flow for the A/C or heater. A supply of clean air to your engine improves its performance. If you want to change it yourself, your owner's manual has the instructions.
- Check your air pressure. These should be printed in the owner’s manual or a sticker on the body where the driver’s door shuts. The pressure marked on the side of the tire is the max which must not be exceeded. If you feel a vibration at highway speed, have your tires balanced. Also, don't forget to check your spare tire pressure. Often neglected, not doing so will turn a bad time into a worse one if unusable. This is also a good time to make sure you have a wheel wrench and tire jack for your spare tire in case of a flat.
- Check your tire wear by using a penny or tread gauge. Tires heat up on long trips which can cause blowouts on worn out tires.
- Wash your car. Before you pack, give your car a good scrubbing and vacuuming. At the minimum, clean the windows of your car for the best visibility.
- Check the horn and be certain that the wipers, wiper jets and all lights and turn signals are functional on your car. Replace the wipers if they don't clean the windshield properly. Replace bulbs as necessary. Note: occasionally, lights may not work because a fuse needs replacing.
- If you have wheel locks installed, make sure you have the key and the wrench to open the wheel nuts.
- Ensure that you have emergency equipment inside your car, and that everything works properly. Emergency equipment includes an up-to-date map, cell phone, and emergency tools. Though usually absent; flares, flashlights, medical kits and fire extinguishers may come in handy in worse-case scenarios. You can also include jumper cables, tire sealer-inflator can, tire gauge, some rages, work gloves, and a basic tool kit. Don’t forget your personal emergency kit with First Aid kit and items like a blanket, a bottle of water, couple of energy bars, etc.
- If you like long car rides, consider a GPS Navigation System. It can save you a lot of hassle, and not only can it show you the route estimate and your arrival time, it can also direct you to the nearest gas station, restaurant, park or many other points of interest.