Road Trip Checklist: Preparing Your Vehicle
If you’re headed on a road trip soon, you need to know how to get your car ready to drive for the long haul. A road trip puts your car’s endurance to the test, and you want it to be comfortable and, most importantly, safe for the whole ride.
Road tripping, like most long drives, can strain your vehicle, leaving you at risk of possibly breaking down or damaging your car while on the road. Breakdowns like this can not only cost a great deal in repairs, but they can potentially cause dangerous road accidents. So, for safety, peace of mind, and preventing unnecessary maintenance bills, follow this road trip checklist to prepare you and your vehicle before you hit the open road.
Ways to Prepare Your Vehicle for a Long Trip
Check Fluids and Replace Filters
One of the most important steps you can take to ensure your car is ready for a long road trip is to check your fluid levels and filters. Running out or even running low on one of these fluids could mean the end of your journey. In some cases, like running out of radiator fluid, it may mean the end for your car engine! So, before leaving, check your car’s fluids and top them off as necessary. That includes brake fluid, coolant, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, and even your windshield wiper fluid. In the case of engine oil, you may need an oil change if it’s been more than 3,000 miles since you’ve done so. Checking your air filters is also important, as any debris can hurt your engine’s performance and impact fuel economy, costing you extra money as you go. You can check your car’s owner’s manual for more specific guidelines on any of these fluids or filters.
Key fluids and filters to check:
- Oil: This is essential for keeping the moving parts in your engine lubricated.
- Radiator Fluid: You need to keep enough radiator fluid in your engine to keep it from overheating.
- Air Filter: This keeps dust and dirt out of your engine. So, keeping it clean will help improve your car’s performance.
Check Your Tires
It is also important to check your tire pressure before leaving on any long trip. Like cleaning your air filter, it’s worth the effort since you’ll get better gas mileage with a properly inflated tire along with a more comfortable trip. You can check the owner’s manual to find the correct air pressure for your vehicle.
While you’re checking your tire pressure, it’s also a good idea to check your tire tread. A quick way to check is by placing a penny between the grooves of your tire’s treads; you shouldn’t be able to see the top of Lincoln’s head. If you can, you need to replace your tires.
If you pass the penny check, still consider getting a tire rotation if you haven’t done so in the last 5,000 to 8,000 miles. This can help keep your tires from wearing unevenly, which will help them last longer. If you’re already planning on getting your oil changed, it’s a good idea to do these two things together to help save you some time.
Test Your Brakes and Lights
Your brakes, of course, are vital to your safety and need to be checked before any long trip. You’ll want to check the brake pads to see if they feel at all spongy. If they do, you may need to add brake fluid. Also, if your brakes have been making any unusual noises recently, be sure to check them or have them checked before starting your trip. If anything is wrong, you’ll need to get repairs.
Additionally, check to see that your brake lights are working. While you’re checking these lights, look to see that all your other lights are working as well, such as your turn signals, headlights, and taillights. If you find that any of the lights aren’t working, just replace the bulbs. If that doesn’t work, you’ll need to have them repaired.
Check Your Air Conditioner
If you’re going on a summer road trip, you certainly don’t want to be without air conditioning. That could easily make a road trip a lot less fun. So, be sure to check that your air conditioning is functioning properly and get it serviced if it isn’t. It’s always best to be ready for the heat.
To avoid getting stuck, possibly in the middle of nowhere, check your car battery. First, look over the terminals for any signs of corrosion. If there are any signs present, disconnect your battery. Next, mix a small amount of baking soda in a cup of hot water and use an old toothbrush dipped in the mixture to carefully clean the terminals and posts. The baking soda will help neutralize and remove the acid. After you finish, remove the residue with cool water and reassemble when dry.
Also, be sure to check if your battery is healthy. You can do this by using a tool called a multimeter. Check to see if the reading is greater than 12.4 volts, putting it in a healthy range. If you don’t have access to a multimeter, don’t worry, many auto parts stores will check this for you for free in addition to other factors of battery performance.
Check Belts and Hoses
A car, like any other machine, needs belts and hoses to keep it in working order. Your electrical system won’t work without them, nor will your power steering or cooling system function, so your car’s belts need to be checked for cracks and fraying. You also need to ensure that they are adequately tight.
Additionally, you should inspect your hoses for any drips, leaks, or cracking. If your car was missing coolant when you checked it in an earlier step, there is a good chance you are suffering a leak. Try to check under your vehicle for drips when your engine is hot, as it can often bring out subtle leaks.
Build Your Emergency Kit
No matter how carefully you get your car ready before you go, you can still have a breakdown. That makes it essential to be prepared for anything before you hit the road. Have an emergency kit containing a spare tire, tire changing tools, jumper cables, a starter battery, road flares, and some basic repair tools, such as an adjustable wrench, a socket set, pliers, and both a flathead and a Phillips head screwdriver.
If you don’t already have one, you should have a first aid kit in your car along with extra food and water, just in case you have a long wait for help. Also, it’s a good idea to bring along some blankets and extra warm clothing if you are traveling in colder climates or during the winter. Lastly, always double-check before leaving for your trip that you have your insurance and vehicle registration.
Clean Your Car
Since this is a road trip, you’re going to be spending a lot of time inside your car. So, you’ll want to be comfortable, and a clean, good-smelling car is much more comfortable than a neglected one. To get your interior road trip ready, you need to know how to clean your vehicle. So, here are some quick interior cleaning tips to help you out.
- Remove all the junk.
- Clean the windows and any touch screens with recommended cleaning products.
- Wipe off all vinyl surfaces, such as your steering wheel and your seats, with an appropriate cleaner.
- Wipe off any trim.
- Aim to use the best car interior cleaning products whenever possible
- Thoroughly vacuum your car’s interior.
- Clean all of the upholstery with an upholstery cleaner.
- Take the floor mats out of your car and clean them.
Prepare For Breakdowns with Endurance
No matter how well you prepare for a long trip, breakdowns can happen. This can leave you stranded on the side of the road with an expensive list of necessary repairs to get you going again. So, make sure you can handle any costly emergency repairs before they happen with Endurance.
Not only does Endurance cover an extensive list of repairs to get your car back on the road, but every Endurance plan also provides 24/7 roadside assistance and substitute transport. So, you can get right back on the road again and enjoy your road trip.
Being Road Trip Ready
Road trips can be a great way to enjoy a vacation or just to spend some time with the family, but an unexpected breakdown can quickly turn your trip into a nightmare. With this checklist, you can ensure your vehicle is ready for a long trip.
If you’re worried about vehicle issues happening on the road or you’re still not confident you can spot every potential problem yourself, you can get your car protected by the helpful folks at Endurance. That way, your vehicle will be covered in case of road trip disasters, and you can trust you’ll get back on your way in no time. Get your car protected soon to be ready for the summer travel season.
So, give your vehicle a good look and check off every car maintenance task on this list, so you enjoy not only the destination but also the journey getting there.
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Larry Witherspoon Jr. is a co-founder and Executive Director of the Automotive Training Center. Larry has held multiple leadership positions in the U. S. Navy and with various Fortune 100 companies. In addition to his business experience, Larry grew up understanding the difficulties all young men face becoming adults especially those that come from challenging circumstances. He has taken those experiences growing up and combined them with his passion for vehicles to start the Automotive Training Center. Read more about Larry.