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Things to check before a long drive

With spring giving way to summer and prime driving season, many drivers will begin to take their cars on longer drives. Whether you’re embarking on a classic road trip, a college tour, a long-distance move, or even the weekend run to the cottage, there are a few things to consider before jumping behind the wheel and hitting the open road. They say that “a failure to plan is a plan to fail” and, when it comes to a long drive, a small amount of preparation can be the difference between a memorable trip and a vacation cut short by a problematic vehicle.

Preparation for anything can be thought of in two ways: predicting what you’ll need if you have a problem, and ensuring, as best you can, that your equipment is up to the task before you leave your driveway.

While your needs will vary based on where you’re going and the length of your trip, the basics are always worth having in your trunk. This includes a roadside emergency kit, jumper cables or a battery-operated booster system, a blanket, spare water, and some way of keeping your phone charged should your route take you through more remote locations. Many of these items are easily sourced, generally inexpensive, and can be kept in the trunk of your car year-round, though anything that uses a battery will need to be charged up at some interval. Additionally, in the case that your vehicle tends to leak or consume any fluids, consider carrying a backup supply for long drives.

Finally, and I understand this may seem fairly intense, but if you plan to travel while wearing sandals or otherwise minimal footwear, throw a pair of comfortable shoes in your trunk as well. Given that a break down in a remote location will likely require a considerable walk to find assistance (or even a cellphone signal), you’ll thank me for those shoes, and the water.

With these basics safely stowed in your trunk, it’s worth checking a few of the consumable aspects of your car to ensure that your vehicle has the tires and required fluids to complete your trip. This is very basic but if you’re unsure of the following elements, your local garage should be able to help ensure these requirements for a very minimal cost (certainly much less than the cost of a tow truck).

Starting with tires, if you’re unfamiliar with caring for your car’s tires, please see our Tires 101 article for a brief primer. For a long trip, you’ll want to both visually inspect all of your tires (looking for cracks, bulging, uneven wear, or damage) and ensure that the tire is inflated to the correct pressure. Checking the pressure is important for the duration of your trip, as it will ensure the tire offers the maximum level of performance and no loss of fuel economy over the course of your drive.

With your tires sorted, take a few moments to ensure your vehicle has the correct supply of all of the required fluids. From oil to coolant and even wiper fluid, the level of your vehicle’s fluids can be checked quickly and often (if you’re unsure how to check the various levels, refer to your owner’s manual). If any fluids are running low, top them up, and if your vehicle is due for an oil change, get that done before leaving for your trip.

In the interest of being as prepared as possible, there are two final considerations before you’re fully road trip ready. First, consider a subscription to a roadside assistance program, or Progressive’s own Roadside Assistance coverage, which offers roadside help should you break down, require something basic like fuel or a tire change, or even a tow truck. One long tow truck ride will likely cost more than the annual membership fee for such a program and you get the added benefit of year-round peace of mind, regardless of how far you’re driving.

Finally, if you’re planning to travel to very remote locations, consider setting up a check-in plan with a friend or family member. Provide this party with an outline of your plans and then check-in with updates as your trip progresses. In the event that you suffer a breakdown or other problem while en route, this safety net ensures that someone will know if things aren’t going to plan and they can arrange for assistance if needed.

While much of the above is applicable to your drive to work, when you’re traveling a great distance the risk, cost, and inconvenience of a breakdown is amplified. Road trips and cross-country drives are part of the fabric of the American experience and, with a little planning, you can ensure that your car is a willing adventure partner and not a steaming roadside headache.