A long trip is a serious test for your car and even a small problem such as a worn windshield wiper or an out-of-balance tyre can cause a lot of troubles.
To make sure your journey goes as smooth as possible by minimising the risk of breakdowns, We’ve prepared a few ways to prepare your vehicle for the long trip ahead.
Although these tips will help prep your car, we always recommend booking your car in for a full service with a qualified mechanic, especially if you plan on driving abroad. Don’t leave it for the last moment, do it few days before your trip.
Car owner’s manual
Have a look in your vehicle’s owner’s manual and don’t forget to keep it in your glove box. The owners manual contains plenty of useful information from how to tow a trailer to how to change the flat tyre and where the jack is located. If you don’t have an owner’s manual, many car manufacturers offer to download an electronic copy of the owner’s manual. You can order the printed version from your local dealer.
Under the hood
First, check under the hood. Are there any leaks? Are the battery terminals clean? Does the drive belt look worn out? If the belt appears cracked or glazed, have it replaced before the trip. Check all the fluids. Start with the engine oil:
Checking your engine oil
To check the engine oil, park the car on a level spot, warm up and stop the engine. Wait for a minute to allow the oil to drain down the oil pan. Pull the engine oil dipstick out, wipe it with a clean rag or a paper towel and insert it back fully. Pull it out again and check the level – it should be close to the “FULL” mark on the dipstick.
Visually check engine coolant (antifreeze) in the overflow tank
Visually check the engine coolant level in the overflow tank. Your owner’s manual has the directions. The level should be between “Low” and “Full” marks.
(Don’t open the radiator cap or the pressurised overflow tank cap when the engine is hot!)
Check the battery condition visually. If you see any acid leaks, cracks or other damage, the battery must be replaced.
Make sure the battery terminals are tight and not corroded. Corroded terminals will cause troubles.
If it’s been a long time since you changed your air filter, it might be a good idea to change it before a trip. A dirty air filter will cause lack of power. If you want to change it yourself, your owner’s manual has the directions.
Under the hood
Check the brake fluid level. Low brake fluid level may indicate worn out brake pads – have your brakes checked.
Check the power steering fluid.
Top up the windshield washer fluid. You can find the correct procedure in your owner’s manual.
Look for anything irregular – leaks, loose clamps, kinked hoses, etc.
Lights and other electrical equipment:
Check the lights
Check the horn, wipers and all the lights. A couple of spare bulbs (one for the headlight, one for the back) might be useful. Make sure your heater / air conditioner works properly. If you haven’t changed the cabin air filter (pollen filter) for a long time, consider replacing it. When it’s dirty, it restricts the air flow for the air conditioner or the heater. Have a broken or cracked rear view mirror? Fix it before the trip.
Replace the wipers if they don’t clean the windshield properly. If you still have the original wipers installed, you can just replace the rubber refills. Check if the windshield washer jets are working properly. If the roads are wet or slushy, it’s a good idea to take an extra windshield washer fluid with you.
Measuring tyre pressure
Check the tyre pressure. Recommended pressure is indicated on the manufacturer’s label, which usually located in the driver’s door frame or in the glove box. You also can find it in the owner’s manual.
If you feel a vibration at high speed, have your tyres balanced. There is a safe limit of the tread wear. If the tyre is worn below this limit, it’s unsafe to drive. Uneven tyre wear indicates an alignment problem.
Brakes, steering, suspension and drivetrain components
For these components, we recommend you have your car inspected by a mechanic before a trip.
Here are just a few signs of possible problems:
Feeling any vibration in the steering and the pulsation in the brake pedal while braking – have your brakes checked for possible warped rotors.
A clicking or popping noise when turning could be an indication of a bad or worn CV joint.
Having a knocking or rattling noise coming from the suspension while driving over bumps? One of the suspension components is probably loose. Have it checked, it might be unsafe to drive.
Look inside the wheel arches – do all four struts (shock absorbers) appear dry? A leaking strut or shock absorber should be replaced before a trip. Once the shock absorber will lose enough oil, the car will start bouncing like a boat and any road roughness can throw the car out of the road.
Does the car feel unstable and wander from side to side at highway speed? Is the steering wheel out of centre? Does the car pull aside while driving straight? Get the wheel alignment checked. Improper wheel alignment can cause handling problems, increased tyre wear and it’s very uncomfortable to drive when the car constantly pulls to one side.
Spare tyre, wheel wrench and the jack:
Spare tyre and the jack
Check the spare tyre pressure. If it’s a full-size (the same size as the others tyres) spare, the pressure should be the same as in the other tyres. If it’s a small temporary-use tyre, the proper pressure is indicated on the sidewall of the tyre (usually 50-60 psi). Check the owner’s manual for the exact data. If your car has a spare tyre that is secured underneath, make sure it can be easily removed; the mechanism could be rusted. Check if the jack is still operable.
Wheel lock key
If you have wheel locks installed, make sure you have the key and the wrench to open the wheel nuts.
Basic emergency kit for your car
Emergency car kit
A basic emergency kit for your car can include:
– Jumper wires
– Tyre sealer-inflator can
– Tyre gauge
– Couple of rags and work gloves
– Basic tool kit with screwdrivers, pliers and set of most common sockets.
Consider also a spare headlight bulb and a couple of fuses, bottles of engine oil, windshield washer fluid and coolant, an emergency stop sign or flares, an electrical tape, spare ignition key, etc.
Don’t forget your personal emergency kit with First Aid kit and items like a blanket, a bottle of water, couple of energy bars, etc.
Consider GPS Navigation System
If you like long car journeys, this small piece of equipment can save you a lot of hassle. I travel by car a lot and time and time again I was thankful for having this small device. Not only it can show you the route and estimate your arrival time, it also can direct you to the nearest gas station, coffee shop, park or many other points of interest.