7 Ways To Prepare Your Car For Your Road Trip

So you have decided to take a road trip. It is easy for people to adopt a mindset that their car will run just fine. For older cars this can be risky since they are more prone to breaking down. A car breaking down can increase travel stress and waste time that could be spent on relaxing at your final destination.

Even minor problems such as a broken tail light, dirty seat cushions, or worn out tires are going to lead more problems down the road. This will ultimately ruin the road trip experience. You don’t want to sit in a cluttered car or be pulled over for a burnt out headlight. Getting your car thoroughly cleaned doesn’t have to be expensive, as there are plenty of car washes that include a vacuum for free. If you want a premium experience you could look into getting the car detailed.

If it’s an easy fix, fix it

When most people do a road trip, they want their car ready to go with no extra work needed. This is why fixing what you can will increase your vacation’s success.

For example, if you have a headlight that isn’t functioning properly you should replace it. If your windshield wipers need to be replaced, you should replace them. If your air filter is old you should also look into fixing that as well.

That being said, you also want to ensure you don’t have any warning lights on your dash when you start your trip. Many of these you can fix without external assistance. For example, you can easily fill up a windshield washing fluid reservoir to clear out the associated warning light.

If you have warning lights that you can’t clear you are going to have to get a mechanic to tell you what the issue is. It is easy to leave these problems until you get back from your vacation, but that will increase your chances of having a bumpy trip.

person checking fluids in car engine
Check the fluids before your road trip.

Check the fluids

Your car has a lot of different fluids that are essential to make everything run smoothly. Oil is the most important, but it’s worth your time to also check your radiator, brake, power steering, transmission, and windshield fluids.

Car oil lubricates all the moving parts of the car. If the oil is dirty, it’s time to change it. It is recommended that your oil be changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, depending on the type of oil you put in. If your oil has already been changed, all you have to do is check the dipstick to make sure the oil levels are normal and it doesn’t look gritty. If your car is older you should bring an extra container of oil, just in case.

Your radiator fluid or coolant is what keeps your car engine temperature from getting too hot. When it gets too low your car can overheat, which can seriously damage your engine. Make sure your car’s coolant is topped off, and if it has a minor leak bring a backup container of coolant, just in case.

Brake fluid is essential to keeping your brakes working. Make sure you get regular brake maintenance every 36,000 miles. Power steering fluid is important, but issues with power steering are less common. If you have an automatic vehicle, transmission fluid is what keeps your gears operating smoothly. Windshield wiper fluid may not seem important before your trip, but after you hit a swarm of mosquitos on the open road it will be your best friend.

Replace or clean the headlights

Some road trips involve driving at night and there is nothing worse than driving at night with worn out headlights. You can find a wide variety of headlight cleaning products that are able to make your headlight covers as bright and clean as they were when you first got your car. If you have attempted this with standard window cleaner before, you know that they don’t work. That is because they weren’t made for this kind of job. You need something that is designed specifically for headlights.

Headlight-specific products really work, and you can finish the job in just a few minutes. If you want to take it a step further, you should consider getting yourself a set of xenon headlights.

close up image of car tire tread
Check your tires before your road trip.

Check your tires

If your tires are bad your trip will be bad. Checking the tread of your tires isn’t as hard as you would think. There is the penny test where you place a penny in your tires tread and if you can see the top of Lincoln’s head it’s time to replace them.

Air pressure is another component that can’t be overlooked. If you have too little air, your mileage will suffer and increase trip costs. Tire pressure is also important because if there is uneven pressure in your tires they will wear differently. This can increase wear on your tires and will make them need to be replaced prematurely. If you haven’t had your tires rotated in a while it’s recommended to get them rotated before you leave.

Don’t Forget the Inside

One thing that many people forget when preparing their car is the condition of their floor mats. If your floor mats are able to be cleaned, then clean them. Having clean floor mats will not only improve the smell of your car but will also improve the overall feel.

This is a relatively inexpensive option for you to consider and it definitely helps to make the interior look good. You can pick up a full set for around $20 to $30, depending on whether you want new ones and want to replace them with the same versions that came from the factory.

You also want to ensure you take an equal amount of care with the rest of the interior of the car. If you have a leather interior you are going to want to clean and treat that leather. You are also going to want to vacuum and clean any carpeting in the car.

I do, however, recommend that you avoid household cleaners for your interior cleaner, except for glass cleaner, of course. The materials in your car are different than the materials in your house. As a result, your car requires special products to properly clean and treat them. You only want to use cleaners that are specifically designed for your car’s interior.

Consider Using Professionals

If your car is a model that is a bit more expensive, like $40,000 Corvette, you may want to consider hiring professional detailers to clean and polish your car to perfection. Having a more expensive car like this makes it that much more important to have it cleaned properly.

For a car like this, the difference between being dirty and cleaned properly can easily be upwards of $1000. That being the case, if you don’t have the time or ambition to clean the car yourself, then take it to the professionals. The potential returns are worth the out-of-pocket cost to get it cleaned.

Also, if your car is a bit more expensive use professionals with your repairs and maintenance. Since your car is more expensive this also means car parts can be more expensive. However, if you do your research there are not only Corvette parts  but other car parts available online which you can purchase. If you purchased your car parts online then you can have a mechanic install the part which will save you money overall.

small car with suitcase strapped on the back for a road trip

Packing the car

So you have your car cleaned and ready to go. What you need to do now is make sure you have all of your packing done. Pack the interior of your car first. This will increase safety, because carrying gear on the roof can change the car’s center of gravity.  

You should also pack an emergency kit which include the following: blanket, snacks, drinking water, tire gauge, jumper cables, flashlight, duct tape, funnel and knife. If you’ve taken all the necessary precautions you should never have to use any of these items, but it’s better to overpack than underpack.

Also bring some sunglasses, a first aid kid, phone chargers, emergency contact information, and car information like registration and insurance.

The Verdict

Road trips can bring plenty of memories and bonding; however, they can be a total nightmare if you run into car problems. If you take the necessary precautions of checking your car components you will decrease your chances of breaking down. If you don’t feel like you can check your car yourself, a mechanic can do a trip check for a small fee. Just remember to drive safe and have a good time.

About Kevin Devoto

Kevin Devoto is an avid outdoor enthusiast and freelance writer. He enjoys writing about sustainability, eco friendly behaviors and local travel. He has traveled all over the world but has taken a particular interest in our great National Parks.

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