You might not often think about how to prepare your car for a road trip. At this point, simply jumping in the car and driving is baked into Americans’ DNA, especially thanks to the vast distances we cover. Reliable, durable vehicles have spoiled us, and we often don’t even consider preparing before driving hundreds or thousands of miles.
Why 2023 Is Different: The Evolution of Road Trip Preparations
Numerous innovations have worked together to transform car reliability and safety, including:
Despite these advancements, learning how to prepare your car for a long road trip hasn’t changed dramatically, as this guide shows.
Essential Pre-Trip Car Checks
Make sure to check these items before hitting the road.
Dive Deep Into Fluids
Here are the fluids you need to check to avoid minor annoyances and catastrophic failures:
Engine Oil The engine oil dipstick usually has an oil lamp on the cap. When you pull it out, wipe it with a cloth or paper towel before putting it back in. Pull it out again and check the markings on the stick. The oil will cling to the stick and show you what your oil level is. If it’s low, add the correct oil type for your car until the level is correct.
Brake Fluid Under the hood, you’ll see a brake fluid reservoir, which should have obvious markings on the cap. When in doubt, check your owner’s manual. It will be a clear reservoir with “minimum” and “maximum” lines so you can tell how much fluid should be present. The color of the fluid should be yellow or amber, but make sure to use the correct type for your car.
Coolant Engine heat is kept in check by coolant, a mixture of water and antifreeze running through the car’s radiator, which is located in front of the engine. The coolant itself is in a clear reservoir with markings for the correct amounts, much like the brake fluid.
The coolant color can vary, with red, green, orange, and violet all being common options. When refilling, follow the instructions on the bottle for the correct ratio of coolant to water before pouring it in.
Transmission Fluid If your car does allow for transmission fluid refills (some don’t), there should be a dipstick under the hood. Let the car warm up and let it idle on a level surface. Pull out the stick, wipe it with a cloth, replace it slowly, and pull it out again. Check the fluid level via the markings on the dipstick. Use the correct type of transmission fluid for your vehicle and fill until the level reaches the correct marks on the stick.
Tire Tales: More Than Just Rubber
To see how much tread you have left, take a penny and place it in the grooves of your tires with Lincoln’s head aimed down. If you can see his entire head, your tires are too worn, and you’ll need new ones.
You’ll also need to check your tire pressure, which is generally supposed to be 35 psi (pounds per square inch) but can vary slightly depending on the manufacturer. If they’re low, pump them up (and always remember the spare). Check it for leaks and make sure it’s pumped up and ready to go in case you get a flat.
General Vehicle Maintenance
You should also always check for leaking hoses and frayed or squeaking belts. You may additionally need to replace the engine and cabin air filters, but your owner's manual will contain the mileage at which you should do so. Check the brakes as well to make sure they stop the car effectively.
Light the Way: Ensuring Visibility & Safety
Evaluate your headlights, high beams, flashers, turn signals, reverse lights, brake lights, and even your interior reading and map lights to make sure they’re functioning. However, if you see illuminated dashboard lights, they could indicate a serious issue such as low engine oil. These alerts should be resolved before you head out on the road.
Wipers & Visibility: Clearing the Path
Wipers should sweep across the windshield with ease. That means clean and clear wiping with no streaks when you spray the wiper fluid. If they’re making constant scrubbing sounds or appear to skip across the windshield, it’s time for new wiper blades. Ensure that all washer nozzles are spraying forcefully and that the reservoir is full.
Battery Boost: Keeping the Energy Flowing
Check your battery terminals for corrosion. Also, look at the label on the battery to see the date of manufacture. If it’s older than three years, it may be time for a replacement.
Special Considerations for Modern Cars
If you have a hybrid or even a fully electric car, check the hybrid or main battery to make sure it’s working properly and holding a charge. While the vehicle should have self-diagnostic systems to allow this, you may need to talk to your dealer or repair shop to have them check the batteries.
In addition, many modern cars have software that will receive over-the-air updates to improve navigation, driver assist features, and other car functions. Ensure that your car is completely updated before you drive off.
The Ultimate Car Survival Kit: Beyond Basics
Here’s what you need in your car survival kit:
The battery-powered jump starter is especially handy if your battery goes dead. Consider also that if your car battery is done, you’ll need a way to keep your cell phone charged. As for the car escape tools, they’ll help you in case of emergency. For instance, should your car end up in a lake or river, they’ll allow you to cut through seat belts and break the windows.
CarShield's Bonus Tips: What Others Aren't Telling You
These little-known tips will help you stay safe for long journeys.
Energy Efficiency Hacks for the Road
Draft, but not too closely. Let the vehicles in front push wind out of the way for you. Also, clean cars get better fuel mileage. And above 45 mph, you’ll get better mileage with the air conditioning on than the windows open.
Did you know you can get a cell signal booster for your car? That way, the next time you’re driving through a dead zone, the booster can make the difference between spotty or nonexistent connections and a clear signal. And in case you have to spend the night in your car, bring blankets, pillows, and netting for your windows to keep the bugs out.
Advanced Tech Troubleshooting
Never forget the first piece of advice most IT professionals give: turn it off and back on again. Also, if you’re having trouble connecting your phone via Bluetooth, bring a good old-fashioned USB cable instead. Ultimately, you can also get aftermarket solutions, such as external Bluetooth adapters, for some issues.
Why Having a Good Warranty or VSA Can Save You Thousands of Dollars
Since driving long distances is harder on your vehicle, getting a warranty or service contract can save you from paying out of pocket when a part fails on your trip. Make sure you get coverage that gives you access to a wide network of repair shops so you can get your car fixed even when you’re out of state.
Concluding Checks Before Heading Out Before you head out, make the following list and check it twice:
- Check all fluids
- Check all lights
- Check tire tread and pressure
- Check belts and hoses
- Check battery
- Check wipers and washer fluid
- Make sure you have every item in your survival kit
- Plan your route
- Get a warranty or service contract
As long as you’ve got these things covered, you can enjoy your drive.
Get Your Protection Through CarShield Today
After searching for “how to prepare car for road trip,” you found this article and got all of our advice. We’re happy to help! Remember that CarShield’s comprehensive service contracts will also provide peace of mind as you cross over all those state lines.
You not only get part repairs taken care of, but you’ll also get rental reimbursement, towing, and roadside assistance, all of which are helpful when you’re in an unfamiliar area. Contact CarShield and find the right plan before your next road trip.
Share Your Road Trip Stories With CarShield
Check out CarShield TV, with shows like Drive On, My Drive, and CarShield Tips & Tricks. You’ll find out about cool destinations worth driving to, compelling stories, and tips for keeping your car in like-new condition.