Car Maintenance Checklist Before Your Next Road Trip

Going on a road trip can take a real toll on a vehicle and its systems. Drivers who do not properly care for their vehicles may experience breakdowns, extensive damage with expensive repairs, and even abandonment in unfamiliar locations along their trip routes.

In order to prevent this type of damage and inconvenience, it is essential that you thoroughly examine and service your car before embarking on your next road trip. Use this checklist to examine a vehicle before the journey begins.

1. Check the Car Fluids

When traveling in areas with high temperatures, or when driving for extended periods of time, vehicle engines tend to overheat more easily. Therefore, it is imperative that you check the engine coolant and fill it prior to leaving on a road trip. In addition, the car’s oil should be freshly changed so that it can keep the engine clean, cool and well lubricated. For especially warm climates, your car may require heavier oil to combat the heat. 

Car owners should also examine:

  •  the transmission fluid before hauling a large load on an extended trip to prevent the car from slipping in and out of gear while driving
  • the brake fluid to keep the brakes in good working condition to slow and to stop the vehicle
  • the windshield washer fluid to maintain the use of the wipers and the washer system, especially in inclement weather.

2. Examine the Cabin and Air Filters

Having dirty or clogged cabin or air filters will affect the engine performance and the gas mileage efficiency of the vehicle throughout the trip. Most of these filters should be replaced at least once a year although frequent road trips could be the cause for changing them more often. 

The cabin filter helps to prevent harmful debris from entering the vehicle and from restricting the flow of air and fluid. The air filter protects the engine, and the cabin filter protects the heat and air conditioning systems by purifying the air inside the car. Replacing these filters depends on the vehicle and its structure, so you might want to visit a professional.

3. Refill the Tires

During the summer or in warm climates, tires are harder in order to provide better handling during the hotter operating temperatures. This pressure can drop quickly when the weather turns colder, so it is important to always check the vehicle’s tire pressure and to refill the tires as needed. 

Car owners should also check the tread on the tires, and this can be done with the classic penny test. By sticking a penny with Lincoln’s head down into the tread of a tire, it is possible to see whether or not there is enough tread left to continue using the tires. If the top of Lincoln’s head disappears between the ribs of the tire’s tread, the tire is safe to use. If Lincoln’s entire head is visible when the penny is pressed into the tread, you will likely need to replace the tires.

Drivers should also make sure that there’s a functioning spare tire and car jack inside the vehicle before leaving on a road trip. 

4. Test the Air Conditioning

A damaged air conditioning system involves some of the most expensive repairs done to vehicles. Car owners should look for problem areas before they become bigger issues, including:

  • loose belts
  • drips from the system other than water
  • unusual smells
  • odd sounds when the air conditioning is started
  • poor air output
  • warm air output

These concerns should be addressed before they become full-blown problems. 

5. Check the Car Battery

Car batteries last three to six years on average. When car batteries get hot from multiple starts and ongoing use, they are generally less efficient. The battery can be somewhat cleaned before replacing it. 

With the battery off, the terminals that attach the cables to the battery can be unclamped and cleaned. A toothbrush with baking soda mixed in water is a good way to remove corrosion, but the brushing should be followed by a cool water rinse. Once the battery is dry, you can reattach the terminals. If this does not work, it may be time to replace your car battery. 

6. Prepare an Emergency Kit

It is imperative to have an emergency kit in the vehicle for all road trips. This kit should have essentials for survival and vehicle repair, including:

  • jumper cables
  • first aid supplies
  • emergency contact information for all travelers
  • bottled water
  • nonperishable snacks
  • car shades for parking in the sun
  • sunscreen
  • bug repellant
  • towels

7. Clean the Vehicle

A clean vehicle is a safe vehicle, so it is important that you clean your car before the journey. Keeping the windshield clean will allow you to see traffic and other obstacles more clearly. In addition, the headlights need to be clear of debris and dead insects in order to provide the proper amount of light for driving at night and in bad weather. 

Road trips are exciting and memorable times that should be appreciated. Rather than dealing with car damage or trying to find a repairman on the road, drivers should prepare their vehicles before the journey begins. With these simple precautions, the focus will be on the trip and not on vehicle repairs. 

About the Author

David has been obsessed with cars since he was little. When he realized he could combine his love of writing with his passion for cars, his fate was sealed. David spends his free time hiking or going on road trips. You can follow him via Twitter @davidcmoss