How to Get Your Car Prepped for a Road Trip

If you’re going to drive a few hundred miles for the winter holidays, or if you have any other road trips on your calendar, you may feel up to your elbows in preparations. Perhaps the last thing you want to think about is another to-do list. Nonetheless, assuming you aren’t eager for any experiences that are much funnier in sitcoms, your travel vehicle should be as ready as your travelers.

Dig Out Your Maintenance Records

Preparing for a Road Trip - Ohio Auto Warehouse

Image via Flickr by taylor.a

If any of the following are due for routine maintenance within 30 days or 750 miles, get them serviced before the trip:
  • Engine oil
  • Transmission fluid, brake fluid, steering fluid, and coolant
  • Filters
  • Hoses and belts
  • Battery
  • Tire treads
  • Windshield wipers
Consider your climate-control system and your dashboard gauges, as well. While a malfunction in either won’t force you to stop, it could make the rest of the trip miserable, if only with worry over whether that dashboard light is telling the truth. If nothing is approaching its maintenance date, it’s still a good idea to have your regular mechanic check the car thoroughly in advance. Better to head off any potential problems while still in familiar territory than to risk having to rely on a shop in a strange town.

Check the Car Yourself

Even before visiting your local service provider, take time to evaluate your car at highway speeds. It’s easy to get into the habit of tuning out strange rattles and squeaky brakes in a vehicle you drive daily. If that can be dangerous on home ground, it’s doubly so on long stretches of interstate. Go 10 miles while pretending this is your first time behind this wheel. Listen for clatters and sputters. Look for flickering lights and off-color exhaust. Feel any shaking or bulkiness in the way the car handles. Also, do a quick under-the-hood check to see if the dipsticks indicate adequate fluid levels and if the belts and hoses are tight and uncracked. Slide a penny or quarter into the tire treads with the president’s head upside down; if the whole portrait remains visible, the tread is wearing thin. If you also measure tire pressure, note that the number on the tire is normally the maximum level, and not the recommended level. Check your car manual for where to find the recommended pressure range.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Of course, the best-maintained car is still vulnerable to reckless drivers, tire-ripping debris, and the one place everyone missed during advance checks. Keep your defensive driving skills up to date, have everyone and everything properly secured, and stay updated on road conditions and weather reports. Plus, make sure the following items are on your packing list:
  • Spare tire and jack
  • Jumper cables
  • Extra headlight/taillight bulbs
  • First aid kit
  • Extra water
  • Flashlight
  • Well-charged phone and phone charger
To ensure that qualified and reputable help is always within reach, a AAA membership is invaluable. It’s probably impossible to take any road trip without a few frustrating experiences, but car trouble en route can accelerate frustrating into nerve-wracking, or even dangerous. Make sure your vehicle is ready for the long haul!