Car Checklist Before A Road Trip

road trip
Source: Creativa Images/Shutterstock

Taking a road trip with friends and family can turn out to be a fun-filled adventure where you’ll create some of the most lasting memories.

However, developing car problems during the trip is sure to ruin the fun for everyone.

Despite being fun for you and your friends, road trips can be very tough on cars. This is because they involve hours and hours of driving on all sorts of terrains. You can take turns driving so that everybody rests, but your car doesn’t get any chance to rest during this trip.

For this reason, you need to ensure that your car is in the best possible conditions before you hit the road. Failure to do this could result in annoying delays and expensive roadside repair costs as a result of breakdowns during the road trip.

Consider completing the following tasks before your road trip to make sure you have an enjoyable journey:

Check The Fluids

Fluids are critical to the proper operation of a vehicle. Before taking a road trip, it is essential to ensure you have the correct levels of every fluid in the vehicle. For most cars, checking fluids is simple and do not require a mechanic to check them for you. You should check the following fluids:

  • Engine oil: This is checked using the dip stick that can be easily found under the hood. While checking the level, you should also check the condition of the oil. If it is too dirty, that could be a sign that the oil needs changing. Consult your service records and find out if your car is due for service.
  • Brake fluid: The braking system is another very important system in your vehicle. To avoid your brakes from failing during your road trip, make a point of checking that your brake fluid is at its proper level. Brake fluid is usually found under the hood close to the windshield in a semi-transparent container on the driver side.
  • Engine coolant: When you are on a road trip, your engine will be running continuously for more hours than normal. This increases its tendency to overheat, especially if the engine coolant is low. For this reason, you need to ensure that your cooling system is functioning properly and that the coolant is at the right level.
  • Transmission oils – Just like your engine, your gearbox and differentials need to be lubricated against wear. When transmission oil runs low, friction can damage vital parts of the transmission system and this will not end well for you. Avoid transmission problems by ensuring that your transmission oil is topped up.
  • Windshield washer fluid: Depending on the prevailing weather conditions, the windshield is likely to get dirty during the road trip. The washer fluid will help you get everything cleaned out if your windshield gets dirty during the trip. Make sure you fill it with fresh water before leaving for the trip.

Check The Hoses

Rubber hoses are a vital part of your car engine’s cooling system. They are also the weakest parts of the cooling system.

Although it takes a long time before they start developing problems, high temperatures in the system cause gradual deterioration in the rubber. That is why you need to check all the hoses for cracks and blisters. If you identify any, it is a good idea to have them replaced before you hit the road.

Check The Belts

When was the last time you replaced a belt? Belts are used in the car to drive various pulleys that drive the different accessories in the vehicles. The power steering pump, AC compressor, water pump, and the alternator that charges the battery are all driven by belts. In some cars, the radiator cooling fan is also driven by a belt.

Having a worn-out belt is risky because it can easily get broken, causing malfunctions on a vital system in the car. It is therefore important to check your belts before hitting the road. If they have cracks or look like they are about to break, then it may be a good time to replace them.

If they are not worn but you hear some loud screeches when you start the engine or when turning the steering wheel, have a mechanic tension them for you.

Check The Tires

Tires are your contact with the road, hence they have a big impact on the stability and comfort of the ride. The first thing you should check is the wear. This is done by examining the tread. If you don’t have a tread depth gauge, use an upside-down penny to find out if the tires need replacement. Insert an upside-down penny in the tread groove and if you see President Lincoln’s entire head, then you should replace the tires.

It’s a good idea to also check the recommended tire pressure for your car on the fuel filler door, glove compartment or the driver side door and use a proper gauge to ensure that you have this correct pressure on all tires.

If the pressure is too high, traction will be compromised and your braking distances will be longer than usual. You don’t want to bump into another car because of something as simple as tire pressure. High tire pressures also cause a bumpy ride that makes the trip uncomfortable for everyone.

When combined with high temperatures and rough roads, high tire pressures could also lead to tire bursts and we all know how dangerous a tire burst can be at high speeds.

On the flip side, a low tire pressure causes extra friction with the road which causes the tires to run hotter than normal. As a result, higher temperatures cause more rapid wear, sending you back to the tire shop sooner than you would want. The extra friction also makes it more difficult for the wheel to roll easily on the road surface hence your car will end up consuming more fuel than it would have with correct tire pressures.

You should also check to ensure that pressure is even across all wheels. As mentioned earlier, low pressures increase friction between the tire and the road surface. If this friction is uneven between the tires, the car will tend to steer itself to one side of the road when you apply the brakes and this could end in a collision.

Check The Brakes

There are two main things that should be checked in the brake system: the brake fluid and the brake pads. We have already discussed the brake fluid so all that is left is the brake pads.

Have a mechanic check how much of the friction material is left and if it will be sufficient to take you to your destination and back.

Check Your Battery And Charging System

A healthy battery should be around 12.6 volts with no load when the engine is off. When the engine is running, it should be between 13.7 and 14.7 volts.

If you see a variation in these numbers, or if your headlights get brighter when you rev your engine, it is a good idea to have the battery and charging system checked by a mechanic before you leave for the road trip.

Check Your Car’s Heating And Ac Systems

The weather around your home may be predictable, but you don’t know what you will encounter on your road trip. It could be that you don’t ever need to use AC or your car’s heater when at home, but this is no guarantee that you will not need these systems during the road trip.

So check if these systems are functioning properly and have a technician rectify any errors. This is also a good time to check the pollen filter in the ventilation system to ensure that you get air that is clean and in the desired temperature.

Vital Accessories

Once you have checked and made sure your car is mechanically prepared for the road trip, the next step is to make sure that you have the necessary accessories. These accessories include:

  • First aid kit
  • Life-saver triangles
  • Towing rope
  • Jumper cables
  • Flashlight
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Properly inflated spare tire
  • Jack
  • Wheel wrench

Use An Empty Cereal Container As An In-car Road Trip Trash Can

When everybody is busy in the car having fun, it’s easy to find trash piling up. This could lead to bad odors and a difficult time cleaning after the road trip.

A cereal container can help keep the car clean during the entire trip. It is perfect because of its compact size and the lid makes sure that trash does not spill out when it gets knocked over.

Bring A Bluetooth Headset

If you are the designated driver for the road trip, a Bluetooth headset will come in handy to ensure that everybody is safe on the road and that you are available to take any calls that come while driving.

Make sure you have set everything up properly and tested to ensure that it all functions perfectly before you drive out of that parking lot.

Carry A Phone Charger With As Many Ports As Possible

Depending on the length of your road trip, you might want to bring along a car charger. If you have a number of friends with you, then multiple ports will be invaluable when everybody’s phone starts making that dreaded low-battery sound.

There are a number of affordable options for this from two-port car chargers to multi-way car chargers that can charge more than two phones at the same time.

To enjoy a pleasant road trip, it’s crucial to be prepared and attend to your vehicle before leaving to avoid any possible breakdowns on the road. Consider our recommendations and get ready for a great journey!