When it’s time to leave for vacation, most people top off the tank, hit the road, and hope for the best. Maybe they fill the tires and add some oil. Most of them will be OK because modern cars are pretty reliable.
But why risk breaking down in the middle of nowhere? Who wants to spend days in a remote motel waiting for parts to be shipped? A pre-trip vehicle check is the most inexpensive trip insurance you can get.
Here are ten things to check before going on a roadtrip. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
1. Routine maintenance
Take a look at your manual and see if any maintenance is on the schedule. If an oil change will be due 500 miles into a 2,000-mile vacation, it's best to take care of it before a trip.
Most people think to check the oil level, but you should also check the brake, steering, transmission, and washer fluid levels.
Check the pressure level after the car has been parked and the tires have cooled down. Also, look for gouges, cuts, or bulges in the sidewalls. If you’ve had the same tires for a while, stick a penny in the treads. If you can see the top of George Washington’s head, replace the tires before you go.
While you’re down there, make sure the lug nuts are tight. Additionally, throw a tire gauge in the glove box. If you develop a slow leak during your travels, you’ll want to know.
If you’ve heard a grinding noise or felt a vibration when you’ve braked recently, have it checked out. It’s better to shop for a brake job before you leave than to require an emergency fix on the road.
5. Lights and Reflectors
Have someone walk around the car while you work all the lights and signals. Inspect light covers and reflectors to ensure they’re not cracked.
6. Seat Belts
It’s not something most people think about, but seat belts wear out just like any other car part. Check the belt for nicks, cuts, and fraying. Inspect the buckle for damage, then fasten it and give it a yank to ensure it’s secure. Retract the belt; it should slide smoothly without hesitation. Also, try jerking the belt suddenly. The retractor should lock, just as it would when the belt is called on to hold you back in a wreck or collision.
7. Wiper Blades
Rubber blades deteriorate over the years. If your wiper blades are noisy or leave the windshield streaked, it can be an indication that they’re no longer working properly. Anything that reduces your visibility is a vehicle safety issue and should be addressed right away.
8. Under the Hood: Hoses, Belts, and Battery
Hoses must not be frayed or cracked, and belts should be tight. The battery cable connection should be tight and clean. If you don’t have a meter to check the charge, most shops will do it for free.
9. Emergency Kit
Many trips involve traveling on remote roads. If you get stuck because of weather or a mechanical failure, your car may not be your first concern. Make sure you’re prepared to take care of yourself by packing an emergency kit.
It should include a flashlight, extra batteries, a first-aid kit, drinking water, non-perishable snacks, one or more rain ponchos, blankets, and gloves. You should also have flares, reflectors, and a few basic tools. It’s also helpful to carry a portable jump starter that’s charged and ready to use.
Why clean your car when it’s only going to get dirty again on your vacation? Well, dirt, grime, and salt are enemies of your paint and your exposed metals. Keep them off as much as possible. Whatever you do, for safety’s sake, see that your windows and lights are clean.
And consider the psychological benefits of a clean interior and exterior. A clean car starts your trip on the right note. Along the route, keep the trash cleaned up and occasionally drive through a car wash.