Getting Your Car Ready for a Road Trip
By Dejan B.. Published on April 17, 2017
With all of the long-distance transportation choices available to Americans, personal cars are by far the most popular way to travel in the US. In fact, according to the United States Department of Transportation, 9 out of 10 long distance trips under 500 miles, and more than half of summer trips under 1,000, are made using a personal vehicle.
A great deal of planning goes into making a holiday road trip successful, including choosing destinations and attractions to visit, reserving accommodations, picking a suitable wardrobe, and perhaps even finding kid- or pet-friendly activities to make sure every family member has an enjoyable experience on the open road. However, many travelers forget that one of the most important investments they can make in long distance travel is to ensure the safety, reliable operation, and comfort of the family automobile.
Why Does Traveling Require Special Attention?
Most likely, the car you take on a trip is your daily driver. It gets you to work, school and family activities just fine, so why do you need to take additional steps to prepare it for your vacation getaway?
Especially with long-distance travel, you will likely be traveling to new environments – and that often means taking different types of roads, experiencing various altitudes and weather conditions, starting and stopping often for rest and refreshment, and increasing the chance that you will be taking unfamiliar routes where access to emergency service may not be immediately available to you. Some conditions – especially tire and suspension issues – can adversely affect your fuel economy and the overall comfort and enjoyment of your travel experience. Additionally, since you're probably taking more valuables and family members, you want to make sure that travel interruptions are avoided or, at worst, as brief as possible.
There's several things you can do to make your pre-travel car care as stress-free as possible. Since long-distance travel is usually planned well ahead of the travel date, your best preventative measure is to make sure you are getting the scheduled maintenance and routine service that is appropriate for your vehicle. This eliminates major surprises and keeps your vehicle in peak operating condition for any occasion. Then, about a week before your trip, take your car to your mechanic for a pre-trip safety inspection. They will check your filters and fluid levels, battery and electrical connections, hoses, tires, brakes, engine performance, and other common causes of vehicle malfunction that can create inconvenience or pose a safety risk. Getting the inspection done early allows you the time to enable any repairs to be made without delaying your departure.
If you are carrying a significant amount of extra weight in or on top of the car, make sure to check the vehicle's load limits. This information is usually provided on a door sticker and in the vehicle user manual. The load limit is the combine weight that should not be exceeded when accounting for all vehicle occupants and cargo.
When using a roof rack or other aftermarket components that can affect the operation or aerodynamics of the car – make sure to install them in advance. By doing so, you can become comfortable with changes in the way the vehicle responds and adjust your own driving style. Also, check the condition of your spare tire prior to departure and make sure that the tire jack is available and accessible.
Pack a Bag Just for Your Car
Now that you have minimized the risk of major mechanical problems that can throw a big wrench in your travel plans, take the time to throw a little wrench – and other emergency supplies – into the trunk or under the seat. Emergency supplies fall into two categories: those you need for on-the-spot repairs and basic survival supplies for vehicle occupants in the case of a vehicle accident or break down. Commercial emergency and survival kits are available, but many experts suggest making your own to account for your unique travel situation and the environmental conditions you may face. Some of the basic equipment to consider include:
- Jumper cables. Another convenient option is a portable, lithium-ion battery with jumper cables that can also serve to recharge computers and cell phones. (Make sure the battery is charged before you travel!)
- Flares or triangle reflectors.
- Quart of motor oil.
- Engine coolant.
- Duct tape.
- Tool kit, including screwdrivers, pliers, and wrenches.
- Pocket knife or multipurpose tool.
- Tire pressure gauge.
- A can of tire inflator and sealant. Also consider a 12-volt tire inflator or manual tire pump.
- Plastic gas can (empty).
- Spray bottle with washer fluid.
- Ice scraper.
- Paper towels.
- First-aid kit.
- Flashlight with extra batteries.
- Pen and paper.
- Granola or energy bars.
- Bottled water.
Remember that the cause of many accidents and malfunctions is due to driver error and irresponsibility. Do your part to prevent problems on the road by making sure everyone wears a seat belt, stay off the cellphone while driving, don't use alcohol before or while driving, and get plenty of hydration and rest. And if you should feel tired or stressed, commit yourself to exiting the highway and/or pulling over in a safe location until you are able to pay full attention to the road ahead.
Is a Roadside Assistance Service Right for You?
For additional peace of mind, you may want to consider auto roadside assistance. These programs, offered by vehicle manufacturers, insurance companies and other third-party providers like AAA and Good Sam, provide you with a higher level of protection with 24-hour access to emergency road service. If you can't fix your flat, your battery dies, you're locked out of the car, or you need fuel or towing, help may be a phone call away. Each provider may offer different coverage and benefits, so shop around for the plan best suited to your travel habits and budget. In this era of the "connected car", there are even technology savvy services like OnStar and Hum that not only provide traditional roadside assistance, but can also add services like monitoring vehicle diagnostics, tracking and alerting you of your speed, automatically detecting and responding to collisions, and locating lost or stolen vehicles.
Make your road trips safer and more enjoyable by thinking ahead and being well-prepared. From your local mechanic to a roadside assistance dispatcher, there are valuable resources to help you keep your vehicle in good working order.