Road Trip Readiness: Check These Key Elements Before You Hit the Road

With Spring and Summer rapidly approaching, the temptation to get out on the open road is at an all-time high. However, it’s essential to ensure proper maintenance and emergency preparedness are prioritized before heading out for your destination. Whether your car is older and has seen hundreds of thousands of miles or it’s just getting broken in, it’s important to make sure it’s up to the task of a road trip!

How do you prepare for a road trip?

Mechanic inspects oil level of a vehicle via the dipstick
Checking Oil Levels | Paul Aiken/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

The most important part of preparing for a road trip is ensuring you’re taking a reliable car. However, that doesn’t always have to mean that it’s a new or newer car. Just about any vehicle that has been cared for and maintained at a reasonable level has the capability of making a long drive. Obviously, an older or higher mileage car carries more risk inherently. That shouldn’t deter you from giving it a shot if you trust your vehicle, though. Regardless of vehicle age, here are the things AAA recommends you check before heading out on a long drive!

A road trip is a game of mechanical longevity, so it’s crucial to inspect your vehicle’s drivetrain components. First and foremost, make sure your engine has an adequate amount of oil and coolant. If you’re nearing an oil change interval, it’s a good idea to go ahead and get the oil change out of the way before leaving. Some may even consider changing their engine oil before a road trip regardless of the last service as an extra bit of cheap insurance. Additionally, check the cleanliness of the engine’s coolant. If it’s excessively dirty or hasn’t been flushed for several years, it’s a good idea to drain it and fill the system with fresh coolant. An overheating engine can cause oil to become too thin regardless of its age and cause severe damage, so it’s important not to rule either one of these out!

While you’re under the hood, it’s also a great idea to take a look at the vehicle’s belts and hoses to ensure they are free from damage. While some belts make look like they’re OK, closer inspection may reveal that they’ve got some cracking or serious wear and tear.

As excited as you are to go, you should probably make sure you can stop, too.

Mechanic Inspecting and Fillling BMW tire with air
Filling BMW tire with air | Wolfgang Kumm/picture alliance via Getty Images

Brakes are serious business, and vehicle owners should not take their inspection lightly. Worn brake pads on the brink of failure are very bad news on a road trip as you’re likely to be traveling at a high rate of speed on the interstate. If an emergency stopping situation presents itself and you don’t have the power to stop your vehicle adequately, you’re going to have a severe problem. Make sure your brake pads are within wear specs and not grinding. Additionally, ensure brake rotors are free of cracks or warping.

While you’re down there, be sure to inspect your vehicle’s tires. Ensure you properly inflate each tire to manufacturer-recommended pressure. Additionally, make sure the tires are within spec for usable tread depth and are free from foreign objects like nails. Finally, it’s essential to check your spare tire before a road trip, too. There’s nothing worse than getting a flat and finding your spare tire is also flat.

Replace your wiper blades and ensure your windshield washer fluid is full before leaving, too. It’s pretty annoying to spend all day catching bugs on your windshield and having no way to remove them without stopping.

Finally, ensure your battery is properly charging and isn’t on its way out. Key signs of a failing battery are your vehicle struggling to crank and start. Many auto parts stores will perform a free battery check.

Be thorough with your inspection and always have a backup plan

Drone aerial view of winding road and red car in Utah.
Utah Roadway | Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Once you’ve ensured your vehicle is ready to hit the road, it’s essential to supplement your check with a quality roadside emergency kit. AAA recommends including drinking water, flares or lights, non-perishable snacks, basic tools, duct tape, a rain poncho, gloves, and a flashlight with spare batteries.

If this seems overwhelming to do yourself, most qualified mechanics can perform a pre-trip inspection for a modest fee. Additionally, having a towing plan is a fantastic idea, whether via insurance, your vehicle’s manufacturer, or a third-party company!

Now drive safe and, most importantly, have a great trip!

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