Is Your Car in Trip-Ready Shape?
It’s Road Trip Time! But First…
Nothing feels as freeing as an old-fashioned, all-American road trip. Your car is your ticket to freedom, but if you take it for granted, it might just leave you stranded instead. That’s not the ending you want to your trip.
Don’t even think about leaving your driveway unless you have checked out your car from top to bottom to make sure it’s up to the task of keeping you safe and free of trouble.
Top Off Your Fluids
By this, we don’t mean to make sure you have a full drink in your cupholder. Think of your car’s fluids as its lifeblood. Check and top off the following before heading out.
Oil lubricates engine components such as the pistons, crankshaft, and camshaft. It should be changed every 3,000-5,000 miles. In between oil changes, use the dipstick to check the color (it should not be black and gritty) and to ensure the level does not fall below the minimum required.
Radiator fluid (also called coolant or antifreeze) extracts heat from your car’s engine. If you are low on radiator fluid, your engine may overheat. The radiator system should be flushed at 50,000-mile intervals.
Brake fluid compresses inside the brake lines to force your car’s brake pads to clamp on the rotors and slow your speed. Top off your brake fluid if necessary and flush it every 36,000 miles.
Power steering fluid makes turning your steering wheel easy. Have the system checked about every 50,000 miles.
Transmission fluid helps the gears to mesh smoothly, keeping shifts comfortable. It’s a good idea to replace the fluid every 60,000 miles.
Windshield fluid keeps your windshield clean so you have a better view of the road. Refill the reservoir if it’s low.
Check the Tires
Rolling on good tires is paramount to safety so don’t shortcut this to-do.
Air pressure should be checked every 1,000 miles so that you get the best fuel efficiency, a smoother ride, and even wear.
Rotation corrects the inevitable variations in suspension calibration, weight balance, and tread wear. Swapping tire placement between the right and left side or front and rear every 5,000-8,000 miles will help your tires last much longer.
Replacement of your tires after 25,000-50,000 miles or if punctures or sidewall bulges occur will significantly lower your risk of a flat or blowout, both of which can be very inconvenient at best and extremely dangerous at worst.
General Auto Maintenance
There are a few other components to check for repair or replacement to get your automobile in good driving order.
Brake pads provide the friction needed to slow down and stop your car. Make sure they are nice and thick and don’t screech or squeal. They will need to be changed every 25,000-70,000 miles.
Belts should be tight and without cracking, fraying, or missing teeth.
Hoses should not be leaking any fluid, especially near joining points.
Air filters prevent dust and debris from entering the engine and the interior of your car. If they are clogged, it can lower your engine’s performance and your fuel economy along with the quality of the air you breathe. Replace every 12,000 miles.
Light bulbs that are burned out will cause you to be pulled over and issued a warning or citation. Besides, it’s dangerous for both for you, other drivers, and pedestrians.
Wipers should not be cracked or loose. Replace if they are or if they are not cleaning your windshield without streaking.
Extra Safety Precautions
No matter how much automobile maintenance you do before your road trip, there is no guarantee that your drive will be trouble free. That’s why it’s just as important to take these extra safety precautions.
Have an emergency kit packed with (at a minimum) a blanket, flashlight, batteries, extra food and water, first aid kit, jumper cables, spare tire, tire jack, and flares.
Hide a spare key underneath your car in a magnetic box.
Use a cargo bag or box on top of your vehicle to store heavy and awkward items that can possibly become scary projectiles in an accident.
Keep your fuel tank halfway full to avoid running out of gas and to prevent condensation from forming.
Pack a solar-powered phone charger to be sure you can call someone at any time.
Call your insurance agent to make sure you have the proper coverage, including collision, comprehensive, liability, medical, and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.
This list may seem a little overwhelming but the peace of mind and, most importantly, the increased safety, is well worth the few minutes it takes to properly prepare for your drive on the open road.