Summer is here. That means it’s time to take a road trip with family or friends. Before you hit the open highway, you’ll want to ensure that your car is in tip top shape. Your vehicle needs to be able to get you to your destination and back safely. The last thing you want is to be stranded in a remote location or foreign town because your car has broken down.
Take the time to perform some simple, routine maintenance tasks on your car before embarking. They will provide you with peace of mind and possibly save you money on repair bills. Here are some basic maintenance tips that you should check off your list before hitting the road this summer.
Test The Battery
This might sound like a no-brainer, but most of us take our car battery for granted. We really never give it much thought until the battery dies and leaves us stranded in the middle of nowhere. Do yourself a favor and get the battery tested before you hit the open road. Know exactly what kind of shape your battery is in before you leave home.
It’s not that a battery is overly expensive to replace, should it die. It’s that you don’t want to have your car stranded on the side of a highway when you are miles from the nearest service station. After all, who wants to pay for a grossly overpriced tow truck? Knowing that your battery is amped up and at acceptable power will allow you to travel safely and without worry. It’s a small thing to check, but could have big consequences if neglected.
Pack An Emergency Kit
You should have an emergency kit in your car at all times. However, it’s especially important to be equipped with an emergency kit when going on a long road trip. The further away you are from home, the more important an emergency kit becomes.
You could find yourself needing an emergency kit if your car breaks down or if you get into an accident. What should be included in the emergency kit, you ask? Well, the Red Cross recommends including a flashlight, waterproof matches, a whistle, antiseptic wipes, Band-Aids, tweezers, iodine, duct tape, candles, and a multifunction knife (like a Swiss Army knife).
You should also include items like a blankets, some bottled water, and safety pins. An S.O.S. sign and roadside flares are also advisable to have on hand. The bottom line is that you want to have everything you’ll need to take care of yourself and the occupants of your vehicle should the unexpected happen.
Change The Oil
Here’s another small thing that can be really important when traveling hundreds (or even thousands) of miles. Like the battery, most of us are guilty of neglecting the oil in our car’s engine. But when the oil gets old and dirty, your car does not function properly. If the oil burns off and the level gets too low, the car will not run at all. Plus replacing a seized engine is a major repair. And costly!
You may think to simply add oil to your car before a road trip. You know, just dump in an extra liter at the gas station as you fill up your tank. However, you really need to get regular oil changes. They will ensure that you have the right amount of oil in your engine, and also that the oil is clean and you have a fresh oil filter. It will help your engine perform smoothly as it logs all those highway miles. The good news is that most service centers will change the oil in your car for a minimal fee. It’s often included in a “summer maintenance” promotion at garages.
Check Your Tires
When we say check your tires, we mean many things. First, be sure to get those winter tires off the vehicle. Put your summer or all-season tires back on. Winter tires aren’t designed to perform well in hot weather. Second, check the tread on the tires. If the tread is getting low, you may want to invest in a new set of tires before taking off on a road trip. Also check the tires for nicks and punctures. You don’t want a sudden flat or blowout to ruin your trip.
Lastly, be sure to check the tire pressure. If needed, add air to bring the tires up to an acceptable pressure level. In hot summer months, you might also need to let some air out. Fine the recommended PSI rating of your tire on the sidewall, then make sure your tires are inflated to spec.
All of these checks will help to ensure that you are traveling on safe and reliable tires this summer. A tire blow out can be one of the most dangerous things to happen with a car. Plus changing a tire yourself on the side of a road is no fun. Taking time to inspect your tires is one of the smartest things you can do before going on a road trip.
Top Up The Other Fluids
While engine oil is arguably the most important fluid in your car, it’s not the only one. Engine coolant, windshield washer fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, and water for the radiator are each critically important. If one is low or missing, it can spell disaster for you and your carefully planned road trip.
Do yourself a favor and make sure all the fluids are inspected and topped up before you leave home this summer. Getting the fluids in your vehicle topped up is relatively inexpensive. It’s often included in a promotional maintenance package at garages. It’s also fairly easy to do yourself, even if you’re an inexperienced auto mechanic. A few YouTube videos should provide adequate training.
Ensure The Air Conditioning Works
Few things are as awful as being stuck in a car for hours at a time when it’s scorching hot outside and the air conditioning is on the fritz. Cracking the windows just doesn’t compare. If there’s one thing you’ll be glad you have on a summer road trip, it’s solid air conditioning. Keeping things cool inside the car while temperatures soar outside is a must – especially if you’re traveling with kids or seniors.
Yet air conditioning is one of the items that is most commonly broken in cars. Trust us, you don’t want to be stuck in traffic when it’s 100 degrees outside and you have no A/C. Test it yourself before departing on your trip. If you detect even the slightest problem, take your car into the garage and get it serviced. It could be an expensive fix, but it’s probably worth it.
Get Your Entertainment Together
Whether it’s Spotify playlists, DVDs, or books, the passengers in your car will need something to entertain and distract themselves while you drive. While spectacular scenery is always nice, it only amuses for so long. Especially kids. Plus youngsters today are used to being constantly entertained by one electronic device or another. Playing “Punch Buggy” or “I Spy” for seven hours straight isn’t going to entertain like it did previous generations.
For this reason, it’s advisable for you to stock your car with all of the entertainment needed to keep everyone amused. Charge the iPads or Nintendo Switch. Bring charging cables. Pack some new books. Download some movies to your phone. And of course, prepare a brilliant summer playlist that everyone can jam along to. The key is to keep everyone happy and distracted. It’s the best way to prevent backseat fights.
Check and Clean Your Headlights
Neglect your car headlights at your own peril. Headlights are important for both day and night time driving. Check your headlights to ensure that all bulbs are working and that none of them look dim. Replace any bulbs that are burned out or dimming.
It’s also important to clean your headlights by wiping off the plastic covers. You’ll be amazed at the difference cleaning the headlights can make in terms of the brightness and strength of the beam. Being able to see clearly and consistently (especially at night) is very important. It can be extra helpful when you’re driving on unfamiliar roads. If nothing else, strong and clean headlights will help you better read road signs at night.
Speaking of getting to your destination, you should have a reliable GPS in your car. It doesn’t matter whether it’s built into the console, a portable unit, or just your smartphone on a hands free mount. GPS has become so widely used, that it’s difficult to understand how we got along without it in the past. Computer guidance is never more valuable than when you are in unfamiliar territory and don’t know your way around.
With GPS, you can always navigate your way to any destination. Gone are the days when you had to unfold a massive map and squint to find certain roads and highways. Now you just punch in an address and let your GPS give you turn-by-turn directions. Pro tip: if you’re planning to use a smartphone, ensure that you have an adequate data plan and reception in your planned travel areas. Google Maps won’t be very useful if your phone isn’t working properly.
Check Your Brakes
Nothing is more important than your brakes. If you’re going on an extended road trip, you will want to make sure that the brakes are in the best shape possible. Whether you need to replace worn brake pads or having the rust scraped off, getting the brakes in high performance shape is paramount. Brake pad replacements aren’t even that expensive.
In fact, many garages offer lifetime warranties on brake pads. However, getting the brakes inspected before a road trip (and making any needed corrections) could save your life. The last thing you want is for the brakes to fail when you need them most. For this reason, checking and servicing your car’s brakes is the most important thing you can do before embarking on a cross-country trek this summer. Ride on, and enjoy the sunshine!