Cruising down the road on a long trip far from home is one of the worst moments to have car trouble. Breaking down on the highway can be dangerous, and even if you pull over safely and without issue, you must find a mechanic, call a tow truck, and more. So, before you set off on that much-needed trip, take time to prepare your car for a road trip.
How to know if your car can make a long trip
Resolving known issues is the first step in preparing your car for a road trip. Does your car need any repairs or maintenance? You should address any unusual noises, leaks, shakes, illuminated dashboard lights and worst of all, warm air from the air-conditioning before going on any long trip. If you are taking a car that you don’t drive every day, go on a test drive and check for any trouble signs. If you notice anything unusual — like noises when you brake — have a mechanic evaluate them.
You should also take your car to the repair shop if it’s due for the following maintenance: oil change, filter change, tire rotation, tune-up, belt replacement, or fluid flush. If you are towing something, ask the shop to use synthetic oil. Tell the mechanic or service advisor that you are going on a road trip. They should do a pre-trip car inspection to check the brakes, hoses, and belts on the car and check for leaks under the car and looseness in the steering and suspension. Learn more about when to replace brakes.
Checklist for getting your car ready for a road trip
Even if your car isn’t due for any maintenance or repairs, you can do a few simple DIY car checks before your road trip to ensure your journey is as smooth and stress-free as possible. Make the following road trip car maintenance part of your travel planning routine:
Monitor fluid levels
Check all your car’s fluids when preparing a car for a long trip. These fluids include engine oil, brake fluid, power steering fluid, coolant, and transmission fluid (if applicable). If these essential vehicle fluids are low or empty, take the car to the mechanic for diagnosis and repair. If there aren’t problems like leaks, you can fill some fluids on your own. For example, checking your coolant levels and filling coolant is easy to do at home.
Inspect car battery
Inspect your battery. Do you have a lot of corrosion on the terminals? While your car is off and the engine is cool, clean off the greenish-white powder with baking soda, water, and a toothbrush.
Examine tires and pressure
Look at tire tread depth and air pressure. Summer calls for sudden downpours. You don’t want to drive on slick wet roads with no tire tread. Also, fill the tire with air if needed but do not overinflate. Review your vehicle’s owner’s manual for the recommended air pressure. Lastly, check the air pressure on your spare tire and confirm that you have the proper tools and parts needed to change a flat tire. If you don’t know how to change a flat tire, learn before you go. The spare is only helpful if you know how to put it on!
Test all car lights
Ensuring the lights work is another important part of checking your car before a road trip. Evaluate all your lights, including:
- Headlights (front of car)
- High beams (front of car)
- Brake lights (back of car — don’t forget the third brake light)
- Turn signals (front and back of car)
- Reverse lights (back of car)
Check wipers and washer fluid
Inspect your wipers and washer fluid and replace the windshield wipers if necessary. Heavy summer rains can make driving difficult and scary. Ensure your wipers are in tip-top shape to handle heavy rains and double-check that the windshield washer bottle under the hood is full.
Be prepared with these items
Before you take off on your vacation, assemble a road trip emergency kit. Smart additions to the road trip toolkit include:
- An extra gallon of coolant
- Two to three quarts of oil
- Rags for cleaning
- GPS if you don’t have a smartphone
- Duct tape
Whether you’re a long-time road warrior or preparing for the family’s first road trip, knowing how to prepare your car for a road trip is key to making the journey a fun experience for everyone. In addition to a pre-trip car inspection, consider adding roadside assistance coverage to your auto insurance policy.