A long trip is a serious test for your car and even a small problem such as a worn windshield wiper, out-of-balance tire can cause a lot of troubles. We have prepared a few simple tips on how to prepare your vehicle for a trip. However, this checklist does not include many other important items such as brakes and suspension components that may only be inspected by a mechanic in a garage with the car on the lift. Book an appointment with your dealer or mechanic well before your trip. Ask for one of those maintenance packages with an oil change, tire rotation and mechanical inspection. Don’t leave it for the last moment, do it few days before your trip.
Check engine oil
To check the engine oil, park the car on a level spot, warm up and stop the engine. Wait for a minute to allow the oil to drain down the oil pan. Pull the engine oil dipstick out, wipe it with a clean rag or a paper towel and insert it back fully. Pull it out again and check the level – it should be close to the “FULL” mark on the dipstick.
If the engine oil appears too black, it’s better to change it now. If the level is low, you can top it up using the same type of oil as you already have in the engine.
If you notice that your car consumes a notable amount of engine oil between oil changes, it’s a good idea to take some spare engine oil with you on a trip. Many engine problems are caused by lack of oil changes. If your next oil change is due soon, definitely do it before the trip.
Check engine coolant
Check the engine coolant level in the overflow tank. Your owner’s manual has the directions. The level should be between “Low” and “Full” marks.
(Don’t open the radiator cap or the pressurized overflow tank cap when the engine is hot!)
If the coolant level is just a bit low, you can top it up using recommended type of coolant mixed with water. Again, your owner’s manual has the proper way to do it. If the coolant level is well below the “Low” mark, have your cooling system checked for leaks. Any leaks should be fixed before a trip, as lack of coolant on the road may cause the engine to overheat which may result in serious damage.
If it’s been a long time since you changed your air filter, it might be a good idea to change it before a trip. A dirty air filter will cause lack of power. If you want to change it yourself, your owner’s manual has the directions.
Check the battery condition visually. If you see any acid leaks, cracks or other damage, the battery must be replaced.
Make sure the battery terminals are tight and not corroded. Corroded terminals will cause troubles.
Unfortunately, there is no way to tell when the battery will die; sometimes it happens unexpectedly with no prior signs. However, if you feel that when you are starting the car, the engine cranks slower than normally, the battery is probably close to its end. Usually a new battery may last from 3 to 6 years, so if your battery is 4-5 year old, it’s a good idea to have it tested before a trip.
Check the horn, wipers and all the lights. A couple of spare bulbs (one for the headlight, one for the back) might be useful. Make sure your heater / air conditioner works properly. If you haven’t changed the cabin air filter (pollen filter) for a long time, consider replacing it. When it’s dirty, it restricts the air flow for the air conditioner or the heater. Have a broken or cracked rear view mirror? Fix it before the trip.
Check the tire pressure. Recommended pressure is indicated on the manufacturer’s label, which usually located in the driver’s door frame or in the glove box. You also can find it in the owner’s manual.
If you feel a vibration at highway speed, have your tires balanced. There is a safe limit of the tread wear. If the tire is worn below this limit, it’s unsafe to drive. Uneven tire wear indicates alignment problem.
Basic emergency kit for your car
A basic emergency kit for your car can include:
– Jumper wires
– Tire sealer-inflator can
– Tire gauge
– Couple of rags and work gloves
– Basic tool kit with screwdrivers, pliers and set of most common sockets.
Consider also a spare headlight bulb and a bottle of windshield washer fluid, an emergency stop sign or flares, an electrical tape, spare ignition key, etc.
Don’t forget your personal emergency kit with First Aid kit and items like a blanket, a bottle of water, couple of energy bars, etc.
Replace the wipers if they don’t clean the windshield properly. If you still have the original wipers installed, you can just replace the rubber refills; they cost just a few bucks and can be purchased from your local dealership’s parts department. Check if the windshield washer jets are working properly. If the roads are wet or slushy, it’s good idea to take an extra windshield washer fluid with you.