Reviewing a list of things to check on your car before a long road trip can save your vacation from a potential disaster.
However, the benefits of giving your car a quick once-over extend well beyond your vacation. The things you check on your car before a long trip are typically the same items you should check to keep your car at optimal health for as long as possible.
But what should you check on your car before a long trip? For those of you hitting the road this holiday season, we’ve compiled a maintenance checklist for a long trip that should keep your car moving from one city to the next.
Paperwork isn’t exactly a thing to check on your car before a long trip, but it still merits a spot on any pre-trip checklist. Frankly, if your paperwork isn’t in order, you shouldn’t get into a car even to go to the grocery store (let alone take a long trip).
Here’s what we recommend having up-to-date and in your vehicle before you start the car:
Required by Texas state law:
- Up-to-date driver’s license
- Up-to-date inspection and registration sticker
- Proof of insurance (sometimes accessible online)
- Roadside assistance information
- Owner’s manual (sometimes accessible online)
- Warranty information
Having an up-to-date inspection/registration sticker is typically the most overlooked item on this list. If you’ve put off your inspection because you’re wondering something along the lines of, “Will my car pass inspection with the airbag light on,” then it’s time to go in. If you’re only a little bit overdue on your registration, you may still be within the Texas inspection sticker grace period. Either way, you should still have your car inspected as soon as possible.
When someone calls us asking, “What should you check on your car before a long trip” or even, “What are the most important things to check on your car,” our typical response is fluids.
Similar to your body, your car needs the right amount of fluids to function properly. They keep the engine running and your brakes operating smoothly. Because of this, it’s important to have your fluids topped off or changed before a road trip.
What fluids to check:
- Oil: Oil’s lubrication of the engine reduces friction and keeps your engine running smoothly
- Coolant (aka antifreeze): Coolant keeps your engine from overheating or freezing and slows down engine corrosion
- Windshield wiper fluid (aka washer fluid): This fluid keeps your windshield clear of debris, so you can see where you’re going
- Brake fluid: The fluid in these systems is the lifeblood for their proper function. Fluid levels and condition are a major factor (Pro tip: If you can’t remember the last time you went in for an oil change, the answer to the question, “Should I change my oil before a long trip” is yes)
- Transmission fluid
- Power steering fluid
If you have your car checked often, you’re probably fine just taking a look at the “strongly encouraged” fluids. However, if you check your car as frequently as you clean behind the fridge, then it’s smart to have your local mechanic take a look at everything. Otherwise, you could be stuck on the side of the road googling things like, “Does engine coolant affect air conditioning” or “Can low oil cause overheating”.
Your wheels should also be a priority, and they should definitely be at the top of your list of things to check on your car before a long trip. While the wheel may have been discovered around 3,500 B.C., these items still require regular maintenance in the 21st century. It’s recommended to make sure the following aspects of your tires are in good standing before you leave for a long trip.
- Tread: Tread helps you measure how worn down your tires might be (To check this item, stick a penny into a tire thread. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, then you need new tires.)
- Air pressure: If your tires’ air pressure is running low or too high, you can find the ideal tire pressure on the inside of your door jam
- Load: Your tires come with a “load range” (a range of weight they’re able to carry), and it’s important to make sure your car can reasonably handle your luggage
- Alignment: If your car tends to drift one way over the other, then your alignment likely needs to be adjusted, and in some cases, it can mean that your car needs steering and suspension repair services
- Spare: If you have a spare tire, make sure it’s in good condition and easily accessible
Stopping is just as important as going, which means your brakes matter big time. Perhaps the biggest indicator of bad brakes is the sound they make when you stop your car. Do you hear any squealing or squeaking? If so, your brake pads could be worn down.
Here’s what you need to check:
- Brake pads
- Brake rotors
- Brake fluids (also noted above)
- Master cylinder
Even if you don’t hear anything when you apply your breaks, it doesn’t hurt to get a brake check in Sugar Land.
Lights are another essential item on the list of things to check on your car before a long trip. Unlike many of the other items on this list, it can be easy to overlook your vehicle’s lights, so doing a quick walk around might reveal some undiscovered problems. Whether you’re planning on driving at night or not, it’s important to check the following items:
- Brake lights
- Daytime lights (these should turn on automatically)
- Fog lights
- Headlights (both high and low beams)
- Tail lights
While you’re checking your lights to make sure they’re working, go ahead and check to see how clean they are, too. Buildup on the surface of your lights (especially on your headlights) can cause your lights to appear dim.
A dead car battery will put a quick stop to any travels on the road. If you’ve had trouble starting your car recently, your battery might be the culprit, and it may need to be replaced.
Another potential cause of battery trouble is the state of your battery terminals. If there is significant corrosion or buildup of gunk, a good cleaning may help get your car back on the road sooner rather than later.
Additional things to check on your car before a long trip
If you want to be thorough about what to check on your car before a long trip, here are a few additional items to consider:
- A/C and heating: If you’re traveling in extreme temperatures or with children, bump your A/C and heating maintenance from a “should fix” to a “must fix”
- Belts: If you haven’t had your car serviced in a while, check to see if your drive belt is worn out and in need of replacement
- Air filter: Your air filter can become clogged and as a result, should be replaced regularly
- Leaks: If you notice any oil leaks underneath your car, your car might be losing fluids that help keep it running
- Wipers: If your wipers aren’t getting all the rain or dirt off your windshield, then it might be time to replace them
What to pack in your car before a long trip
If you’re heading out for a long trip, there are certain items you should definitely throw into the trunk of your car. However, it’s a good idea to keep these items in your car at all times (even if you’re just driving down the street).
- Jumper cables
- A small tool kit
- A tire iron/lug wrench
- A car jack
- A flashlight
- A tow strap
- A first aid kit
- A tire pressure gauge
- An ice scraper
- Kitty litter (for slippery surfaces)
- A place to put your trash (so it doesn’t roll around in your car and get under your pedals)
- Duct tape
- Blankets and food
Is my car ready for a road trip?
Now that you have the information on how to know if your car can make a long trip, it’s time to get out and actually check the vehicle. Unfortunately, going down your list of things to check on your car before a long trip can be time-consuming and if you aren’t handy, rather intimidating.
Taking your car to a local mechanic for a pre-trip car inspection can save you time and help you avoid unnecessary stress. At Colony One Auto Center, we offer a comprehensive pre-trip car inspection designed to give you peace of mind on the road. With over 250 years of combined experience, the Colony One team knows how to prepare an old car for a long trip, how to take advantage of road trips with a high mileage car, and more.
For the last two decades, Colony One Auto Center has helped Sugar Land and Stafford families safely travel the roads during the holiday season. If you’re planning a long road trip in the near future, call Colony One Auto Center at 281-801-4812, stop by our shop, or request service online today.