How To Prepare Your Car For A Road Trip

You’ve been fantasizing about it for months now, and the desire to go for that road trip just got intense-so why not! Roadtripping is one of the most fantastic ways to see the world. This way of traveling comes with tons of freedom and unlimited flexibility. No strict bus timetables to adhere to, no schedules, no nothing.

Over the years, we’ve learned that how much fun you get during a road trip depends on your level of preparedness. Prepping here not only involves packing your road trip car essentials but ensuring that the vehicle itself is up for the journey.

Let’s talk about what to check on your car before a road trip!

Preparing Your Car For A Road Trip-Key Tips

Check Tire Condition

It’s hard to overstate the importance of tire maintenance and more so when setting out on a road trip to the unknowns. Tire maintenance not only impacts your overall safety and that of other road users, but it also affects your vehicle’s fuel economy. Here are a couple of things that encompass proper tire maintenance before a car road trip:

Tire Integrity

When was the last time you changed your car’s tires? Ideally, you should replace your tires after every 25,000-50,000 miles. Refer to your car’s manual for specific manufacturer recommendations. The mechanic at your local auto shop can tell you when it’s time for tire replacement. However, you can also inspect the integrity of the tires yourself by checking for a few things:

  1. Tread depth – the depth of the grooves between your tires’ treads is a strong indication of your tires’ condition. The rule of thumb is never to allow them to fall below 1.6 millimeters. If you don’t have a tire tread depth gauge in your glovebox, a simple penny test will clear your doubts. Insert a penny head-first into multiple tread grooves. If you can see Lincoln’s entire head each time, it might be time for new tires.
  2. Sidewall cracks – deep tread grooves are not the only signs of danger on your car tires- you also need to be on the lookout for deep cracks on the sidewalls. Tires crack over time as the rubber compounds in them degrade due to ozone and excessive heat. The name for this process is dry rot, and it exposes the underlying structure of the tire, increasing the risk of tire failure or blowout. Superficial sidewall cracks shouldn’t worry you a lot; however, if there are severe cracks all over the sidewall, there’s a reason to get scared. Have a wheel expert inspect the integrity of the wheels before hitting the road.

Tire Pressure

One common car inflation tip is to check the pressure once a week, at least once a month, and always before a long road trip. Tire pressure affects all aspects of your time on the road: car control, comfort, and safety. An overinflated tire reduces the footprint and makes the tire rigid, both of which affect control. It also increases the risk of tire explosions, which can cause massive control issues or even accidents. An underinflated tire isn’t safer either. Besides affecting your gas mileage, underinflated tires also hamper car control, making it hard to take curves smoothly and making evasive maneuvers. Decreased steering ability increases the risk of veering off the road of collisions.

Proper tire pressure varies between cars, but it ranges between 30 and 35 PSI. In most new cars, the recommended air pressure is indicated on a sticker on the driver’s door. You can also check for it in the owner’s manual.

Be Ready In Case Of A Flat!

A blowout miles away from civilization can easily turn a well-planned road trip into a nightmare. While having a spare tire is crucial, what’s even more important is understanding the process of changing a flat tire. Of course, you also need to carry the right tire-changing tools with you: jack, wheel wedges, and lug wrench.

Wheel Alignment

If after checking for sidewall cracks and inspecting tread depth, you realize that your car needs new tires, you need to determine whether wheel alignment will be necessary too. Wheel alignment isn’t necessary every time you change the tires. But it helps a lot in getting the most out of your tires.

If your thirst for adventure will see you driving on pothole-riddled roads, improper wheel alignment can lead to premature wear and tear on the tires. Wheel alignment is best left for professionals. However, if you have the skills and the necessary tools, you can always do it at home.

Mind Your Auto Fluids

Your car’s engine relies on several critical fluids to run. Keeping proper levels of these fluids not only prolongs your engine’s lifespan but also ensures that you don’t spend precious time in auto shops while on the road.

Here are the most important fluids to include in your car checklist before a road trip:

1. Motor Oil

Your car engine comprises multiple moving parts that collectively keep the vehicle on the road. Quality motor oil prevents these parts from knocking against each other, causing costly damages in repair. This guide has some of the most alarming indications of when you need an oil change.

 2. Coolant

Engine coolant is an antifreeze that prevents the fluid in your car’s radiator from freezing or boiling. Frozen water expands, which can cause unprecedented engine damage leading to expensive repairs and replacements. On the other hand, boiling radiator fluid doesn’t absorb engine heat as it should, which may lead to overheating issues. Adding coolant consistently to the radiator fluid keeps the radiator fluid from freezing, and it also lowers its boiling point.

Most of the newer cars have a see-through overflow coolant tank under the hood that offers an easy way of keeping an eye on the coolant level. Typically, you should flush your car engine coolant after every 30,000 miles (approx. 2 years) if your engine uses silicated coolant and 100,000 miles (approx. 5 years) for extended life coolants (ELCs).

3. Brake Fluid

Brake fluid is a crucial, non-compressible component of your car’s braking system. This fluid plays the critical role of slowing down the vehicle and bringing it to a halt. While this may sound simple, improper brake fluid level can make the braking system less effective, making it difficult to stop in critical situations.

Over time, brake fluid will degrade and lose its effectiveness after absorbing moisture. Water content in the brake fluid also causes metal brake components to corrode, leading to total brake failure. Most cars will require a brake fluid change every 1-2 years, but this varies between different vehicle makes and models. Before starting your road trip, check the quality of this fluid and ensure that it’s within the recommended levels.

4. Power Steering Fluid

Most modern vehicles with power steering need this fluid to make cornering easy and smooth. Besides its hydraulic assistance, power steering fluid is vital for lubricity, and it also protects the steering components from rusting. As you can see, this fluid has a central role in your car’s drivability and needs close inspection. The truth is that there’s no set time to change the power steering fluid. However, like motor oil, power steering fluid also gets contaminated with moisture leading to reduced performance. Although power steering fluid changes vary from car to car, most manufacturers recommend flushing it every 2 years (25000 miles).

5. Transmission Fluid

As the name suggests, transmission fluid has to do with a car’s transmission components (gear and gear trains). Transmission fluid lubricates these parts to keep them functioning properly and protecting them from premature damage. Like motor oil, transmission fluid breaks down and loses its effectiveness due to the heat it absorbs over time. Whether you should change your transmission fluid is not debatable, but the frequency varies from car to car. Most manufacturers’ maintenance schedule requires replacing it every 100,000-150,000 miles. However, most experts recommend flushing the transmission fluid every 30,000-60,000 miles.

Check And Replace Air Filters

This is one of the most overlooked aspects of most car maintenance before road trip guides. But it’s as crucial as replacing your engine oil. Your car has 2 air filters: one for the engine and another one for the cabin. Engine air filter blocks sand, rocks, and other debris from entering the engine, ensuring peak performance and long life. Maintenance schedules for different car makes and models differ. For instance, while Chevrolet recommends changing the filter every 45,000 miles, Hyundai and Ford suggest a replacement interval of around 30,000 miles. If you can’t find the filter replacement interval in your owner’s manual, but it’s been over 3 years or 30,000 miles, it may be time to swap the filters.

Don’t Forget Your Car’s Lighting System

Your car’s lighting system is as important as a healthy engine. Lights enable you to drive when it’s dark, besides making you more visible to other motorists and road users. A vital aspect of your road trip car checklist, double-check that all your lights (headlights, taillights, brake lights, fog lights, and hazard lights, among others) are working well. Importantly, never change any of the bulbs singularly. For consistent lighting when driving, always replace the lights in pairs.

Check The Battery

There’s a reason why experts refer to the battery as the car’s heart. The battery is responsible for powering everything electrical in and outside the cabin in addition to powering the starter. The battery’s critical role in a car also shows you how vulnerable you are in case it dies out on you. Gettacar highlights sluggish engine starts, swollen battery case, and leaks as signs that you need a car battery change.

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