Road Trip Planning: Preparing the Car for a Road Trip

In a few short days, we’ll be heading off on our next road trip. But first some key things have to get done, one of which is prepping the car, or in our case, mini-van, for the long trek ahead of it.

Before any road trip, even just a day trip, it’s important to make sure you are prepared for a vehicle emergency and that your car is appropriately serviced.

This is your mode of transportation. If you to go by a plane or train, you’d want it properly maintained. The same goes for your automobile. After all, your family’s safety depends on it.

In our case, with a high-mileage vehicle with over 137,000 miles on it and with a long, 5500 mile trek ahead of us, we have to be even more careful to ensure that the van is ready to go for our Fall Road Trip.

For the last six weeks, we’ve made sure some necessary service work was done, including replacing brakes and checking out a computer issue. But now, with a few days left, we are in routine maintenance and safety check mode.

To help you with your road trip planning, we thought we’d share our eight point checklist for preparing your car for a family road trip:

Oil Change

Make sure your car’s oil and oil filter is relatively fresh. In our case we were nearly that 3,000 oil change mark , so we had it changed. Plus because our Fall Road Trip will take us over 5500 miles, we will getting another oil change on the road. It makes a difference.

Check Fluid Levels

Thankfully, the service we use to do our oil changes does this for us. But if yours doesn’t be sure to check all our fluids. In our case Radiator fluid was low and that is critical to keep the engine cool.  Also checking the antifreeze is a good idea.

Tire Pressure

It’s amazing how just a little air can make a big difference on the success of a road trip. By making sure your tire pressure is on target, you get not only better gas mileage on the trip, but also reduce the wear and tear on your tires. A tire inspection and if necessary a tire rotation is also helpful. But at the bare minimum, check your vehicle’s tire pressure and, if necessary, fill the tires to the recommended psi.

Spare Tire & Jack

It should go without saying, but…don’t forget about your spare tire! You may need it. Be sure that is in good condition, with the proper tire pressure, and ready to go. You never know when you might need it, so be sure it, and the jack you need to install it, are in the car and in usable condition.

Safety Repairs

If your vehicle has any safety equipment issues – lights, taillights, fuses, whatever – be sure you get them done before you leave on your trip. We had a missing screw on the front driver side bummer, so Greg got that fixed up so we wouldn’t have issues with that.

Road side Assistance

If you don’t already have road side assistance coverage, make arrangements to get it. You won’t regret it if you ever have to use it. There’s AAA of course, and your insurance might have it as well. We use our insurance’s road side assistance, and it’s excellent. I’ve had to use it several times in the last couple years – once when I was a few hours from home with all four kids and the dog – I was so thankful for their help.

A Safety Kit for the Car

having  car tool kit along on your road trip can make a big difference!For my seventeenth birthday, my dad gave me my first car kit – full jumper cables, flares, WD-40, and a few essential auto repair tools. Still have it – and two more.

If you don’t already have a car kit in your vehicle, get one. You never know when you’ll need it.

Spare Bottles of Fluids

You never know when or where you’ll be when your car needs an extra drink of oil or brake fluid, or any other fluid. An auto parts store might not be close by. So, for a road trip, stock up on a few extra items:

carry with you spare bottles of oil, antifreeze, brake fluid, and hand cleaner

  • a spare bottle of oil that is the same weight as what you have in your car engine.
  • a bottle of premixed antifreeze
  • Goop or other mechanic hand soap (if you have to do any maintenance on the car while on the road, even change a tire, this stuff will pay off!)
  • a spare bottle of brake fluid, especially for older cars this is helpful
  • and optionally, a bottle of fuel injection cleaner (again older car, long trip, it’ll help)

If you are traveling in winter, like we are, and/or through the snow, also be sure to have a winter safety kit in your car. You certainly don’t want to freeze if you get stuck on a cold deserted road.

Your family is important and you don’t want to risk having vehicle safety problems if you can help it. Taking the time and funds to invest in a few things will make for a safer and more relaxing road trip.

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