Summer is practically here and along with summer are those hot temperatures. Millions plan family vacations every summer and many of those are road trips to one degree or another.
There is nothing that ruins a great road trip more than anything than having car troubles, especially while out in the middle of nowhere. Not to mention how unsafe being broke down on the side of the road is these days. So the first thing you need to do before you do anything else this summer is to get your car ready for a road trip.
The engine usually is the first thing that comes to mind when you are thinking about a long haul on the hot highways but the hot highways should be the first thing you think of or rather your tires running on them. Also how many miles does your car have on it?
Does the car have enough room for everyone and everything you are going to take? Do you have a roadside service and will it cover where you are going? Would it be better to rent a car or is old faithful still have life in her for the adventure?
I will go down a list and description of things you should check and consider for your summer trip:
Tires: Have you checked your tire pressure or have checked how much tire tread you have? Even if your tires have adequate tread thickness, how old are the tires? Tires that are over 3 and 4 years old can become unpredictable as the belts can slip or dry-rot can start occurring in the side walls.
Long and continuous running on extremely hot pavement can cause an old tire to break down. Improper tire pressure can make the vehicle want to pull to one side or the other, cause irregular wear to the tires and can make the tire run hotter than it needs to.
Spare Tire and Jack: Make sure that you check the pressure and condition of your spare tire. Also ensure that all the jack and tools are in the correct compartments or accessible. It would hurt to get them out and try them out to make sure they still work.
Tire Balancing: If you are noticing any type of vibration from the tires between 50 and 65, get your tires re-balanced. Aside from a tire vibration being annoying and could ruin your cruising down the road trip, this vibration can wear out wheel bearing and suspension parts, usually starting with your shocks or struts. Also a tire being out of balance can wear the tires unevenly, it can create a mild cupping pattern in the tread.
Struts and Shocks: Make sure your car can pass the 2 bounce test. Push down and get the car bouncing on each corner, it shouldn’t bounce over twice after letting go, if it does, replace. Bad struts and shocks can’t keep the vehicles alignment while driving, so save them tires and replace them.
Alignment: Here is something that can cause multiple problems. If your vehicle is out of alignment, you can struggle with it trying to pull to one side or the other. It will also wear a tire or tires out as well as cause the tire or tires to run hot risking a blowout.
Also being out of alignment can cause vibrations in your steering wheel to all over the entire car. Then there is fuel mileage, if not in alignment, this can make your vehicle struggle on cruising causing the engine to have to work harder.
Lights: Always ensure that all your lights are working. If it has been years since you have changed your headlights or taillights, you may want to install new bulbs before you take off on a long trip. Make sure that all running lights, backup lights and curb lights if applicable are working. If you are driving a truck or RV, make sure that all your towing connections are in working order as well.
If you do have to replace your headlight bulbs, make sure they are aimed correctly, this would require a night time drive to check them but most automotive shops have the tools to adjust them if they are off. Be sure to make sure that both low and high beam are working as well. If your headlight lenses have done the typical fog and haze over, there are shops and DIY kits to clear them back up.
Horn: As annoying as a horn can be, you never know when you are going to have to blast someone that isn’t paying attention.
Oil and Lubrication: You should consider changing your oil before heading out for some long miles. Most oils and engine designs today allows a vehicle to go up to 5000 miles before an oil change, so if you only have one to two thousand miles on your oil, you might can hold off the change until you get back unless your trip is going to exceed the 5K miles. Never the less, always check your oil level before you leave as well as check it from time to time on your trip. An engine doesn’t have to smoke to use oil, sometimes it just seems like magic how it disappears.
Most modern cars and definitely imports do not use steering and suspension parts that require greasing. However it doesn’t hurt to make sure that all joints are either greased or in good shape before the trip. Also for rear wheel drive vehicles, make sure that your U-Joints on the drive shaft are good and for front wheel drive cars or any vehicle that has CV shafts, make sure the boots are not busted and spewing grease.
Windshield and Wipers: Inspect the windshield for any cracks or bulls-eye damage. A windshield crack grows with heat, cold, wind pressure and vibration, a long trip will for a fact make a damage like that increase. You don’t won’t a cracked line in your line of sight as sun glare or at night time headlight glare can blind you, not to mention you can get a ticket for cracked windshields.
How old are your wiper blades and where are you going to on your vacation? It would be a safe practice to go ahead and replace those wiper blade before embarking on your adventure, plus you may want to consider the type of blade depending on what kind of terrain and climate you will be mostly traveling in. Also make sure your windshield wiper washer fluid is full and it might not hurt to put a few drops of dishwashing liquid in it. That really helps around the beach areas..
Cooling System: Make sure you check your antifreeze level and I mean more than the white plastic jug. That jug is an overflow container and even though it can give you a slight indication if you are low on coolant, a real check is done by taking off the radiator cap or cooling system cap in the main system. (Never open a radiator cap or cooling system cap while the engine is hot)
If you have 70K or more miles on your car, you may want to consider a cooling system flush and refill. Either way, get an Antifreeze Gauge to see how cold and how hot your coolant can protect you against. Always look for debris or anything that isn’t antifreeze in your cooling system. If it is red or muddy looking, you may have too much rust in the system. If it looks like it has oil in it, that could be an engine fixing to blow.
Engine – Tune Up: When was the last time you had a tune up? Most cars now have coil packs instead of plug wires or a coil pack that has plug wires run from it. A rule of thumb, these coil packs are recommended to be replaced at 100K miles. So if you are going to change the spark plugs, change these packs along with them. If you still have a distributor cap and rotor button, inspect and change if needed. Caps and rotors last about 30K miles if you need to base it off the last time it was changed.
Also don’t forget the PCV valve and the air filter. The PCV valve is used to balance the crankcase pressure with the intake side of the engine. When this valve quits working it can cause the car to smoke or just use oil in general. Often if you find a heavy amount of oil on your air filter, this could be why.
Exhaust System: Make sure your exhaust system is working properly as an exhaust leak can actually fill the car with carbon monoxide on long trips with the AC on positioned to vent. The AC can actually bring in exhaust and if driving for continuous hours with the windows rolled up with the air on, this can make the driver sleepy and lose control of the car.
Battery and Charging System: How old is your car battery, if you get a good one, it will last up to 5 years, anything older, you want to get a new one before heading out. Most Auto Parts Stores will do a complete FREE battery and charging system check on your vehicle, so take advantage of that and ensure against a break down on the road somewhere.
Air Conditioning: Don’t forget your AC, they can go for 4 to 5 years before you might consider getting an AC check. Nothing worse to be on a long trip only to have the AC quit working. Not only does it provide cooling comfort in the summer but it also is necessary for defrosting your windshield when in heavy moist and humid areas. So this also proved a level of safety…
Belts and Hoses: Always give a thorough visual inspection of all your belts and hoses. If you see any wets spots on your hoses, ensure that it isn’t coolant leaking out. Feel your hoses for soft spots, these will be potential places the hoses can pop. Also make sure all your clamps are tight. Look for discolorations and cracks in your belts, if you have any, replace and as a rule of thumb, if your vehicle has more than one belt, change them all at the same time. This applies to hoses as well.
Brakes: Many cars today have wheels you can view the brakes through, so if you have that, look at your rotors for grooving or burnt spots. If you are hearing brake noises, don’t wait till after the trip, get them checked now so you can avoid more cost later. Pay attention to the emergency brake, does it seem like you have to pull the handle further up or push the pedal further down? This could be a sign you need new rear brakes. Also notice how much brake dust you have all over your wheels, that dust is your pads as they wear.
Key FOB and Remotes: If you are not sure when the last time you replaced your battery in your FOB or remote keychain, go ahead and do it before hitting the road. If you notice it sometimes doesn’t work or doesn’t seem to work as far away as it did before, that is a sign it is time for a new battery.
Wash and Wax: By washing and waxing your vehicle, you will protect the finish from all those road bugs smashing into the paint, not to mention the oils and road film that will get all over the car. Even though it won’t make a big difference, a nice clean slick car will cut the wind better and give you a fraction of better mileage…
GPS: If this applies but for those that have older and portable units or use your phone, make sure you update your GPS with the current maps and information before heading out.
Roadside Took Kit: Put together a small kit with a few tools, first aid and protective gear in case you have to pull off the side of the road for an emergency. These kits can also be bought from any parts stores. The kit should contain the following:
- Tire gauge
- Foam tire sealant
- Jumper cables
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Duct tape
- Black electrical tape
- Tow strap or tow rope
- Utility knife
- Flat blade screwdriver
- Phillips screwdriver
- Rain poncho
- Band aids
- First-aid manual
- Sterile gauze pads of different sizes
- Antiseptic wipes
- Drinking water
Reminder: Make sure you have all your car insurance and roadside service information with you. Also make sure that you bring along your Cell Phone Chargers, both the 12V automotive one and the one for 110V.
Have fun, be safe and enjoy your summer trip…