How to Prepare Your Car for a Road Trip
Last-minute road trips require a vehicle that is up to the task. Follow these tips before hitting the road.
You're a conscientious car owner. You get the oil changed when you're supposed to and you take the vehicle in for its occasional required maintenance. But maybe you've been wondering what other quick things you could be doing to keep your trusty ride running.
Consider the problem this way: Say you were going on a long road trip tomorrow and had today to get your vehicle in the best running shape it could be. What would you be able to accomplish?
Wear and tear on your tires can sneak up quickly and have disastrous results if you have a blowout. Ideally, you should scan your tires once a week for such wear and tear, but if you're about to take a long drive then there's no time like the present. Look for nails, uneven wear, and cracks in your tires. You can also check the date your tires were manufactured. If your tires are more than six years old, keep a close eye on them. You might want to replace them when you get back.
Here's a quick trick to check how worn your treads are. Place a penny into the center of the tire tread with the top of Lincoln's head pointing away from the tire. If you can see his entire head, then it's time to change your tires. If you can see his full forehead, you should consider replacing the tires soon. Bear this in mind before you go barreling down the highway.
Check tire air pressure regularly, and not just for safety. Pressure has a huge impact on your mileage and performance, so you'll save some money here. Follow the tire manufacturer's recommended air capacity and if you suspect a slow leak, look for nails or a puncture.
Don't forget the spare! Make sure it's in good condition and properly inflated. Also check that you have the proper tools to change a tire and that you know how to remove the spare from underneath your vehicle or from the trunk. The only thing worse than a flat is getting a flat and not being able to get at your spare.
When your engine is cold, check your radiator fluid level as well as the reserve tank. If it needs to be topped off, use the recommended mix of antifreeze and water.
While you are under the hood you can visually inspect the radiator hoses for cracks and make sure everything is securely attached. Check the condition of all belts and replace any that are damaged. Depending on your car DIY skill, you might be able to get this done in a day. Even if it does delay your road trip, that's better than breaking down because you ignored a bad belt.
Unless you've just changed your oil recently—say, less than 1,000 miles ago—you should think about doing so before embarking on a trip of many hundreds of miles. If you're taking a cross-country voyage of thousands of miles, definitely do this. It takes less than an hour to change your oil in your garage, or you can hit a quick oil change service station.
If your vehicle tends to burn oil, it doesn't hurt to bring a few extra quarts with you. Check your oil regularly and keep an eye on your oil pressure gauge throughout the trip.
Automatic transmissions may seem happily maintenance-free. Still, check the fluid levels, especially if your vehicle has high miles. If the fluid is low and has never been changed, it's a good idea to have your transmission fluid drained or flushed and replaced. However, this process is a bit more involved than an oil change, so unless your fluid is low, wait until after your trip to have this done by a professional.
Check and replace your air filter if needed. It's pretty simple. Also make sure your air intake area is free from any leaves or debris that may have accumulated.
Be honest with yourself here. You don't want to take a long trek down the interstate with bad brakes. They aren't a quick fix if pads or rotors need to be replaced, so if your brakes are in need of repair it would be best to delay your trip or take a different vehicle.
It's easy to forget about topping off the wiper fluid, but it's the simplest way to make a big difference in your driving experience. Remember that time you ran out while driving down the highway and could hardly see around the bugs and grime that accumulated on the windshield? Don't put yourself through that again.