There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it – your car must be up to snuff before embarking on a long road trip. You may be busy planning which campsites to stop at or what hidden restaurants to try, but providing your car with this same kind of preparation will go a long way during your travels. Why? Because a breakdown far from home will certainly put a damper on the fun. There’s good news though; a few simple checks and tips can reduce the probability of your trip getting sidelined by an unexpected yet necessary repair.
Spring break will be here before you know it, so here’s a list of what to check, inspect, organize, and pack before “road trip day” arrives:
1. Check the fluids
Cars have about as much fluid as humans. Just like we need to stay hydrated, so does our car. Before any long trip, it’s imperative to make sure your vehicle has enough juice in every domain so that the car can run effortlessly. Checking your fluids includes engine oil, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, antifreeze, windshield washer, and brake fluid.
2. Stay Charged
Make sure your battery is strong and has clean terminals. If the connections are dirty, a little baking soda, water, and a cleaning tool like a toothbrush will do the job. Your car’s entire charging system should be inspected once a year, so be sure this has been checked within that time frame before you hit the open road for miles on end. The last thing you want is to be broken down halfway to your destination thinking, “dad told me so!” Check that battery!
3. Inspect tires
Your tires connect your car to the road, so the rubber needs to be given the care it deserves! Do your tires have a good amount of tread left? Are they inflated to the proper pressure? Do you have a spare tire and the necessary tools to change it if need be? It may sound like a game of 21 questions, but all of these questions should be answered before embarking on your trip.
4. Double check lights (and dummy lights)
Lights are often forgotten about when it comes to basic car maintenance, because it’s not always obvious when one isn’t working. That makes it even more important to double check all lights, which includes your brake lights, turn signals, headlights, and taillights to make sure they are working properly. Make sure the dummy lights on the dash are not lit. If they are lit, fix the problem before you leave, even if the car seems to be running properly.
5. Check wipers
While you’re out exploring the open road and seeking beautiful sights, you’ll want to make sure you can clearly see them. If you’re windshield wipers aren’t working well and creating smudges when it rains, replace them. Double check for cracks in the windshield and the functionality of your defroster in order to ensure that your visibility won’t be hindered in any way. Don’t squint if you don’t have to! We don’t want any wildlife to be mistaken for a rock in the distance.
6. Clean out your car
The best time to clean out your car is before a big road trip. The more stuff you haul, the more fuel you burn, and when you are accumulating hundreds of miles, you’ll want to conserve as much gas as possible. If you are traveling along the legendary Route 66 in the Texas Panhandle, do you really need that snow shovel? Take it out! A little spring cleaning inside of your car never hurt anyone.
7. Stock an emergency kit
Be prepared in the event of an accident or medical issue. A comprehensive kit should include jumper cables, a warning light, a hazard triangle or flares, a flashlight, a multipurpose tool, tire sealant, duct tape, and a first aid kit.
8. Pack smart
Consumer Reports summarizes a typical vehicle’s weight guidelines, as well as its effect on fuel economy:
“Check your vehicle’s load capacity to make sure you aren’t putting too much weight in the car. On most new cars, the total weight you can carry is printed on the door placard inside the driver’s door jam. This load rating includes all the passengers and cargo. Be aware that fuel economy is reduced with extra cargo. Roof-top cargo boxes should only be filled with light bulky items. Heavy loads on the roof can make the vehicle more difficult to handle in emergency situations and increase the risk of a roll over. If not in use, remove the roof rack as if can significantly worsen your fuel economy.”
If you’ve inspected all the above, then ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to start your engines! Drive on, be safe, and take in the wonder, beauty, and freedom a road trip offers.