How to Prepare Your Car for a Road Trip This Summer

It’s time to hit the road! There’s nothing better than a long summer road trip, but there are some important things you need to keep in mind before you pack up the car. After all, there’s a big difference between breaking down on your way to work versus breaking down in the middle of nowhere. We’ve outlined the most common problems drivers see on road trips and how to make sure they don’t ruin your vacation.

Common Road Trip Car Issues and How to Prevent Them

By definition, road trips add a lot of mileage to your car. The long, extended driving periods can put extra stress on the engine and other components. This isn’t a problem if your car is well-maintained, but parts that are in need of repair can wear out even faster due to the prolonged heat and friction.

Sudden car issues don’t just ruin a fun vacation — they are serious safety risks. The following problems are ones that drivers tend to experience while on a trip.

You Get a Flat Tire

There’s not much worse than an unexpected flat tire when you have places to be — and according to CBS News, 60% of people don’t know how to change a flat on their own. That means you’ll be spending time and money on a tow to a shop.

The best way to prevent a flat tire is by inspecting them before you head out. Look for balding, stripping or uneven wear that might signal the tire is past its prime. Use a tire gauge to measure the tread depth; any measurement that is in the red part of the gauge means the tire isn’t safe for driving. Check the air pressure and make sure they are all properly inflated; tires that are under- or overinflated are at higher risk of going flat. Finally, double-check that you have a spare and that it’s properly inflated, too.

The Engine Overheats

An overheating engine is a trip-ending experience. This can be caused by issues like low fluid levels or failing components, and left unfixed for too long can result in the engine seizing. Once this happens, you’ll have to replace the entire thing.

Have an auto technician examine the engine before your trip. They’ll inspect the fluid levels, spark plugs, belts, hoses and other components for any warning signs. The good news is that lots of these parts are good to go for thousands of miles once they’ve been serviced, so you can take your trip with peace of mind.

The Battery Dies

Nothing’s more annoying than a dead car battery. Depending on where you’re parked when it happens, you might have to arrange for a tow and or find someone who can give you a jump.

Have the battery tested before you head out. Most batteries have a life span of two to five years, but that timeline may be shorter depending on where you live, since extreme weather can sap its life faster. Many auto shops will test the battery for free and look for any buildup on the cables. If it’s time to be replaced, they’ll swap it out quickly and easily. 

You Experience Poor Braking

Brakes that aren’t performing their best are a serious safety concern, especially when you’re spending so much time on the road. Poor brakes take longer to stop your car than they should, and they can reduce your ability to respond quickly to an emergency situation. Plus, do you really want to be dealing with a fender bender in a city you’ve never visited?

Having your brakes inspected before a big trip is a smart move, particularly if they feel spongy or soft when pressed or you can hear squealing or grinding noises. The tech will let you know if the pads need to be replaced.

The Transmission Goes Out

A failing transmission will prevent you from driving anywhere. It’s important to have it inspected before your trip, especially if you’re nearing the mileage warning for a fluid flush (this info can be found in the manufacturer’s guide.) Once serviced, you won’t have to worry about the transmission again for a very long time.

You’re Burning More Gas Than Usual

Road trips use up a lot of gas, but the price can get painful if your car isn’t burning fuel efficiently. If you’re watching the pump’s total climb when it shouldn’t be, you can end up spending a lot more than planned.

Cars that burn fuel usually do it for one of two reasons; either the tires aren’t properly inflated and they are making your car work harder than it should to move, or your fuel system is dirty and not running correctly. Check your tire pressure and make sure they are all inflated to the right psi, and consider adding a fuel cleaner to the tank to help your vehicle run better.

How To Prep for a Long Road Trip

Giving your car a once-over before you hit the road will make a big difference in the enjoyment of your trip. The easiest way to do so is to bring your car into a trusted local auto shop for an inspection. Let the techs know you’re going on a road trip so they know what to look for.

If you’re coming up on preventive car maintenance, like an oil change or brake pad replacement, it’s usually easier to get them done before you go instead of making time in the middle of your trip. You’ll have a better time if you don’t have to think about taking care of your car.

It’s also smart to take a moment and make sure all of your lights are working, the windshield wiper blades and fluid are refreshed and there are no warning lights on the dashboard. Make an emergency kit, including a cell phone battery pack and a list of emergency contacts, to keep in your glove compartment. If you have planned stops, it can be helpful to make a short list of the tow services and auto shops around those cities in case of a worst-case scenario.

Get your car washed before you leave, too. Not only will this give you a more pleasant driving experience, but you’ll also improve visibility with a clean windshield.

Finally, let loved ones know where you’re going and when so that they can check in with you. No one wants to be stranded with car troubles in the middle of nowhere without anyone knowing.

Once your car is inspected, your trunk packed and your side mirrors adjusted, there’s nothing left to do except enjoy the open road.

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