A road trip means several things. To a petrol head, it translates to high-speed, speeding tickets, traffic cops and at some sentimental times and perhaps a slow cruise down the mountainside. If you are a teenager, then we would include a bevy of models and a whole trunk-load of beer.
With such reckless behavior that just affirms how much of 9-year-olds we are when behind the wheel, it is important that we learn the best way to prepare our cars for these long road trips.
The problem is most of us are rather uneducated when it comes to how we should properly maintain our car and check it up before going for a long drive. Yes, if you have a thirsty V8, you’ll need more fuel than you’ll need drinks for the whole trip. But fueling your car is not maintaining it.
So what should you do?
Apart from keeping your ride spotlessly clean, there are vital components of your car that will determine whether your road trip will end with your car in one piece, or you’ll end up coming back in a tow truck.
One of these practices is as simple as checking the condition of your tire threads. The process may get even more complex, with a regular check of your car’s sensors being necessary so that you don’t find yourself driving an engine that’s just about to knock, because the check engine light didn’t come on.
For the full list, make sure you read on. There are 25 things that should be done to a car before a road trip. As a matter of fact, this list can be used as a checklist for next time you are going out for a long drive.
25 Adjust headlight alignment and height
Even if you are one of those people who prefer not to drive at night, it is essential to check your headlights before a long trip. It is for your own safety and the safety of the other people driving along the same road.
But don’t be frightened. This is a simple procedure. Matter of fact, there are plenty of DIY guides online which can help you perform this task. You can do this in your own garage if you have enough space or in your driveway when there is little daylight.
Why is this necessary?
Well, think of how annoyed you’ll be when the car coming in front of you has one headlight pointing directly to the ground, and the other directly to your eyes. Don’t let that be you.
24 Check if indication lights work properly
Left or right? This is a question that can only be answered by indicator lights – which is the main reason why none of these lights should be dysfunctional in your car, at any point. Yet, you may not feel the need to do this task if you are one of those that do not indicate. The good news is that you won’t need to do that anymore once your driving license has been suspended.
So for the sake of your own driving record, pay attention to this. Assuming you are a good driver, check if the indicator lights on your car are working properly. This is easy to do, meaning you can do it alone.
Some cars indicate with a light in the dashboard that there is a faulty lamp. In some older models, the noise of the indication lights becomes more frequent when there is a lamp that is not working.
The best thing to do is to move the lever, step out of the car and check if the front and rear lights are blinking. Don’t forget to repeat the procedure for the other side.
23 Adjust tire pressure
Tire pressure should be checked when the tires are cold. That means, do it at the gas station nearest to your garage or use your own gauge if you have one. Pressure can vary if your tires are hot, that is, after a long drive.
Thanks to technology, some car models have sensors that indicate low tire pressure. Some even show how much pressure each tire has.
Before leaving on a road trip, inflate the tires to the pressure indicated in the user guide of your car or in the sticker you find in the driver door column. Having the tire pressures adjusted will greatly contribute to fuel efficiency, stability and driving pleasure.
22 Check tire treads
If you have been using your car for a long time without checking the tires, an important recommendation is to look closely at the tires treads. They are designed to direct water, other liquids and dust through so that the surface of the tires grips to the pavement.
So how deep should the treads be?
If the depth is less than 2 mm or 2/32 inch, it is time to replace the tires.
This is very important for your safety on the road. If the treads are not deep enough, they will not work properly and the tires will lose grip in wet pavement, causing you to lose control of the vehicle.
21 Rotate tires, if necessary
If the tires treads are deep enough but some are deeper than the others, you can rotate the four tires or even the five tires provided your car counts on a spare tire that is not just an auxiliary wheel.
Of course, you can do the tire rotation yourself in your garage but it requires several steps and organization. Probably, you could take the car to a repair shop that can work with a hydraulic jack and power tools to make the job easier. If you decide to do it yourself, mark the tires and pay attention to the direction the tire must rotate.
If this is too hard for you, there are tutorial videos available online tailored to make you feel at home with the whole process.
20 Have the wheels aligned
Having the wheels aligned is something you should do regularly to your car. But when is it necessary?
When you are driving in a straight line and feel the steering wheel shaking.
Three benefits make the price of wheel alignment service worthwhile. First, it will avoid the excessive and unequal wear and tear of some tires. If the wheels are not aligned, with time, you will see the treads becoming less deep on one side of the tire.
Another benefit is that your car gets more fuel efficient because it will run smoother. The greatest benefit is what you feel because it greatly improves your driving experience.
19 Adjust the seat height, back, and distance
If your car has memory buttons for the seating position, push that button and check if seat height, distance, and back positions are adjusted for your convenience. If the memory buttons were not originally part of your budget, do the adjustments yourself. It is not an overwhelming job and it will contribute greatly to your road trip.
One more recommendation to keep in mind is that if you and your buddy take turns driving the car during the road trip, make sure you adjust the seat position every time a new captain takes command of the ship.
Yes, the work is hectic – which is why you definitely need to invest in memory buttons.
18 Adjust steering wheel position and rear-view mirrors
In addition to adjusting the driver seat, pay attention to the position of the steering wheel and the mirrors. If you have never done this before, then look for a plastic latch that is usually in the steering wheel column or right beside it. When you open the latch, you can move the steering wheel front, backward and up and down. Choose a position that is adequate to the length and position of your arms and body.
Check if you can properly see all the indicators of the dashboard. You definitely don't want the wheel to block your vision. Then, lock the latch again and check this task as done.
17 Check windshield wiper blades and replace them if needed
If you don’t get the purpose of doing this procedure then wait for a rainy day, get into your car, and try to drive through your estate. If you don’t injure someone’s dog and end up being cast out of your neighborhood community, then you can jump to the next post.
So what makes windshield wiper blades wear off?
With time and sun’s heat, the rubber of the wiper blades gets dry and cracks. This prevents the blades from doing their task which is to wipe the water out of the windshield so that you can see properly through it.
Fortunately, this is an easy job.
You can buy the wiper blades and replace them yourself by just following the instructions. There are two recommendations, though. First, pay attention to buy the replacements that fit the model and year of your car. Second, make sure the new blades get properly locked. You might want to throw some water on the windshield and test them before leaving your garage.
16 Have water and snacks easily available in the cabin
When you are about to leave on a long road trip, which means you are going to be driving for some hours either alone or with some more people in the car, it is important to get organized. It is unsafe to be searching for the water bottle with one hand and one eye while you keep the other hand on the steering and the other eye on the road.
Why? That is what careless people do. Not a properly trained 9-year-old petrol head.
If your car has cup holders, use them properly. If not, make sure to keep your bottle or cup in a safe and easily reachable place. The same goes for the snacks.
15 Listen to the engine
If your car is not exactly “new” and you’re planning to drive it for a very long trip, you can have the car revised by a professional shop. If you are almost sure that your car doesn´t have any problem, at least you should perform the noise tests just to identify if your car needs a revision.
The first task is to hear the engine. Park the car, turn off the radio and any other source of noise that can interfere with your attention and let the engine run for four or five minutes. At this moment in time, concentrate on the engine noise. If you hear any weird sound like a piece hammering another, then call your mechanic – or else you’ll need a tow truck later.
14 Drive around the block and check for any weird noise in the car
The second noise test involves driving around a few blocks at normal speed and concentrating on the noises that might come from the suspension or the roller bearings. Again, if you hear any weird noise, get your car to a professional mechanic before you hit the road.
Most importantly, you should pay attention to the noise the car makes when you hit the brakes. If you hear an uneven noise or a noise of metal touching against metal, it is time to replace the brake pads, something that you should do before leaving for your trip.
13 Check if exhaust pipe works properly
Sometimes the exhaust pipe gets punctured when the bottom of your car hits an object or a high bump. This puncture is usually a pain in your wallet’s hindquarters since such punctures create leaks that greatly decrease the fuel efficiency of your vehicle.
Park the car, let the engine run and then look under your car along the pipe for any smoke. You can also try to identify any puncture with your mechanic.
Most of the times, if there is a puncture, you will hear the whine of gas going through a small hole.
12 Have the oil changed, if you have not done so recently.
Check what was the mileage of your car when you last had the oil changed and see if it is time for a new change. If your car has not yet reached the mileage for a new change, add to the current mileage the distance you plan to cover in your road trip. If the math tells you-you'll be almost hitting the mark, then it will be time to change the oil. This should be done before you leave home.
Besides, consider that the engine will be working for many hours during your road trip, which requires more from the engine oil. If you are going to anticipate the oil change, don't forget to check the oil filter as well. It might be necessary to replace it.
11 Check the other fluids besides engine oil: brake, radiator, windshield washer.
This is an easy task that you can do by yourself. Besides fuel and oil, there are other fluids you have to check in your car. When the engine is cool, check the levels of brake, radiator and washer fluids. The compartments are easy to identify and open, so this shouldn’t be a hassle.
If you need to add any of those fluids, you can buy them at your preferred auto shop or the nearest gas station. Very often, the guys in the oil change stations check those fluids for you and add what is necessary.
If you are a true grease monkey, then you must have bottles of those fluids in your garage.
10 Change air filters.
This is another easy job. In your car, the engine has an air filter and the climate system has another one. You can easily check both and make a decision based on the following options: leave them as they are because they are good, clean them with pressurized air, or replace them for with new filters.
Filters that are in good condition should have a light color and the filtering elements should be in perfect shape.
If the elements are good but the filter has much dust, you may want to blow air through it in the opposite direction to remove the dust. Just use the same nozzle you use to inflate the tires. If none of these works, just have the filters replaced.
9 Check fire extinguisher
If your car has a fire extinguisher, it is because your local law requires it. So, make sure it is working properly. The extinguishers have indicative pressure gauges that show you if they are good. If the pointer is in the red zone you can either buy a new one or have it recharged.
Whereas you can always buy a new one and put it in place, recharging is not a task for the do-it-yourselfers. It requires specialized labor and equipment. Considering the price and the time, you most probably will prefer to buy a new one.
8 Locate the spare key and have it with you
Imagine you are walking on the beach and your car keys fall inadvertently on soft sand. You probably won’t ever see it again and if you had borrowed that car from your dad, then you will be grounded for life.
If you don't want this nightmare to happen, locate your usually forgotten spare key and have someone who is traveling with you have it in a safe place. Make sure not to leave it inside the car, as it's quite useless in there.
7 Get navigation apps installed in your cell – Google Maps or Waze.
If your car doesn't have a navigation system, you should get one on your smartphone. Google Maps and Waze are two examples of the many apps available to guide you.
Make sure you download and install them in your cell before leaving home. In addition, and not less important, learn how to use the chosen app before you initiate your trip. You don't want to be on the road and not knowing which button to use or how to fill-in a direction.
If your car has a navigation system, it is not a bad idea to have a backup one in your cell phone.
If you have neither a navigation system nor a smartphone, buy a map and do it the old-fashioned way.
6 Have a cell charger in your car, or just the cable
If you have decided to use a mobile navigation service, then you need to understand that your mobile phone will be active for a long period of time. This means that its battery may go flat, earlier than intended. So what’s the solution to this?
Carry your cell phone charger.
Many cars now have USB outlets for charging phones or plugging in external flash drives. If your car has one of these, then you just need a cord to plug the cell phone to it while you’re driving.
Consider to have your cell on a stand where you can look at the cell phone screen without moving your head from the road.
5 Plan your route. Don't simply rely on the navigation system or app.
Not knowing well where to go or even which exit to take decreases the safety of your driving. A hesitant driver is always at more risk than a decided one.
So the recommendation is to plan your trip beforehand. Of course the navigation systems have made our lives much easier when we want to go places but, still, you should dedicate some time to plan where you want to go and have an idea of how you are going to get there.
Plan for stops to get some rest and stretch up, besides the fuel stops.
It will help you to concentrate and make your trip more enjoyable.
4 Perform all these checks even if your car has sensors.
Many new cars have sensors for many of the items in this list. So, one can feel tempted to rely solely on the sensors and say everything is running just fine. Well, think it through again.
Sensors may indicate to you when a problem occurs, but if you pre-check these items, you can prevent a problem to occur or identify a potential problem such as having the brake fluid low in the middle of the road. This can save you a lot of headaches, due to unexpected problems that a piece of computer you so much relied on could not predict.
3 Wash your car, and clean window glasses outside and inside
Number one rule for any car owner is to keep it clean and good looking. This is great not only for your car but also for you, especially if you desire good company for the duration of the road trip.
One essential step here is to clean the window glasses very well. After washing your car, have them dry and then clean them with a soft cloth, both inside and outside.
A clear window will translate to better visibility which is not only safe but also essential for driving in the dark. Matter of fact, you’ll appreciate the less amount of reflection you’ll get bouncing off the headlights of other cars to your eyes while driving.
2 Clean the mirrors (internal and external)
The mirrors are important safety features that help you monitor what is going on behind and around your car. They are essential on the road in many situations for example, when you are about to overtake a slower car or simply changing lanes in an expressway.
Your car can be properly washed but if you have not dedicated some time to clean the mirrors with a dry soft cloth, you are going to see odd reflections, exactly at those crucial moments when a Prius in front of you is forcing you to cruise at 20mph.
This means that you will be at risk of hitting another car in the next lane since you can’t see them clearly or worse, predict how far they are from your mirrors alone.
1 Vacuum clean inside - you don't want to spend time in a dirty place
A clean car does not just refer to the exterior of the vehicle. It refers to the interior as well. And since you are going to spend a lot of time inside your vehicle, you need to ensure that the place is spotlessly clean – both for your comfort and safety.
Many car wash facilities will vacuum clean your car as part of their service. However, if you want to save some bucks for the trip, just get the vacuum cleaner you have at home and do the job.
Basically, ensure that you remove the trash that may have accidentally fallen under the seats. This also has a safety implication because loose items can move around during the journey and disturb you while you are driving at high speed.
Sources: Auto Evolution, Jalopnik, Naukas