Preparing your vehicle for a long road trip is important to ensure your safety and the reliability of your vehicle. When road tripping, your vehicle essentially serves as your home, and is often the most valuable thing you bring with you on the trip.
If you’re planning to be on the road for an extended period of time, it’s a smart idea to make sure that you’ve done some serious planning and preparation, particularly when it comes to your car.
The last thing you want is for a mechanical difficulty to bring you to a halt for days or even weeks on your journey. That means well before you’re getting ready to hit the road, you should make sure that every aspect of your vehicle has been examined and approved or repaired as needed.
You should also plan to make sure you have everything you need for road trip safety in your car — stopping by Walmart to pick up extra batteries for your flashlight isn’t always an option when you’re in between major cities. You should always make sure you have the supplies you need before you need them, not once you realize you do.
Here are some steps you can take to prepare your vehicle for a long road trip:
1. Check Your Tires
Ensure your tires are fully inflated, have plenty of tread and remain in good condition. To check the tire pressure use a tire pressure gauge, plus examine for any signs of harm like cracking or bulging.
If you haven’t changed your tires in a lengthy time, getting new ones before setting out on your journey could be an intelligent idea. Tire makers typically advise swapping them out every six years even if they still appear to have plenty of tread left.
Even tires that have been well-maintained and appear to be in good condition can deteriorate over time due to exposure to heat, sunlight, and other environmental factors. In addition, tires that have been in service for more than six years are more likely to experience blowouts or other failures.
It is also recommended to replace a tire if the tread depth is worn down to 2/32 of an inch (1.6 mm) or less, as this can affect the tire’s ability to grip the road and increase the risk of hydroplaning in wet conditions.
2. Change Your Oil And Oil Filter
Most vehicle manufacturers recommend changing the engine oil every 5,000 to 7,500 miles or every 6 months, whichever comes first, for normal driving conditions.
If you frequently drive in severe conditions, such as extreme temperatures, dusty or sandy environments, or stop-and-go traffic, it may be necessary to change the oil more frequently. In such cases, it is recommended to follow the severe service schedule in the owner’s manual, which may recommend oil changes every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.
The oil filter should be changed whenever the engine oil is changed, unless something is wrong with the filter itself.
Since road trips can put thousands of miles on the car and you want to avoid unnecessary delays on your journey, changing the oil before you go ensures that you should have plenty of miles to go before you need to worry about it again.
3. Check The Brakes On Your Car
Before you hit the road, have your brakes checked by a mechanic to ensure that they are in good condition and can handle the demands of a long road trip.
In general, brake pads on a car can last anywhere from 25,000 to 70,000 miles, while brake rotors can last up to 70,000 miles or more, depending on the vehicle and driving conditions.
However, driving in stop-and-go traffic or frequently braking at high speeds can cause the brake pads to wear out more quickly. Similarly, using your brakes aggressively or riding the brakes can cause excessive wear and reduce their lifespan.
If you haven’t had your brakes inspected in a while, taking care of that now ensures that you don’t run the risk of having your brakes fail on you during your journey. It doesn’t need to be said, but a brake failure can lead to catastrophic consequences while driving, particularly on highways while driving at high speeds.
4. Inspect Your Vehicle’s Battery
Remember to check the battery for any signs of corrosion, and ensure that the terminals are clean and securely attached. If the battery is old or weak, consider replacing it before the trip.
In general, most car batteries last between 3 to 5 years, but this can vary depending on the aforementioned factors. Driving habits can also affect the lifespan of a car battery. Frequent short trips can drain the battery’s charge without giving it enough time to recharge, which can reduce its lifespan. On the other hand, longer trips and regular use of the vehicle can help keep the battery charged and maintain its health.
Exposure to extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, can also affect the lifespan of a car battery. High temperatures can cause the battery to evaporate and lose its charge, while cold temperatures can cause the battery to freeze and lose its effectiveness.
Your battery is absolutely critical to driving your vehicle, and if it dies while you’re in a sparsely populated area, you may have extremely limited options to get something as simple as a jump for your vehicle to get it to a mechanic.
5. Double Check All Your Car’s Fluids
Make sure that the coolant, transmission fluid, and other fluids are at the proper levels and in good condition. Top them up or replace them if necessary. As a general rule of thumb, most car fluids should be checked and replaced every 30,000 to 50,000 miles or every 2 to 3 years, whichever comes first.
Fluids that you should check before you go include:
- Transmission fluid: Check the transmission fluid level regularly, and replace the fluid every 30,000 to 60,000 miles.
- Brake fluid: Check the brake fluid level regularly, and replace the fluid every 2 years or as recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.
- Power steering fluid: Check the power steering fluid level regularly, and replace the fluid every 50,000 miles.
- Coolant/antifreeze: Check the coolant level regularly, and replace the coolant every 30,000 to 50,000 miles.
- Windshield washer fluid: Although not nearly as important as the fluids listed above, topping up your windshield wiper fluid before you go is an excellent idea too. Replacement frequency depends on use, so it’s up to you to determine how often you’ll need more. Not having it, however, could result in dirty or dusty windshields that can obscure your vision while you drive.
6. Make Sure Your Lights Work
Make sure that all of your lights are working properly. If they’re out, don’t forget to change them before you go. As a general estimate, the cost can range from $50 to $200 per light.
In case you forgot, here are the lights you should be checking before your trip:
- Headlights: Make sure both your low beams and high beams are working. Test each one individually to ensure they are both functioning properly.
- Brake lights: Have someone stand behind your car while you press the brake pedal to ensure both brake lights are working.
- Turn signals: Test both your left and right turn signals to ensure they are working. You should also check your hazard lights.
- Tail lights: Make sure your tail lights are working properly. These lights help other drivers see your car at night or in low visibility conditions.
- Reverse lights: Test your reverse lights to ensure they are working properly. These lights help other drivers see you when you are backing up.
- Fog lights: If your car has fog lights, make sure they are working. These lights can help improve visibility in foggy or low visibility conditions.
7. Pack An Emergency Kit With Essentials
An emergency kit means you can respond to sudden and unexpected situations and inconveniences on the road without needing to call a tow truck or wait for another person to arrive. If you already have a kit, it’s a good idea to go through it and make sure everything inside still works.
Here are some essential items you can include in an emergency kit:
- First aid kit: Make sure to include bandages, gauze, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, and any other necessary medical items.
- Jumper cables: These can be helpful if your car battery dies and you need a jump start.
- Flashlight and extra batteries: A flashlight can come in handy if you need to look under the hood or change a tire at night.
- Tire repair kit: Include a tire plug kit or sealant to help fix a flat tire until you can get it repaired.
- Blanket: A blanket can provide warmth if you get stranded in cold weather.
- Water and non-perishable snacks: Keep a supply of water and non-perishable snacks, such as energy bars or trail mix, in case you get stranded for an extended period of time.
- Multi-tool or knife: A multi-tool or knife can be useful for a variety of tasks, such as cutting rope or opening packages.
- Reflective triangle or flares: These can help make your vehicle more visible to other drivers if you’re stranded on the side of the road.
- Portable phone charger: Keep a portable phone charger in your emergency kit to ensure that you can call for help if your phone battery dies.
There are also premade emergency kits available for purchase that include many of these items. If you go this route, be sure to choose a kit that is appropriate for your location and driving conditions.
8. Plan Your Route Before You Go
Plan your route ahead of time and consider any potential hazards, such as road closures or construction. Not knowing where you’re going could put you in risky situations that you’re not prepared for.
Make sure you have a reliable GPS or map and know alternate routes. When traveling in areas with minimal internet connection, it’s important to have a GPS device that can function offline. There are several GPS devices on the market at various price points you can compare to find something that meets your needs.
By following these steps, you can help ensure that your vehicle is in good condition and ready for a long road trip.