The 7 most important things to check on your car before a long trip.

Heading on a long trip?

Whether it is for business or pleasure, there are a few things that you should look over before you hit the pavement to increase your chances of having a smooth trip. We have compiled a list of the 7 most important things to check on your car before a long trip to help you avoid having to deal with a repair on the road. Taking the time to preform a little upkeep before you leave can possibly save you a lot of time and money by avoiding costly repairs on your long trip.

1. Check up on Maintenance and Repairs: Just like your annual medical exam, your car has regularly scheduled maintenance that needs to be addressed. If you are really good about this, you can check this off the list and move on to the next point. If you are like the rest of us, get your owner’s manual out and take a look.

  • Review your maintenance schedule.
    • If you haven’t looked lately, right before a long trip is a good time to check your regular maintenance schedule to see if there is anything that needs be done. Your owner’s manual is the best place to find the recommended maintenance schedule by mileage for your specific vehicle. If your owner’s manual has disappeared, like a sock in the dryer, google the make, model and year of your car. Most car manuals are now online.
  • Fix repairs that you have been putting off.
    • If there has been a repair or two that you have been putting off, make sure to check them off your list before you head on a long trip. You may also want check to see if there are any recalls open on your car while you are at the shop. You can check your recall status online at safercar.gov or call your local dealership.

2. Check your fluids: Fluids are critical to the overall health of your car. Your car needs oil to lubricate the engine, antifreeze to regulate its temperature, and washer fluid to maintain good visibility.  It only takes a few minutes to look over all of these things. If you are low on an important fluid, you will be happy that you caught the issue before your trip, instead of being stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

  • Regularly changing your oil is very important.
    • You are better off changing your oil ahead of schedule than going over the recommended mileage during your trip. It is better to get your oil changed beforehand at your regular service provider. They will likely have records of previous maintenance on your vehicle and may be able to spot a potential issue before it is a serious problem. Most service providers will also check your fluid and tire pressure as part of their regular oil change service.
    • If you are not in need of an oil change, at least do a quick oil check and make sure that your oil is not low. If your oil is low, it could present a problem on the road and you are better off safe than sorry. Don’t know how? Read our step-by-step instructions.
  • Coolant
    • Check the level on your coolant and make sure you are up to the mark on the tank. Coolant (or antifreeze) is usually stored in a plastic container called a surge tank. On the tank, you will see a mark or ridge that indicates the fill level. Make sure the coolant is at this level. If it isn’t, add some (how-to steps).
  • Washer fluid
    • If you have ever been traveling behind a large truck, and have been sprayed with a massive fan of mud, you know that that is not the time to figure out that you are low or out of washer fluid. Check it before you leave and you should be good to go (step-by-step instructions). You may also want to give your wiper blades a quick glance over. Make sure that the rubber strip is still in good condition and that they make proper contact with the windshield. If you are going to be traveling to a cold climate, think about using an anti-freezing washer fluid for your long trip.

3. Check your tires: Tires are a very important safety feature and are one of the most common sources of trouble on a long trip. You can avoid calling roadside service for a flat if you do a quick check of your tires before you leave.

  • Check the tire air pressure.
    • Tire air pressure is related to a lot of factors including driving safety, tire wear and gas mileage. Make sure that your tires are inflated properly. The correct recommended PSI (pounds per square inch) is listed on the inside of the driver’s door or on the side of the tire. The driver’s door is the car manufacturer’s recommendation and the tire sidewall has the tire manufacturer’s recommendation.  Here’s how to check your tire pressure.
  • How about that spare?
    • Make sure that your spare is in good shape! A full service dealership should check your spare for you as part of a multi-point inspection.  If you have a spare tire that is mounted under the vehicle, ask the technician to crank it down for you. You need to be sure that the cranking mechanism works. If it is sticking, add some WD-40 or ask the technician to do this for you.
  • Other tire related concerns.
    • Tires come with a maximum rating for the load. This means that there is a limit to how much weight the tires can support. If you think that you may be carrying an extra heavy load, check your tire’s load rating on the side of the tire.  While you are down there, also check your tire’s tread. Worn tires are more likely to become flat or blow out. You can check your tire tread by the wear bars or with the penny test (read how).

4. Brake check: The last thing you want is to have a brake problem while cruising down the highway during peak travel times. Make sure your brakes are in good condition before you head out.

  • Are you listening?
    • You should not hear excessive grinding or squeaking when you brake. If you do hear these noises frequently, it may be time for new brake pads and possibly rotors.
  • Check your brake fluid.
    • Most cars have a brake warning light to indicate a problem with your brake system. However, if you want to check before there may be an evident issue, there is plastic tank in your engine where you can check your brake fluid. If your brake fluid is a little low, you may be okay. You can add fluid to get it back up to the full mark. Get the manufacturer’s recommended brake fluid or ask for it at a dealership. If the fluid is more than a little low, get the brakes checked!  If you add fluid and then find it low again, then you may have a problem. Try not to fill the brake fluid surge tank before you get your brakes checked because when the technician checks, they may unintentionally get brake fluid all over your engine. Brake fluid is water soluble, but it will make a mess.

5. Battery charged?

  • Check to see if the terminals or posts on the top or side of the battery have a lot of corrosion. The positive terminal will generally have more than the negative. If there is a lot of corrosion, then clean it off (a good service will check the connections for you). Baking soda and water will neutralize the acid on the terminal, but you have to take the terminal off and clean both sides for this to work properly. It doesn’t help to just clean off the top of the terminal. If you have corrosion and have had the vehicle serviced recently, give the shop a call because it takes more than a month for that to build up!

6. Emergency kit packed? You should always carry these items in your car, but you should check your pack before you embark on a long trip. There are many more items that you can add to your vehicle that can be a huge aid in a pinch, but these are the basics.

  • A set of jumper cables or a fully charged jumper pack
  • First aid kit
  • Reserve food and water
  • Flashlight
  • A small tool kit  - Include a 8mm or 5/16 wrench in your car tool kit. This wrench will fit on most battery side posts if you need to loosen them when jumpstarting your vehicle. Side posts are flat washers on the side of the battery. Loosening them, adjusting the cable (a little), and tightening the washer again may help your connection if you are having problems jumpstarting your car.
  • Disposable wipes: You can also use a rag or paper towels.

7. Is all of your paper work in the car? You never know when you are going to need your important paperwork. Hopefully it is not because you have been pulled over! In any case, double check that you have all of these documents in your car before you leave on a long trip.

  • Proof of Car Insurance
  • Vehicle Registration
  • Drivers License
  • Road Side Assistance Contact Number
  • Owner’s manual
  • Warranty information

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