Preparing Your Car for Road-trip Season

What to know before you leave home

It was the summer of 1997, and I was 16 years old. My friend Cindy and I were driving to Dewey Beach in Delaware. We booked our accommodations, printed directions on MapQuest, packed our bikinis and suntan lotion, grabbed our favorite CDs and piled everything into my 1988 Chevy Cavalier.

Somewhere cruising down Route 1 with windows down, music up, and hair flying, we noticed smoke coming from under the hood. Uh, oh. I pulled off the highway and shut the car off. What were we to do?

Fortunately for us, a friendly driver pulled up to help … and he was a mechanic! The odds, right? We had a rare stroke of luck, but most people do not. Take it from me, nothing puts a damper on your summer vacation like a broken-down car. So before you hit the road for the much-needed trip, make sure you show your car some love!

Things to consider before any road trip longer than two hours

Does your car need any repairs or maintenance? You should address any unusual noises, leaks, shakes, illuminated dashboard lights and, worst of all, warm air from the air-conditioning before going on any long trip. If you are taking a car that you don’t drive every day, go on a test drive and check for any trouble signs and noises.

Take your car to the repair shop if it is due for the following maintenance: oil change, filter change, tire rotation, tune up, belt replacement, or fluid flush. If you’ll be towing something, ask the shop to use synthetic oil.

Also, be sure to tell the mechanic or service advisor that you are going on a road trip. They should take extra care to check the brakes, hoses and belts on the car as well as check for leaks under the car and looseness in the steering and suspension.

Things to check before EVERY road trip longer than two hours

Even if your car isn’t due for any maintenance or repairs, there are a few DIY checks to complete before your summer road trip.

  • Check all of your fluids. These fluids include engine oil, brake fluid, power steering fluid, coolant and transmission fluid (if applicable). If any are low or empty, take the car to the mechanic to diagnosis and repair.
  • Check your battery. Do you have a lot of corrosion on the terminals? With your car off and the engine cool, clean off the greenish-white powder with baking soda, water and a toothbrush.
  • Check tire tread and air pressure. Summer calls for sudden downpours. You don’t want to drive on slick wet roads with no tire tread. Also, fill the tire with air if needed but do not overinflate. Check your vehicle’s owners manual or inside the driver’s side door for the recommended air pressure. Lastly, don’t forget to check the air pressure on your spare tire and to confirm that you have the proper tools and parts needed to change a flat tire.
  • Check all of your lights, including:
    • Headlights (front of car)
    • High beams (front of car)
    • Brake lights (back of car—don’t forget the third brake light)
    • Turn signals (front and back of car)
    • Reverse lights (back of car)
  • Check you wipers and washer fluid. Heavy summer rains can make driving difficult and scary. Make sure your wipers are in tip-top shape to handle any heavy rains, and double-check that the windshield washer bottle under the hood is full.
  • Pack the car with a few items for peace of mind. You should always keep an extra gallon of coolant, two to three quarts of oil, rags for cleaning, water, GPS if you don’t have smartphone, and duct tape in your car in case of emergency. Organized them all in a box and keep it in the trunk.

Now that the car is ready for vacation, you can look forward to good times with friends and family! Oh, and don’t forget the sunscreen!

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