Before You Head Out
Check or change the oil:
If you’re not ready for an oil change, take out the dipstick and see if you need to add oil.
Replace the engine air filter:
Check your owner’s manual to find the air filter. If it’s dirty or filled with debris, replace it with a new one.
Check your spark plugs:
If your car is idling rough or you have problems starting it, you may need to replace your spark plugs. Check them for corrosion, residue, or gaps between the electrodes, and replace if necessary. As always, check your manual to be sure.
Check your tires:
Nothing’s worse than a changing a flat on a hot highway. Use the penny trick to check the tread depth. Insert the coin head down into the tread. If you can still see Lincoln’s head, it’s time to replace your tires. Some tires have wear indicators. Check the manufacturer’s website. Likewise, if you see cracks in the sidewalls, or blisters and bulges, you’re due for a new set. Also, if your car vibrates or pulls to the side, you may need an alignment before taking off. And finally, if everything looks good, make sure the tires are inflated to the correct pressure.
Check the jack and spare tire:
This is a big one. Many assume if the spare’s never been used, it’s good to go. Don’t make that mistake. As with the other tires, make sure it’s properly inflated. Oftentimes, spare tires deflate. Also, be sure your jack is in the right place. And it’s good idea to try it out before you leave to see if it works.
Check or change windshield wipers and fluid:
Bugs, dirt and weather can make you feel like you’re driving blind. Replace your wipers and fluid so you can have a clear view later. Most wiper blades are easy to change yourself. Just follow the instructions in your manual or on the manufacturer’s packaging.
Check and fill the fluids:
Power steering, transmission and antifreeze are all fluids you don’t want running low on your trip. Make sure yours are changed and filled at recommended factory intervals. Most fluids have gauges as well as indicators on the side of the containers.
Flush the radiator:
Hot temperatures can cause your car to overheat. Before you end up steaming on the side of the road, consider having your radiator flushed and filled, especially if it’s been over a year since your last tune-up. Many times antifreeze residue will remain in the lines. Flushing it helps your car run better.
Check the lights:
Brake lights, turn signals, high and low beams — test them all in the dark.
Check the battery:
Inspect under the hood for loose connections, frayed or broken cables, dirt and corrosion, as well as cracked cases. Also, if you see liquid oozing out of the battery, it’s time for a new one. You can clean the terminals by first removing the cables (negative first), then smoothing on a baking soda and water paste and scrubbing them with a toothbrush. Car batteries typically last three to five years. Is yours on the older side? You may want to test it with a voltmeter.
Check the shocks:
Is your car bouncing more than usual? Or is the front end diving when you brake or accelerate? Push down on your hood to see if your car bounces after you let go. If so, you may need new shocks.
Check the brakes:
Fill the brake fluid and check the pads — especially if you’re taking a trip to the mountains. You don’t want to lose those brakes on a steep downhill drive. If your pads are worn to ¼-inch thick or less, get them replaced.
Inspect belts and hoses:
See any holes, cracks or frayed edges in your belts or hoses? Replace them now before it turns into an expensive roadside repair.
Check your key fobs:
Many new cars have key fobs. If it’s been a while, change the battery in it so you don’t get locked out.
Read your manual:
Few people take the time to read their manual until there’s an emergency. A quick read-through now might save you a serious hassle later.
Check Your Horn:
Just once, thanks. You don’t want to drive the neighbors crazy.
What to Pack
An emergency car kit: Check this guide. A few other items you might want to add:
• Tire gauge
• Foam tire sealant
• Jumper cables
• Flashlight and extra batteries
• Duct tape
• Tow strap or tow rope
• Utility knife
• Rain poncho
• Drinking water
• A blanket
• Fire extinguisher
Hours driving in the sun can take a toll on drivers and passengers. Temporary see-through window shades help block the heat and glare along the way.
Warranty, car insurance, emergency car service contact information:
These are glove box essentials for any travel.
Mobile phone and charger:
Other than your car, a mobile phone is one of the most important road trip accessories. Whether you use it for tunes, navigation, finding restaurants or calling in an emergency, consider buying a car charger to keep it from dying when you’re out in the middle of nowhere.
Basics include: bandages, scissors and alcohol swabs. Consider adding insect repellent, sunscreen, anti-inflammatories and, if you have a doctor's prescription, an Epipen for emergencies.
Tunes, books and games:
Every road trip needs a soundtrack. And if you’ve got kids, pack up a bag of fun things to entertain them. Also, audio books make long distance travel go by in a flash.
GPS or maps:
Not into the old-school method of navigation? Check out your app store for one of the many popular navigation mobile apps available. Many phones come pre-installed with Google Maps.
How to Pack
Avoid putting luggage on the roof. It increases the risk of a rollover. If that’s the only way it’ll fit, make sure it’s tied down and the weight is equally distributed. Also, secure anything in the back of your car that can fly up front and injure the passengers.
If you’re sleepy, pull over and take a nap, or let someone else drive.
Put down the phone:
In 2015 alone, 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. Don’t end up a statistic.
Secure your pets:
Not only can your pets get injured in accidents, they can cause them if not properly restrained. Invest in a safety harness and keep everyone safe.
Check the latest government safety guidelines for car seats and boosters, and make sure they are properly installed.
Avoid aggressive driving:
Excessive passing and lane changing can decrease your gas mileage by 33 percent. So slow down and have a safe ride. Have fun: Above all, take time to enjoy the scenery and have a blast.