Whether you’re heading on a road trip across the state or across the country, giving your car something between a quick once-over and a full maintenance is a smart idea. You might catch a little issue or something major, but either way, we’re sure you’d rather deal with it at home than out on the open road, especially given our current climate.
Here are four things to check before heading out on a road trip.
1. A Good Visual Inspection
The easiest thing to do is to take a good, long look at your car. Start at the top, looking for any loose trim around windows or sunroofs, and then work your way down to inspect your headlights, mirrors and any other trim that may have loosened itself.
Then get down low and take a look at your tires. You’re watching for bulges or cuts in the sidewalls, which will almost certainly result in a costly and time-consuming blowout when you least expect it. Then take a quick look underneath to see if anything such as a tree branch has gotten caught or if any of the plastic underbody panels have come loose.
2. Run Through Your Maintenance Records
Your road trip is probably going to add a lot of miles to the odometer, and it’s better to take care of upcoming maintenance early than it is to wait until you get back. Run through your service records to see what you’ve done recently, and then have a look at the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance to see what’s coming up.
If you’re 800 miles away from your next oil change but you figure you’ll put 2,000 miles on your vehicle on your road trip, it’s a smart idea to change your oil before you leave.
3. Check Your Fluids and Your Tire Pressures
Before you leave, make sure all five tires — that’s right, your spare, too — are at the recommended air pressure found in your owner’s manual. Don’t look at the number listed on the tire’s sidewall. That’s the maximum pressure the tires can safely hold, and it’s likely to be way, way higher than what the company that engineered and built your car suggests. Trust the engineers on this one.
Pop the hood and check every major fluid — engine oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, coolant and even windshield washer fluid. Doing this quick once-over while the engine is cold could save you thousands of dollars, and it’s a good idea to perform another inspection while out on the open road.
4. Take a Mini Road Trip
No need to stuff the center console with snacks and load up a playlist for this one. If you don’t spend a lot of time on the freeway, plan out a 15-minute drive at highway speeds to make sure everything feels right. You’re looking for odd noises or strange lunges as you accelerate, and then pay attention to how the car tracks down the road. You’ll want it to go nice and straight without any unexpected shimmies.
If you notice any of these issues, make an appointment with your mechanic before you head out.