Long road trips can be both exciting and fun. With proper preparation, you can avoid boredom and delays. Download a good playlist and make sure you have a few games for the kids. Packing a small cooler with drinks and snacks means fewer stops. Also, your car needs to be in tip-top shape for a long journey.
A long road trip is a serious test for your vehicle. Even small problems such as out-of-balance tires or worn windshield wipers can cause trouble. Here is a basic checklist that you can work through before setting off on your trip:
- Check the Fluid Levels in Your Car
- Examine Your Car’s Battery
- Replace the Air Filter
- Check Tires & Tire Pressure
- Pack Owner’s Manual & Tools
Check the Fluid Levels in Your Car
There are several different fluids in your car that keep it running smoothly. All of them should be topped off before taking any long trips. It’s also a good idea to carry extra oil and coolant in your car for emergencies. A list of fluid levels to check in your car include:
- Brake Fluid
- Power Steering Fluid
- Transmission Fluid
- Windshield Wiper Fluid
Check the Engine Oil
Engine oil should always be checked while the engine is cold. To check the engine oil, pull out the dipstick, wipe it with a paper towel or a clean rag, and then insert it back into the reservoir. Pull out the dipstick again to check the level, make sure it’s close to the “FULL” mark. Change the engine oil if it appears too black or if it is getting close to the time for an oil change. Many modern vehicles have electronic oil level gauges which can simplify this process but it is always good to double check.
How to Check the Transmission Fluid
Unlike oil, transmission fluid has to be checked while the engine is warm and idling. Make sure the car is parked on a level surface. Set the hand brake and pull out the transmission fluid with the engine idling in neutral. Wipe off the dipstick with a cloth or and insert it back.
To check the fluid condition and level, pull out the dipstick again. Clean transmission fluid is a pinkish-red or red color. Under high load and temperature, the transmission fluid oxidizes and becomes brown. Change the transmission fluid if it appears too dark, especially if you will be towing a trailer. Be careful not to overfill the transmission fluid. Too much is just as bad as not enough.
Examine Your Car’s Battery
Check the condition of the battery visually. Replace it if you find any cracks, acid leaks, or any other damage. It is important to ensure that the battery terminals aren’t corroded as that invites trouble.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any simple way to figure out the exact life of a battery (unless you search through manufacturer’s battery manuals). Sometimes, the battery will die unexpectedly without any prior signs. The best way to check your battery’s life is to put the car in auxiliary mode. Turn the key to the “on” position but don’t turn on the engine. Look at the volt gauge on the dashboard. A car battery needs to be around 12 volts to effectively start the engine. A battery usually lasts from two to six years, depending on the manufacturer and model. Most auto parts stores will test your battery for free.
Replace the Air Filter
Replace an old air filter in your vehicle before a long road trip. A dirty air filter reduces power and increases fuel consumption. There are many of YouTube videos showing how to change an air filter, or you can take it to the shop. Air filter replacement is easy and inexpensive.
Check the Tires & Tire Pressure
Tire pressure is one of the most important things that you need to check before a road trip. The recommended tire pressure is located inside the driver door, on the sidewall of the tire, or in the Owner’s Manual. Have your tires balanced if you feel a vibration at high speeds. Check the tire tread and replace them if it seems worn. Patched tires may be able to handle a long road trip but there is never a guarantee.
Pack Owner’s Manual & Tools
Don’t forget to keep the owner’s manual of your vehicle in the glove box. From how to change a flat tire to the location of the jack and how a trailer is towed, the manual contains pieces of highly useful information which could be of great help on the trip.
It also includes instructions and information about how to top off the engine oil, how to jump-start the vehicle in case the battery dies, how to change the bulb of the headlight, and more. Most manuals can be downloaded if you no longer have the original. Alternatively, you can get one from your local dealer.
Besides the owner’s manual, you need to pack a few basic safety items. Every car should have a good spare tire, an emergency warning triangle, flare, jack, and lug wrench. If you don’t know how to change a tire, you need to learn before your trip. You never know when you will need to change a tire. The other option is to pay a road assistance business for the job but this usually includes a wait time of up to an hour or more.
You also need jumper cables, duct tape, a gas can, and a basic set of tools. Having these on hand can keep you from getting stranded on the side of the road. Don’t count on your cell phone. There are many places that don’t have service. Plan in advance and your trip should go off without a hitch.
Other Tips and Warnings
- Familiarize yourself with the vehicle and its equipment, especially if you plan to drive a rental car.
- Minimize sudden starts/stops and don’t carry unnecessary weight. The heavier the vehicle, the more fuel it will consume for the drive.
- Don’t wait for the gas gauge to sit on “empty” before refueling. As soon as the pointer falls to a quarter of a tank, start looking for a gas station, especially if your trip involves traveling on unfamiliar roads.
- It is highly important to ensure every person seated in the car buckles his/her seat belt. It will not only keep you safe, but some places have strict laws concerning seat belts.
- Consider using a GPS for navigation. It can help keep you from getting lost.