8 Things You Must Check on Your Car Before Your Next Road Trip
While taking a road trip with family and friends is always a good time, getting sidelined with a flat tire or other car disaster isn’t.
Schedule a checkup
A mechanic can service your car’s basic maintenance, including changing its oil and tuning-up its engine, while also checking the windshield wipers, brake pads, air filters, and headlights, and replace them, if necessary. “Investigate anything out of the ordinary in how your car normally runs before you leave on a long road trip,” says David Goldsmith, owner of Urban Classics Auto Repair in Brooklyn, New York. “That means unusual brake noise, rattles on bumps, or check engine lights or warning lights on your dash.” (Buying a new car? Here are eight new car features you didn’t know you needed!)
Check your car’s battery
A fully charged car battery should be at 12.6 volts or above while resting and between 13.7 to 14.7 volts when it’s running. To test the car battery, simply start your car and look at the headlights. If they’re dim, then the battery needs more juice to work properly, and you may want to change it before your road trip. If the headlights get brighter when you rev the engine, then there’s very little-to-no charge coming from the car’s alternator. If the headlights stay consistently bright, then your battery life is healthy and strong. “Look for any corrosion at the battery terminal as well as any cracks or leaks on the battery case, and check to see that the battery is firmly mounted,” says Goldsmith. Pro Tip: To keep the battery itself clean, use a little baking soda and water to wash away any dirt and grime.
Check your tires
Inside the driver’s side door jamb in every car, there’s a small placard with the info about the proper tire size and tire pressure for your vehicle. “Check that all tires including the spare are filled to the manufacturer specification,” says Goldsmith. “If one tire is especially low, it usually means it has a leak. Refill that tire, but get it fixed—it will almost certainly lose air again!” Other warning signs to look for include bald spots, worn inner or outer tread, tires that wobble, cracks, gouges, or bubbles on the sidewall, dry rot, and cracks in the treads. In addition, check your jack, lug wrench, and location of wheel lock if you have one, he says.
If you don’t have a tire tread depth gauge, use the “nickel test”: Insert a five-cent piece into the tread. If you can’t cover the top of the Queen’s head inside the tread, then it’s a good idea to replace the tires before you leave on your road trip.
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Wash your car
This isn’t just so your car looks shiny, it will also make sure your visibility through all your windows and mirrors is clear. You should also check your washer fluid and windshield wipers, so you can replace them, if necessary. “It is also important to make sure there are no cracks in the windshield as these can spread, limiting your visibility,” says Mike Rodewald, strategy and retention marketing manager for YourMechanic.com.
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There are a number of reasons why a defroster may not be working, including poor battery life, not enough antifreeze, or bad wiring. In addition, check the weather report. “If severe winter weather and driving conditions are predicted, you should seriously consider a change of plans,” adds Goldsmith.
Be ready for anything
It’s a very good idea to pack a road trip emergency kit, including a flashlight, small blanket, first-aid kit, extra batteries, fire extinguisher, bottled water and snacks, spare tire, small safety cones, and some basic tools including jumper cables and a tire gauge. In addition, keep a copy of the vehicle owner’s manual in the glove box and make sure your cell phone is fully charged. (If you keep these 14 things in your car, you’ll be insanely more productive!)
Bring winter essentials
If you’re taking a road trip during the winter, you’ll want a few extra items in that emergency kit. These include an ice scraper, a shovel, and kitty litter or sand, which will help you get traction if your tires should start spinning in the snow.
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Consider adding roadside assistance programs, like Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), to your auto insurance plan, which can help with towing your car or fixing a flat tire. Some insurance plans can even offer hotel and rental car discounts just in case something goes wrong on the road.