18 Things To Do Before Your Summer Road Trip

  • Jun 1, 2016
  • Resources & Tips

Summer is upon us, and with it comes a season of fun road trips with family and friends. Our mechanics have put together a comprehensive checklist of 18 things to do before your summer road trip to make sure your vehicle is prepared for safe travels.

Perimeter Check

Start with a walk around your vehicle to check these points for visible issues.

1. Lights

Have someone turn on your vehicle’s lights as you walk around it to examine them, making sure they’re all in working order. Include:

  • headlights and taillights
  • brake lights
  • turn signals at the front and rear
  • reverse lights
  • hazard lights.

2. Mirrors

Make sure there are no cracks in your side-view mirrors, and that they are clean. Avoid obstructing the driver’s view of the mirrors when packing! Keep your bags and equipment from blocking your rear view of the road.

3. Tires

You can check tire pressure with a gauge. The optimal pressure is indicated on a label in the driver’s door frame or in the glove box, or in your manual. Check our handy blog on how to check your tires for helpful instructions.

  • Inflating your tires too full can cause uneven wear (which leads to decrease tire life) and a rougher ride.
  • Letting them get too low can damage the rims, decrease steering responsiveness, and reduce your fuel economy.
  • Learn more about why proper tire pressure is important.

4. Windows

Make sure all of your vehicle’s windows are clean and clear, both inside and out. Wash any grime away before leaving. While a few streaks or smudges seem harmless, they can be dangerous if the sun hits at the wrong angle and you can’t see the road, especially on winding roads or at high speeds.

5. Leaks

Check the spot where you park for leaks. Some leaks you might notice that need attention before leaving for a road trip are:

  • Engine oil – this is yellowish brown, brown, or black
  • Transmission fluid – this is red or pinkish-red.
  • Engine coolant – this is green, and highly toxic to animals but alluring due to its sweetness.
  • Gas – if you spot a puddle and it smells like gas, it is definitely gas.

Under the Hood

There are several fluids to check under the hood before leaving for a summer road trip. Consult your vehicle’s manual to make sure you are checking it the right way, and to find any fluids or belts that you’re unfamiliar with.

6. Engine oil

To check your vehicle’s oil level and quality, either warm up the vehicle for a few minutes or go for a short drive, then park it on a level surface and turn it off. Wait for a minute to let the oil drain down into the oil pan. Pull out the oil dipstick, wipe it off on a rag or paper towel, and re-insert it. When pulled out a second time, the oil should be near the “full” mark.

  • If your oil is too black, it needs to be changed before you depart. You can do this at home if you know how, or bring it in to a mechanic.
  • If your oil is too low, definitely fill it up before you leave. If it’s a long trip, it’s a good idea to bring a spare bottle of fluid so that you can top up – and so that you don’t have to pay gas station prices for oil!

7. Transmission fluid

Warm up the car or go for a short drive, and park on a level surface. Keep the car idling with the hand brake set. Use the dipstick the same way as with the engine oil to check the level and condition. Transmission fluid should be red or pinkish-red.

  • If it’s dark, definitely change your transmission fluid before leaving.
  • Transmission fluid lubricates your vehicle’s transmission to facilitate smooth gear shifting, and also serves as a coolant. Running out will result in damaging your transmission, which is an expensive repair!

8. Engine coolant

Do a visual check to see if the coolant tank is near the “full” mark. Engine coolant does what it says – regulates the engine temperature. If it runs out, your engine will overheat and your car will shut down and leave you stranded. Not the way you want to spend your summer vacation!

9. Battery

Do a visual check to make sure there is no corrosion at the battery terminals. If your battery is 4-5 years old or you notice your vehicle’s engine cranking slower than usual, it’s a good idea to have it tested at an automotive shop before you leave.

10. Air filter

A blocked air filter will cut off the air supply to your engine, which results in poor performance and, even more importantly, excessive use of fuel. Do a visual check to see if your vehicle’s air filter is clean. If it’s full of dirt, it should be cleaned or replaced before you leave. Read our mechanics’ advice on how to get better milage.

11. Brake fluid

Your brakes are a hydraulic pressure system, and the fluid maintains the pressure. If your brake fluid runs low, pressure will drop and your brakes can fail. Make sure your vehicle’s brake fluid is near the “full” mark, and that it’s not overly dark. Brake fluid is crucial to vehicle safety, so if you suspect any issues with it, take your vehicle to a mechanic before leaving for your road trip.

12. Power steering fluid

Check to see if this is low, and top up with the correct fluid if needed. Without power steering you can still steer your vehicle, but it will take some muscle!

13. Windshield washer fluid

Make sure your washer fluid is at the “full” mark. Clear windows are important for road safety, and you don’t want to find yourself driving beside a big semi truck that kicks up mud or dirt and not being able to clear it. Plus, of course, the usual bug splatter. Bring a spare jug of washer fluid on your road trip.

Exterior & Other Points

The last points to check before departing for your road trip are to do with your vehicle’s exterior, and the way it handles when driving.

14. Windshield wipers

Make sure your wipers work properly, thoroughly cleaning your windshield. If they are at all damaged or not clearing the windshield, replace them before you leave. As with washer fluid, these are key parts to maintaining safe visibility on the road. Learn more about the importance of maintaining your wiper blades.

15. Steering, brakes

Make a short trip in your vehicle before you leave to examine how it’s handling.

  • Make sure your car isn’t tracking or pulling heavily to the left or right when driving in a straight line. This can indicate a wheel alignment or tire inflation problem that you should have looked at before you leave.
  • Your brakes shouldn’t be making any strange noises (check out our blog on brake squealing), shouldn’t emit a smell, and your steering wheel shouldn’t vibrate or your brake pedal pulse when you brake. These are definite signs that you should get your brakes looked at before you go.
  • Be alert for any strange noises your vehicle is making. You can call an automotive shop to ask what might be causing them, and bring your vehicle in if necessary.

16. Spare tire & equipment

Make sure your spare tire is properly inflated, and that the jack and wheel wrench are present. Test the jack to make sure it works. Does your vehicle use a wheel lock key? If so, make sure you have it, otherwise you can’t remove the wheel nuts.

17. Emergency kit

It’s a good idea to keep a kit to prepare for anything that could go wrong. This can save you time and money, which are both important factors for keeping your road trip safe and fun.

  • jumper cables, or even better, a battery booster power supply that includes jumper cables
  • can of tire sealant to repair a punctured tire long enough to get safely to a mechanic
  • tire gauge
  • rags or paper towels
  • flashlight
  • basic tool kit (screwdrivers, pliers, and common sockets)
  • Bonus additions: spare headlight bulb, fuses, flares, electrical tape, spare ignition key.

18. Other safety considerations

It’s important to ensure that you, the driver, stay alert and free from distraction on your trip. Make sure your packing list includes items to facilitate your well-being and safety!

  • Water or fluids
  • Snacks
  • Music or audio recordings, if you find those helpful for alertness and in times of stress, such as traffic jams.
  • AUX cable, if required for audio
  • Toys or games to keep children entertained so that they don’t become a distraction
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Chargers and adapters for devices
  • Maps or GPS

If you’re unsure if your vehicle is road trip-ready, or if you need help addressing an issue before you leave, come by the Warrenton Auto Service shop. We want you to have a fun, safe summer.

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