Making Sure Your Car is Road Trip Ready

By Jon Bailey

Are you planning some road trips in 2021? With the pandemic still changing the way we travel, packing the family up for an extended drive has become the norm. Loading up your vehicle and hitting the road can be a great way to escape the monotony of home and find some peace, fun, and entertainment. Many families are skipping the big metropolitan cities and heading out to the country instead to experience the beauty of nature. However, before you start your trip, there’s some road trip prep you should do first.

With all the new things we now need to think about to keep us safe, the car you’re driving might not be high on your list. However, it’s more important than ever to make sure you don’t find yourself broken down on the side of the road. Preparation for a road trip doesn’t have to be time-consuming or cost a lot of money. To help you out, read on for a checklist to look over before hitting the road.

7 Items for Your Road Trip Checklist

  1. Check the air filter

It’s more important now than ever to check your car’s air filter before heading out on your next road trip. A worn-out cabin filter means you won’t have fresh circulating air. Not much is worse than circulating some gassy, smelly, or otherwise funky air. Air filters also help improve the car’s performance and fuel efficiency by ensuring plenty of clean air flowing to the engine. 

How to check the air filter: Check out your owner’s manual for instructions on how to locate and open your air filter. Typically, it’s located under the hood in a rectangular box near the front of the engine compartment.

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  1. Do a battery check

A typical car battery lasts about two years if you live in a hot climate and four years in colder parts. Most batteries have a sticker on them that indicates when it was installed and when you should check it. If you can’t find such a sticker and don’t remember when you last replaced your battery, if your lights are dimming or you’ve had to jump start your car recently, you should check the battery performance. This is especially important if you hear a sluggish sound from your starter or it takes a couple of attempts to “turn over” the engine. The battery may be corroded or dying. Believe me, this is not fun to discover by surprise—we just had a very unpleasant experience involving a car battery while on the road (but thank goodness for AAA Roadside Assistance!).

How to do a battery check: The easiest way to test your battery is to do a “load test.” You do this by turning on your headlights without starting your engine for about 15 minutes. Then, start your car and pay attention to the brightness of your headlights. If they dim, you should have a professional check the battery. You can also use a multimeter, a device that measures voltage and tells you how much power is left. 

  1. Change the engine oil

Of course, you’re already getting oil changes every 3,000 miles, right? If so, check the date of your next one. If it’s coming up, go ahead and get it done now. Remember, the longer your road trip, the more stress you will put on your car. If you can’t remember the last time you changed your oil—or never have—it may very well be overdue.

How to change the engine oil: You can get it changed at most automotive repair centers quickly, easily, and cheaply. Yes, you can also do it yourself, but it doesn’t really save you much money and will definitely take you more time. 

  1. Top off your car’s fluids

One of the most overlooked steps of road trip prep is checking the fluid levels in your car. You should top off the coolant, transmission, power steering, windshield wiper, brake, and oil levels. This is really a simple way to avoid a potentially dangerous breakdown.

How to top off your fluids: First, make sure your car is turned off. Then, check your owner’s manual for the correct kinds of fluids needed and the location of each receptacle. If you get your oil changed by a professional, they can check and replenish fluids as well. 

  1. Check your vehicle’s tire pressure

If the rubber is hitting the road, you’d better check that there is the right amount of air in those tires. Low air pressure can cause reduced fuel efficiency and wears out the tires more quickly. Too much air can be the cause of a blowout. Most newer cars have indicator lights on the dashboard that signal when tire pressure is low.

How to check your tires' air pressure: You can use an air hose at a gas station or a gauge purchasable from an auto store to make sure the right amount of pressure is in your tires. Most tire stores can check the air pressure for free too. 

  1. Wash your car

Start your trip with a clean car, inside and out. A clean car looks good and can make you feel good. It can also help you stay organized and find those sunglasses when you need them! Washing the exterior of your car (especially the windows) helps you maintain good visibility. 

How to wash your car: Use nonabrasive soap and water for a by-hand wash. Or, if you want to conserve water, run it through an automatic car wash in your neighborhood. 

  1. Do a test drive

Just because you drive your car every day doesn’t mean that everything in your vehicle is working well. Make sure you take the car out on the road specifically to notice if anything sounds or feels off. 

How to take a test drive: Does your car shake at a certain speed? You may need to have your shocks checked. If you hear moaning from the tires, it may mean you have a bad wheel. Are your brakes squealing? Your brake pads may be worn out. Turn the radio off so you can focus on how your car looks, sounds, and feels.

How to Prepare for Your Road Trip

This road trip checklist is not just for the inner parts of your vehicle. Your family also has to do some prep for the road trip adventures. Before leaving home, there are some easy steps you can take to protect your trip, your car, and the loved ones traveling with you.

Here’s a quick checklist of things to do before you leave home so that your vacation can be safe, fun, and less stressful.

  • Download any apps, videos, books, or games for you or the kids. Wi-Fi on the road can be spotty.
  • Connect your cell phone to the Bluetooth system in your car to use it hands-free while driving. 
  • Pack tech-free, car-friendly games, and activities to give everyone’s eyes (and brains) a rest. Old school games like car bingo can be big hits.
  • Pack a combination of healthy and delicious snacks along with plenty of water to stay hydrated. Consider bringing a cooler to keep chilled items fresh.
  • Research your destination and print/download what you need to know in advance.
  • Ensure you have a tire iron, jack, and spare tire in the vehicle and check they’re all in working order.
  • Add one garbage bag in every row of your car, along with extras, so you can replace them throughout your trip.
  • Put together an emergency kit that includes a mobile cell phone charger, flashlight, charging cables, a screwdriver, pliers, and bottled water.
  • Share your route using an app like Life360 so a trusted friend or family member can monitor your progress and be able to locate you if necessary.

Great American road trips are more in vogue now than ever before. Make sure your car is ready before you head out on your next trip. Doing this will help fill your vacation with fun and relaxation and eliminate as much stress as possible. These road trip prep tips can help make your next vacation the best one yet!

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