Road trip! Nothing is more exciting than hopping in your car and traveling to your favorite destinations or going somewhere you’ve never been.
With all the hustle and bustle of planning the trip, getting packed, and making sure your itinerary is perfectly planned, it’s easy to forget about one essential ingredient of the journey: your car. But the last thing that you want to experience on the road is trouble with your car that might leave you grounded.
We’ve come up with a quick checklist of tips for road-trip maintenance that will help you make sure that your car is as ready to go as you are. Before you leave, take a little time to review the checklist. It’s super-simple and doing so will give you peace of mind.
How to Get Your Car Ready for a Road Trip
Get an Oil Change and a Filter Change
Not counting filling your gas tank, changing the oil may be the most basic requirement of a smoothly functioning vehicle that everyone knows about. Even if we aren’t really sure why, it’s just something that’s been ingrained in our minds since we started driving. So once in a while we glance up at that sticker on the windshield that tells us when the next oil change is due.
When preparing for a road trip, it’s a good idea to get your engine oil and filter changed before you leave. Usually, you can travel 3,000 miles to 5,000 miles between oil changes (check your owner’s manual for a more exact number). But even if you don’t expect to exceed the maximum mileage during your trip, you may as well swap them out before you leave. Fresh oil and a clean filter will help your engine run better and prevent contaminants from causing damage.
It’s one less thing to worry about while you’re gone, and it never hurts to change your oil early.
Check Your Tires and Treads
Think about what’s happening with your car as you’re driving along the road. There are thousands of moving parts. The engine is turning, the radio is blasting, the air conditioner is keeping you comfortable. But there are only four parts of your car that ever make contact with the road. Your tires. So it’s vital that you check your tires before going on a road trip.
Check two main aspects of them: the air pressure and the tread. You should get in the habit of checking your tire pressure once a month in any case, but you definitely want to check it before heading out on a road trip. Make sure the pressure of each tire is set in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendation, which you can find on the placard inside the driver’s door.
Also inspect the treads on your tires to make sure they are in good condition. You can use an upside-down penny to check the depth of the tread. If Lincoln’s head is covered, the tread is fine. But also make sure that there is no substantial amount of uneven wear. If you see any bald spots, and especially if you see belts or wires showing, get the tires replaced as soon as possible, and definitely before leaving on your trip.
Check Your Windshield Wipers and Fluids
During your road trip, you’ll spend all your time on the road looking through the windshield. So it’s important that you can actually see through it. If there’s a sudden rainstorm, the windshield gets dirty, or you get special deliveries from a flock of birds flying overhead, you’ll be thankful that you took the time to check your wipers and washer fluid before you left.
High-quality windshield wipers make a big difference when it comes to being able to see and safely drive in the rain. Check your wipers for signs of tearing or dry rot. If you notice any problems, head to the auto parts store and buy a new pair. Most places will even install them free if you ask.
Also pop your hood and check the washer fluid level. If it’s low, top it off so that you can clean your windshield as often as you need to during your trip. You don’t want to be forced to pull over just to clean your windshield.
Check the Headlights, Taillights, and Turn Signals
To perform these next tasks you may need a partner; at any rate, having a partner would make the job simpler. Spend a minute or so checking out all the exterior lights on your vehicle. These include:
- Headlights (low beam and high beam).
- Brake lights.
- Front turn signals.
- Rear turn signals.
- Reverse lights.
- Fog lights.
- Parking lights.
Ensuring that all of your lights are working properly will enable you to see better in all conditions and to be seen much more easily by other drivers. If any of the lights are out, replace them. If any seem dim, consider installing new bulbs so that you have brighter lights. In addition to the hazard of driving with lights that are out, it’s also possible to be ticketed for a traffic violation because of them. So make sure they’re all working properly before you leave.
Inspect Belts and Hoses
Checking your belts and hoses is easier than it may sound. All it takes is a couple of minutes and a general idea of what you’re looking for.
Pop the hood on your car and look in the engine bay. One or two belts will typically be spinning on the pulleys on the front of your engine. Make sure the car is off before putting your hands anywhere near the engine. Inspect the belts to see if they’re cracking or severely worn. Also listen for a squealing noise when you start the car, and check whether the engine seems to start slowly. If the belts look fine and you don’t hear a squeal, chances are they’re in good shape.
With the hoses, too, you just need to inspect them to make sure that you see no cracking or signs of leakage. Most importantly, look at the big hose heading to and from the radiator and a smaller hose that deals with the power steering system. If these hoses are not loose and you don’t see any signs of cracking or failure, you’re in good shape.
Have an Emergency Kit
You should bring an emergency kit with you to help you out in case of medical or other emergency. It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Consider including the following in your kit.
- Flashlight with extra batteries.
- Tool kit or multipurpose tool.
- Reflective triangles or reflective material for you and your car.
- First aid kit with gauze, tape, bandages, pain killers, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, gloves, scissors, etc.
- Nonperishable foods.
- Drinking water.
- Fire extinguisher.
In addition to a standard emergency kit, other things that could prove helpful to have in your car include:
- Car charger for your phone.
- Jumper cables.
- Car jack.
- Properly inflated spare tire.
- Tire iron.
- Extra coolant, washer fluid, brake fluid, and oil.
Getting ready for a road trip can be exciting. Maybe you’re visiting new places, maybe you’re going somewhere that you’ve always loved going to. Whatever the case, you want your car to be in top shape so that you avoid trouble. Nothing ruins a road trip faster than problems with your car that you could have prevented.
Here at Car Digest, we’ve learned that although you can’t prevent everything, doing a few major things will give you peace of mind. Get your oil changed, check your tires, test all exterior lights, check your wipers, make sure your belts and hoses are good to go, and have an emergency kit on hand. You should be able to complete the checklist within an hour or so. Not a bad price to pay for peace of mind. Enjoy your trip!