Summer is here and that means it’s time to take a road trip with family or friends. And before you hit the open highway, you’ll want to ensure that your car is in tip top shape, and that it is 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. Taking time to perform some simple, routine maintenance on your car before embarking on a road trip this summer will provide you with peace of mind and save you money on repair bills. Here are 10 car maintenance tips that everyone should undertake before going on a summer road trip.
10. Test The Car Battery
This might sound like a “no brainer,” but most of us take our car battery for granted and never give it much thought until the battery dies and leaves us stranded in the middle of nowhere. Do yourself a favour and get the battery tested before you hit the open road this summer. Know exactly how much juice you have left in the battery before you leave home. It’s not that a car battery is overly expensive to replace should it die on you. It’s that you don’t want to have your car shut down on the side of a highway or when you are miles from the nearest service station. After all, who wants to pay for a tow truck? Knowing that your car battery is amped up and at acceptable power will allow you to travel safely and without worry this summer. It’s a small thing to check but could have big consequences if neglected.
9. Pack An Emergency Kit
You should have an emergency kit in your car at all times. However, it is especially important to be equipped with an emergency kit when going on a long road trip. The further away from home you are, 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 things such as blankets, 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.
8. Change The Oil
Again, another small thing that can be really important when traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles. Like the car battery, most of us are guilty of neglecting the oil in our car engine. Yet when the oil in our vehicle gets old and dirty, our car does not function properly. And, if the oil burns off and the level gets too low, the car will not run at all. You may think to simply add oil to your car before a road trip – dumping a liter in at the gas station as you fill up your tank. But in reality, it is best to change the oil entirely. Ensure that you not only have the right amount of oil in your engine, but that the oil is clean and you have a fresh oil filter. It will help your car perform well as it logs all those highway miles. The good news is that most automotive service centers will change the oil in your car for a minimal fee. It’s often included in a “summer maintenance” promotion at garages.
7. Check Your Tires
When we say check your tires, we mean many things. First, be sure to get those winter tires off the vehicle and replace them with a reliable pair of all-seasons. 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 this summer. Also check the tires for nicks and punctures. Lastly, be sure to check the tire pressure and know how much air is in the tires. If needed, add air to bring the tires up to an acceptable pressure level. 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. And 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.
6. Top Up The Other Fluids
While engine oil is arguably the most important fluid in your car, it is not the only fluid your car needs. 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 favour and take your car to a garage to have the fluids inspected and topped up before you leave home this summer. As with an oil change, getting the fluids in a vehicle topped up is relatively inexpensive and is often included in a promotional maintenance package at garages. Having the fluids at the appropriate levels will keep your car running smoothly and you and your family safe.
5. Ensure The Air Conditioning Works
Few things are as awful as being stuck in a car for hours at a time when it is scorching hot outside and the air conditioning in the car is on the fritz. If there is one thing you’ll be glad you have on a summer road trip, it is 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 or not working properly. And trust us, you don’t want to be stuck in traffic on an interstate when it is 100 degrees outside and you have no air conditioning. Test the air conditioner yourself before leaving on your trip. If you detect even the slightest problem, take your car into the garage and get it serviced. Even if this is expensive to have fixed, it will be money well spent in the long run.
4. Get Your Entertainment Together
Whether it is music, DVDs, iPods or books, the people in your car will need something to entertain and distract them while you drive hours and hours to your summer holiday destination. And while spectacular scenery is always nice, it only amuses people for so long. Especially kids. And kids 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 children as it did previous generations. For this reason, it is advisable for you to stock your car with all of the entertainment needed to keep everyone who is not driving amused. Of course, you can also keep yourself amused as you drive with some music you enjoy, or a well thought out music playlist. The key is to keep everyone happy and distracted. That is the best way to prevent backseat fights.
3. Check and Clean Your Car Headlights
Neglect your car headlights at your own peril. Headlights are important for 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. Also important is to clean your headlights by wiping off the plastic covers. You’ll be amazed at what a difference cleaning the headlights can make in terms of the brightness and strength of the light beam. Being able to see clearly and consistently at night is very important and can be helpful when you’re driving in an unfamiliar place after the sun has set. If nothing else, strong and clean headlights will help you better read road signs at night and get to your destination.
Speaking of getting to your destination, you should have a reliable global positioning system (GPS) in your car – whether one that is built into the driver’s console, or a portable one that you affix on top of the dashboard. GPS has become so widely used and ubiquitous, that it is difficult to understand how we got along without it in the past. And GPS is never more valuable than when you are in unfamiliar territory and do not know your way around. With GPS, you can always navigate your way to your destination – in the day or at night. Gone are the days when you had to unfold a massive map and squint to find certain roads and highways. Today, you can punch an address into your GPS and let it guide you where you are going – telling you every street and turn to take along the way. On a road trip, GPS is literally your best friend.
1. Check Your Brakes
Nothing is more important in a car than the brakes. If you are going on an extended road trip this summer, you will want to make sure that the brakes on your car are in the best shape possible. Whether replacing worn brake pads or having the rust on the brakes scraped off, getting the brakes in high performance shape is important. Brake pad replacements are not expensive. In fact, many garages offer lifetime warranties on brake pads. But 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.