Travel experts agree—this will be the year of the road trip. Since many of us have been driving fewer miles each month due to pandemic restrictions, we may have forgotten to give our vehicles the TLC they deserve. Before you hit the road on your next road trip, it’s important to give your car a full inspection to make sure it’s road ready. We spoke with AAA Car Care expert Daryl Thompson to get his recommendations on how to prepare your car for your next road trip adventure.
WHO SHOULD INSPECT YOUR VEHICLE?
As the bay doors open for a new day of maintaining and repairing vehicles at AAA Tire and Auto Service in Huber Heights, Ohio, Car Care Assistant Manager Daryl Thompson is quick to remind customers that preventative maintenance is key to keeping cars at their peak performance—especially if you’re hitting the road for long journey.
“There are some things that you can check at home, and there are some things you need to check with a professional,” says Thompson.
CHECK YOUR TIRE PRESSURE AND TREAD AT HOME
Checking your vehicle’s tire pressure is a good starting place to prepare your vehicle for a road trip. A common mistake most drivers make when checking their tire pressure is that they don’t know what pressure levels they should maintain.
“Most people don’t know this, but inside the driver’s door, there is a sticker that shows the proper pressures for the vehicle to be set at,” advises Thompson.
Checking tire tread is also important to make sure that your car’s tires provide the grip you need to maintain control of your vehicle. Thompson recommends using the classic penny trick to check the depth of your tire tread at home. Simply drop a penny into the tire tread upside down, avoiding tread ribs. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head on the penny from the side, Thompson advises that you’re definitely due for new tires.
While checking tread depth, it’s also important to inspect for uneven wearing—if you notice this, take your tires in for an inspection from a car care professional.
CHECK THE OIL AT HOME…TWICE
Checking your vehicle’s oil is a simple step drivers can take to make sure their vehicle is road ready. Thompson was quick to point out that the first look at a dipstick out of the engine doesn’t provide valuable information on the oil level—it’s the second look at the dipstick that provides an accurate depiction of the oil levels in your engine.
“The first look tells us nothing because the engine has been running. Instead, after wiping the dipstick the first time, push the dipstick all the way back down into the engine, and pull it back out,” says Thompson.
Not all dipsticks are made or read the same. Thompson advises checking your vehicle’s owner’s manual to see how the dipstick in your vehicle depicts an acceptable oil level.
INSPECT LIGHTS AND WIPER BLADES AT HOME
Other basic items drivers should check at home include checking headlights, brake lights, turn signals, and the often-overlooked rear license plate light.
Wiper blades should also be inspected. Thompson recommends lifting up the blade to its upright resting position and feeling the blade for a smooth edge. Afterwards, put the blade back against the windshield and make sure that the entire blade makes contact with the glass. Replacing wiper blades is a minor expense that can provide improved vision during any inclement weather you may encounter.
WHAT A PROFESSIONAL SHOULD INSPECT ON YOUR VEHICLE
Brake inspections before a road trip are better left to a professional. According to Thompson, a Car Care professional can provide you with a visual and road brake inspection. Thompson and his staff use a brake pad inspection tool that uses a red, yellow, and green color coding to advise on the remaining life and thickness of a vehicle’s brake pad.
“We start to recommend brake pad replacement at two, three, or four millimeters,” advises Thompson.
Under the hood, a car care professional can check all of your fluid levels, ranging from wiper fluid to coolants. While some of these levels can be checked at home, adding fluid can be challenging. Adding the wrong type of fluid to a chamber can result in costly repairs.
Inspecting your vehicle’s battery can often be better left to a professional who has a professional-grade battery inspection tool. According to Thompson, the device tests the amperage, voltage, and reserve health and can provide an instant report on the health of your car's battery.
REGULAR MAINTENANCE IS KEY
As drivers take to the highways and byways for road trip season, Thompson has a final message on the importance of regular vehicle maintenance.
“It’s important that drivers take their cars, for the lack of a better term, to the doctor,” says Thompson. “Your automotive professional is your car’s doctor. To prevent the things that are preventable, it’s best that [professionals] take a look at it, just like when you go to a doctor and get your own health checked out.”