Due to our growing family, we finally decided to bite the bullet and upgrade to a (gulp) mini-van. Our compact car had served us well for many years, but between car seats, double strollers, and groceries, we were constantly pinched for space.
Which is why I was so surprised when we took “Ol’ Bessie” out on her maiden voyage (a road trip of about 1,000 miles), and I discovered that we, like goldfish, apparently fill our container. That van was stuffed!
While I can’t give you any pointers for having a successful family road trip as far as snacks, toys, and music are concerned, I can share some important tips for getting your car ready for a long road trip. Depending on where you’re traveling, there are some pretty long stretches of highway in the Pacific and Mountain West regions that could be potentially dangerous should you run into car trouble.
So here’s the run down for preparing for safe travels this summer…
- Oil: Depending on what you drive, your mechanic or car manufacturer might recommend conventional or synthetic oil. Before you leave on your trip, check your mileage to make sure that you are well within the recommended replacement timeframe for your type of oil. If your road trip is going to push you past your recommended mileage for an oil change, you should definitely get one before you leave. At the very least, you should check your oil levels manually to make sure that they are a good color, free of grit, and at an appropriate level.
- Tires: Your vehicle’s tires are a vital contributor to the success of your road trip, so be sure to check them thoroughly before you leave. Make sure the tire pressure for each tire is at the manufacturer’s recommended level, as over or underinflated tires can be dangerous at worst and hurt your fuel efficiency at best. Check each tire for uneven tread and have them rotated if necessary. If you see any bald patches, tire threads poking through, or obvious puncture marks, you should get the tires replaced before you leave.
- Fluids: You can either stop by an auto-repair store or take your vehicle to a trusted mechanic for this step. It’s in your best interest to get all of your fluids topped off before you leave on your road trip. Brake, radiator, transmission, and power steering fluids may not be the first things you think to check when you’re doing a tune-up, but they are significant factors in a smooth ride. If you notice any grit or grime in your fluids, it’s a good idea to flush the entire system and refill with new fluid. Particulates can find their way into other areas under the hood where they can do a lot of damage.
- Brakes: Have your mechanic inspect your brakes before you leave on your trip. They should be at least 50%, so if they’re any lower than that, you need to have them replaced. Also, if you notice any squealing or resistance when you brake, be sure to get them checked out.
- Windshield wipers and fluid: This one is at the top of the list of preventative tune-ups because it is just on the border of essential and preventative. Make sure that your wipers are in tip-top shape so that insects and rainstorms won’t impair your vision. If you’re uncertain whether it’s time to replace them, just do it, and make sure to top off your wiper fluid while you’re at it.
- Belts, bulbs, and filters: Walk around your vehicle and check your belts, bulbs, and filters before you take off. Your belts should be nice and tight, and your filters should be well within the manufacturer’s recommended replacement timeframe. Also, make sure to turn on all of your lights inside and outside of your car to make sure that they are all working correctly.
- Physical Safety: You need to be prepared for your physical safety in the event of a road trip emergency as well. Keep an extra set of clothing, a flashlight with batteries, blankets during the winter, plenty of bottled water, and non-perishable food in your trunk at all times. Keeping a first-aid kit handy can also be a big help, even during non-emergency situations.
- Care Kit: Keep a spare key in a safety box outside of your car so that it’s accessible should you need it. Additionally, keep your insurance card, warranty, hotline number for roadside assistance, and emergency contact info in a waterproof bag inside of your car. These numbers could be invaluable if you run into car trouble while on a road trip. It’s also a good idea to keep small bottles of extra power steering, windshield wiper, antifreeze, brake, and transmission fluids in your trunk.
The summer months are the perfect time to load up the family and go on a road trip, but make sure that you are doing everything in your power before you leave to stay safe along the way.