Long road trips are becoming an increasingly popular way to take a vacation. Before you hit the road, you should prepare your car to handle the trip, no matter where you're heading this summer! Taking certain steps helps to ensure your engine will run smoothly and your trip will go well.
Things you should do to your car before you leave
Check the condition of your spare tire
Checking the condition of your spare tire is an important step before a long trip. While a spare tire is only meant to make it for a short time, this will be an absolute must if you encounter a flat. You don’t want to be stuck waiting for a tow truck on the side of the road, for something you could have fixed yourself.
Make sure you have a tire iron and car jack
This might seem obvious, but it’s best to double check that both your tire iron and car jack are in your car and functional prior to a long trip. There’s always the chance that someone else in your household used this equipment and forgot to return it to its rightful place.
Check your tire’s pressure and tread before you leave
Checking your tires for proper tread and pressure is not only important for safety but also fuel economy. An under-inflated tire can worsen fuel economy on a long trip. Learn how to spot abnormal tire wear, so you can properly identify potential problems, before you prepare to hit the road.
It’s essential that you properly examine your tires before leaving on a long road trip. Use a quality pressure gauge on your tires and ensure they have the appropriate pressure amount. While many believe that the number on the tire is the amount they should be filled to that number is actually the maximum amount they can hold. Make sure you’re filling your car's tires to the correct amount by checking in your driver’s side door, glove compartment, or owner’s manual.
Checking tire tread is very important, especially if you’re headed out on a long journey. The quarter test will do the trick, simply hold a quarter in the tread, with the face on the quarter upside down. If George Washington’s head is covered slightly, then you should be good to go. Generally speaking, tires should be replaced between 25,000 and 50,000 miles.
If you have both summer and winter tires, make sure you have the appropriate set on your car before you leave for your road trip.
Get your scheduled oil change before you leave
If you got an oil change within a few thousand miles, you should be good to go. However, you should still check your oil to make sure everything is running smoothly. Use your car’s dipstick to assess the oil in your car, make sure it isn’t black, gritty in texture, or low.
If you’re hitting that 3,000 to 5,000-mile mark between oil changes, consider getting an oil change before you leave for your road trip. Be sure to calculate how many miles you’ll be driving on your road trip, to make sure your car won’t need an oil change while you're on the road.
You may also want to top off your oil before you go to ensure your car can go the distance. Make sure you’re using an oil that is graded for summer use, as it will perform best in your car.
Leave with a clean car
Heading out on your trip with a clean car makes hours in the car more enjoyable for you and your passengers. Doing this also gives you the chance to assess your car and notice anything abnormal before you go. Preparing a clean interior makes packing easier and relaxing on the road more enjoyable.
Make sure your a/c and heat are functioning, in Minnesota sometimes heat during summer nights is a real need, you have all the aux cords or CD’s you’ll want for your trip, you have a trash bag or tissue box handy in your car, etc.
This is also a good time to make sure your car's driving lights, high beams, and brake lights are fully functional.
Check your car’s fluids
While you know it’s important to prepare your car’s oil there are also some other fluids you should inspect prior to your trip, to ensure your engine runs smoothly.
Most likely, in the summer time you’ll want to add a windshield washing fluid formula. While this isn’t essential to the performance of your car it’s still an important step to prepare, so make sure you top it off ahead of time.
Either check your coolant levels, or have them checked for you, to make sure you’ve got enough. If you’re low, add coolant appropriate for summer at the 50:50 ratio of distilled water and coolant, or buy pre-mixed.
You may also want to check your power steering fluid, brake fluid, and transmission fluid if your car hasn’t been recently serviced.
Change the air filter
Your car’s air filter is responsible for preventing anything from penetrating your car’s engine and the interior of your car. The condition of your air filter is also important for sustaining your fuel economy and also for maintaining the air quality inside your car.
About every 10,000 to 12,000 miles you’ll want to get a new air filter. Luckily, air filters are easy to replace and relatively inexpensive. You may be able to simply clean your air filter and get more use out of it if it’s only mildly blocked.
Check the battery
If you haven’t had a new car battery in several years, it might be time for a new one or at the very least a light cleaning. You’ll want to check to make sure that there is no corrosion on its terminals and that the leads are secure.
If there is corrosion, a white chalky substance, on your battery, you’ll want to do some light cleaning. You can purchase a battery cleaning brush at any auto store, or you can make an appointment to have it cleaned for you before your road trip. To learn more about when your battery should be replaced, how to extend its life, and what signs to take note of, check out our blog on car batteries.
Things to have in your car
Make sure you have your owner’s manual
Unfortunately, there’s a multitude of things that could go wrong on a road trip. When a vehicle warning indicator light pops up on your dash, your car’s owner’s manual can help you decipher what is going wrong on the road.
Your owner’s manual also has instructions on how to properly maintain your car’s fluids, where to fill them, and things of that nature. You should also check your manual before you leave to make sure you’re maintaining your car within the recommended time span.
Have a safety kit in your trunk
Things like first aid kits, fire extinguishers, and jumper cables are all things you hope you never have to use but that you should have in your car’s trunk. Double check that you've got everything you need for emergencies and accidents in advance.
You may consider getting roadside insurance for your road trip. Having this adds a sense of security just in case you find yourself in a situation you're not prepared for.
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