How to get your car ready for a road trip
Last updated: January 1
Don't let car trouble ruin your next road trip. Performing a few car maintenance tasks before you go can help ensure your vehicle is ready for the adventure.
Even though you can't prevent every mechanical breakdown, checking your car's fluids and parts before you hit the road could spare you from spending valuable vacation time in the repair shop. Here are some tips to help you get started:
Check your car's battery
Check your car's battery to be sure the connection is tight and corrosion-free, says Consumer Reports. If there is corrosion, you'll need to disconnect the battery and clean the connectors with a wire brush. Batteries contain corrosive acid that may leak if battery connectors are forced off, so if you're not familiar with how to check and clean a car battery, it may be best to leave it to a professional. As a general rule of thumb, Consumer Reports recommends having your vehicle's battery checked annually after it's more than two years old.
Inspect belts and hoses
Engine belts and hoses are critical when it comes to keeping your car's electrical, power steering and cooling systems functioning properly, according to Consumer Reports. Have them inspected to determine if any are frayed or cracked. Belts should also be tightly installed, so be sure to verify that they're secure and don't have a large amount of slack. Lastly, be sure to have your hoses checked for any leaks or drips.
Don't forget to check your owner's manual for recommended belt and hose service intervals, as some cars may require replacements in as little as 60,000 miles, according to Cars.com.
Top off fluids and replace filters
Check the levels of your car's many fluids, including engine oil, power steering and transmission fluids and windshield washer fluid. If any of them are low, top them off before hitting the road, recommends the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). If your car is close to needing its next oil change, it may be worth having it done before your trip. You should also check your vehicle's engine coolant (also known as antifreeze) tank to confirm it's filled to the car manufacturer's recommended level. However, keep in mind that even if it's filled to the proper level, you may still need to have the coolant changed out if there are floating particles in it or if the fluid is clear, says the NHTSA. Coolant can also become acidic over time, according to Cars.com, so you may want to have your coolant tank checked for any corrosion. This could cause damage to other parts of the vehicle, such as the radiator or hoses.
Lastly, the engine air filter, which collects dust and debris to prevent them from making their way to the car engine, should be changed out if it's dirty or clogged with debris, says Cars.com. Otherwise, the dirty filter may affect your car's acceleration performance.
Verify lights and electrical equipment are working
Make sure that all interior and exterior lights on your car are working properly and replace burned-out bulbs as necessary. If your windshield wipers aren't efficiently removing water from the windshield or leave streaks, it may be time for a replacement — Consumer Reports recommends a new pair every six months. Don't forget to check your car's horn and air conditioning system, too. If the air conditioner isn't blowing as cold as it used to, you may want to have it serviced by a mechanic, especially if you're traveling in warm weather.
Check the brakes
Squealing noises coming from your car's brakes may indicate worn brake pads, says Popular Mechanics. If your car's brakes are making this sound, or any other odd noises, be sure to have them professionally inspected before you hit the road. If your brake pedal feels spongy when you press it, that may indicate the brake fluid is low. Don't forget to verify the level of this fluid while checking the others, and top it off, if needed.
Tire inflation may affect your car's fuel economy. Check the tire pressure before departing for your trip, preferably while the tires are cold, recommends the NHTSA, to ensure they are properly inflated. Don't forget to check the pressure on your car's spare tire, too. While you're at it, you may want to check on the condition of the tire tread by using the penny method, says the NHTSA. Insert a penny upside down between the treads on each tire — if you can see the top of Abraham Lincoln's head on the penny, it may be time for a tire replacement. If you notice uneven wear on all of the tires, that may mean it's time for a tire rotation or alignment before your trip. Your local mechanic or tire retailer should be able to help with an inspection and recommend corrective action, if needed.
Taking steps to help ensure your vehicle is in good condition prior to a road trip may help you avoid spending your vacation in a repair shop. Remember, if you're uncomfortable inspecting your vehicle or aren't sure if something is wrong, consult a professional for help.