Road Trip Checklist for Your Car
Give your vehicle some TLC before you make like the Griswolds in “National Lampoon’s Vacation”
There are few things more American than the good, old-fashioned road trip. Whether you're headed on a trek from college back to home (or vice versa) or taking the whole family on a vacation, the road trip is a tried-and-true way to get your motor runnin' and head out on the highway.
However, before you step on the gas, consider the most vital element of the road trip — your car — and check these five things to make sure it will safely take you where you want to go.
1. The tires. It's vital your tires be in good shape for the trip. Swing by a gas station and use an air compressor hose — most have built-in gauges that show when your tire is properly inflated. Also, consider the age and the condition of the tires. “If you have a car that might be your family traveling wagon, and it looks like the tires might be in great shape, but they might be seven or eight years old — those tires might be more subject to punctures and blowouts,” says John Paul, who serves as “The Car Doctor” for Northeast AAA. If the tires have a lot of age or miles on them, getting new ones before a long road trip might be wise.
2. The battery. “The typical life of a battery is just a little under five years,” Paul says. “So, if your battery is around three years old or so, think about getting it tested. If it's more than five years old, think about replacing it.”
The environment where you’ll be driving the car can affect the battery, too. “The chemical reaction that goes on inside a battery is more affected by heat,” Paul says. “In cold weather, a battery loses capacity, so in zero-degree temperatures a battery may only have about 50 percent capacity. But hot weather tends to cause internal shorting of the battery or shorter battery life.” Batteries in hot weather, Paul says, may only last a few years.
3. The keys. “We still rescue a lot of people every day that lock their keys in their car,” Paul says. He recommends keeping an extra set of keys with you on the road trip. “This happens more often than not on family trips,” Paul says. “Everybody has their routine. They get out of the car, they grab their phone, they grab their bag... You put one extra thing into that mix, and then all of a sudden, you forget to bring your keys. So having an extra set of keys somewhere or the ability to get in the car easily is always a big help.”
4. The age and condition of the car. If your car has been around for several years, Paul recommends a checkup with a trusted mechanic before you head out. “As a bare minimum, make sure all the vital fluids are in good shape,” Paul says. “Oil, transmission, power steering fluid, engine coolant, brake fluid — make sure they're all at least topped off or in good condition.” For cars that are even older (a decade or so), Paul also recommends a mechanic check out the fan belt, the radiator and heater hoses, the timing belt (if it has one) and the brakes.
5. The emergency kit. “It's always a good idea to carry an emergency kit with you,” Paul says. The kit shouldn't be intended for large-scale repairs, but a basic tool set can help patch your car up and get it to the next service station if an emergency does happen. Make sure the kit contains vitals like wire, duct tape, road flares, reflective triangles, a flashlight and gloves. “Most importantly, make sure that your spare tire is in good shape and you have all the tools you need to change a flat,” Paul says.
Related: How to Change a Flat Tire