Get Your Car Road Ready
Before you head out on the freeway, it’s important that you make certain that your car and all its components are in optimal, working condition. Nothing can derail the fun of a road trip quicker than car troubles, so do your best before you leave to ensure that your car is road ready. Below is a checklist to help you make certain you cross every ‘T’ and dot every ‘I’ before departing.
Road Ready Road Trip Checklist
Check Your Tires
You’ll want to check your tire tread to be certain that they have enough tread. Here’s an easy way to tell if your tread wear is within acceptable limits. If not, you’ll need to replace your tires before hitting the road. Also look for signs of uneven wear, which can be a sign that you need to get your car aligned and rotate your tires.
Top Off Fluids
Check all fluids including: oil, transmission fluid, windshield washer fluid, brake fluid, antifreeze, and power steering fluid. Pack spare bottles of everything — especially oil — in your trunk in case of emergency.
Change Your Oil
Check to be certain you’re not overdue for an oil change and whether you’ll need one on the road.
Bring Your Vehicle in for a Checkup
Bring your car to a professional and let them know that you’ll be taking it out on a road trip. Have them check everything from the air filter, timing and serpentine belts, and spark plugs. Replace anything that’s worn and take note of any potential problems your mechanic might identify.
Check Your Lights
Pull your vehicle up in front of a building where you’ll be able to see the reflection of your headlights when it’s dark out and check that they’re functioning properly and that your high beams are correctly aligned. Turn on your turn signals and have someone else check your parking and taillights to make sure that everything is in working order.
Replace Old Wiper Blades
Though it’s easy to forget about them until you need them, having wiper blades that work well can make a big difference in your safety on the road, so be certain to test them out before you hit the highway.
Listen to Your Car’s Computer
We’ve all been guilty of ignoring the ‘Check Engine’ light in our vehicle. But when you’re planning on putting a lot of miles on your car, you’ll want to take care of those pesky dashboard lights sooner rather than later. If your vehicle’s computer is alerting you of any problems, bring your car in to a professional and let them check to be sure there aren’t any issues.
Check Your Brakes
Along with your tires, your brakes are the most important safety feature in your car. You’ll want to make certain that they are working properly, at least at 50% functionality or more. Have them replaced if need be.
Clean out the Car
You’ll be spending a lot of time in your vehicle on a road trip and nothing feels worse than a messy, disorganized car. Clean it out all clutter and unnecessary items in advance of leaving. You’ll also want to be certain you stock your glove box or center console with things like extra napkins or paper towels for quick on-the-road cleanups. Keep a small trash bag on hand that you can use to collect food containers and debris when you’re traveling and empty out when you hit the gas station.
Pack a Toolkit
You’ll want to be prepared for any wrenches that get thrown into your plans by, well, packing a wrench. Pack an entire tool kit in your trunk for little roadside fixes. Things that’d be good to include are: a wrench, pliers, WD-40, a funnel and rag for changing oil, screwdriver, knife, wire, and a hammer.
Plan, but Allow Room for the Unexpected
Before you ever put your key in the ignition and head out on the highway, you should have at least a general idea of where you’ll be going. Take time to look over maps and identify where you’d like to go, where you might want to stop for the night, and areas in your route that might have less access to services so that you can be gassed and stocked up before you hit them.
But one of the best parts of road trips are the accidental discoveries you make along the way. While you’ll surely have must-sees along your route, be certain you leave yourself enough flexibility in your schedule to make room for unexpected stops for things like The World’s Biggest Ball of String or viewpoints along the way.
Program Your GPS, but Pack Maps, too
It sometimes seems like you’d have to try hard to get lost in this day and age. With GPS and turn-by-turn navigation right on your phone, that’s relatively true. However, don’t just rely on the digital world to get you where you’re going. You never know when your phone might lose reception, charge, or just flat out not work at all. Make certain you bring along an atlas with detailed, and up to date, maps of everywhere that you’ll be traveling.
Be Careful about Being Overly Ambitious
It’s normal to want to cover as much ground as possible and see every sight there is to see when you’re on a road trip. However, trying to pack too much in to a road trip can leave you feeling stressed, tired, and stretched too thin. A good road trip tip is to be sure to carve out large portions of downtime outside of the car for seeing the sites and stretching your legs.
Spending more than four or five hours driving per day will tend to tire you out fast. Try to plan your road trip so that long driving days are alternated with days where you don’t drive at all. And do your best to schedule regular breaks and stops into your vacation route.
Bring a Spare Key and Backups of Everything
While over planning can kill the spontaneity of a good road trip, so can under planning. Be certain you take a few minutes to think about what items are essential on your road trip — for example, a key for starting your vehicle or your eyeglasses or saline solution for your contacts — and plan for a backup of those things. Hide a spare key somewhere on the outside of your vehicle in a hide-a-key container and make certain to tuck away extras of anything that is a travel must-have for you.
Carry Cash for Tolls and Emergencies
Sure, you can use credit cards and even your smart phone to pay for most everything, but you’ll still need some cash on your road trip for things like highway tolls and picking up tchotchkes from roadside vendors.
Make certain you bring along some cash. It’s always a good idea to fill up your center console with some loose change and squirrel away a twenty or two somewhere safe, perhaps in your owner’s manual in the glove box or taped to the underside of the ashtray, in case of an unforeseen emergency or toll.
Get Advice from Locals
While today’s travelers have the luxury of planning out routes online and getting advice from internet travel forums, nothing quite matches the kind of insider knowledge you can pick up from talking to the locals when you travel. Whether you ask your server about her favorite parks in the area over breakfast or get the gas station attendant’s advice on must-see attractions, make sure you take the time to meet people as you go.
Keep People in the Know
While there’s something romantic about the idea of going completely off the grid while you travel, it’s best to play it safe on a road trip. Make certain that you check in every day, more than once, if possible, with someone at home so that people have an idea of where you’re at and the address of places you are staying just in case.
Be Ready for the Weather
While most people think of road trips as a big part of a quintessentially American summer, road tripping can be delightful any time of the year, what with winter landscapes, fall’s changing foliage, or the budding blooms of spring. But it’s important to remember that each season requires a little bit different planning.
In springtime and autumn, you’re likely to experience much more rain, for example, so be sure that your windshield wipers are in good working order, your tires have plenty of tread to ward off hydroplaning, and your daytime running lights are all functioning properly.
In the winter, you’ll want to be prepared with extra blankets in case of emergency, an ice scraper, deicer for your windshield, and a small shovel in case of a winter storm. Depending on where your travels take you, you might even want to invest in some chains for your tires if you’ll be traveling in the mountains.
For the summertime, be sure to have your AC checked and recharged if needed. You’re at an increased risk of your car overheating, so carry extra fluids to top off your radiator if you need to. Also, be certain that you travel with plenty of drinking water to stay hydrated in case of emergency.
The single most important thing to keep in mind when you’re heading out on a road trip? Just have fun!