Prep Your Car For A Road Trip

Taking a long road trip is no big deal, even if you have an older vehicle — believe it or not, long highway trips are usually less stressful on our cars than day-to-day driving. Still, a breakdown far from home can really ruin your fun. Here’s a checklist of things you can do to make sure your car is in tip-top shape for your road trip.

By Aaron Gold


Consider renting: If you’re seriously concerned about your car’s ability to make a long trip, if your car is too small for the people and stuff you want to bring, or if you have a mileage-limited lease, consider renting a car for your trip. The extra cost may well be worth the comfort and peace of mind.

Repairs: If your car needs any repairs, get them done well in advance of your trip — that way there’s time to sort out any related problems that might arise.

Registration and insurance: Make sure they are up to date and that the paperwork is in your glovebox or purse. If you need to renew either, now is the time!


Scheduled maintenance: If your car is going to come due for an oil change or any other maintenance during your trip, get it done now.

Check the tires: Buy a tire pressure gauge, learn how to use it, and check the tire pressures (before you drive, while the tires are still cold). The proper pressures will be listed in your owner’s manual, on the driver’s door jamb, or inside the fuel filler door. While you’re down there, check the tire tread: Put a penny into the grooves of the tread with Lincoln’s head facing down. If you can see the space above Abe’s head, it’s time to replace the tires.

Check the spare: If your car has a spare tire, check the air pressure and make sure you have all the parts for the jack. If your car has an inflater kit, make sure all the pieces are there.

Check your car’s critical fluids: Check the engine oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and coolant. If you don’t know how to do this, ask your mechanic, dealer, or a car-savvy frend to show you. It’s best to be able to do this yourself, so you can check your fluids when you stop for gas. If anything is low, take the car to a mechanic to ascertain why.

Check your air filter: A dirty air filter reduces gas mileage and saps power on steep hills, especially with a heavily loaded car. Your owner’s manual may tell you how to access the air filter, or you can have your mechanic or dealer check it for you. Hold the filter up to the sun; if you can’t see light through it, it’s time for a new one.

Clean out your car: The more stuff you carry in your car, the more fuel you use. Clean mercilessly: If you’re going on a ski trip in New Hampshire, do you really need that beach umbrella?

Buy a road atlas: If you don’t have an up-to-date road atlas, get one. Navigation systems tend to route you over boring expressways. With a road atlas, you can find scenic routes that will add a whole new dimension to your trip — and if your GPS goes on the fritz, you can still find your way around.

Join AAA: If you don’t belong to a roadside assistance program, consider joining AAA. Not only can they assist you with roadside emergencies (flat tires, dead batteries, lockouts, and running out of gas), but a membership also gets you discounts at many roadside motels and restaurants.

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