Ensuring your vehicle and your paper work are in order before hitting the road for a family road trip
Have you ever found yourself staring down at your car’s engine, only to realize you don’t know anything about mechanics?
A road trip isn’t the time to learn, either. If you’re preparing for a road trip and your last oil change was when George Bush was still in office, then it’s time to sit up and pay attention! Some basic Mechanics 101 could save you from potential disaster on the road.
Below is a handy pre-road trip checklist for your vehicle that you can follow when preparing for a road trip, plus all the documents you’ll want to have in order before you leave.
Mechanical Checks Before a Road Trip
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1) Tires and Air Pressure
When was the last time you checked your tire pressure? If it’s been more than three months, then you should put it on your “things to do before a road trip” list. Properly inflated tires are not only safe to drive on, they can improve your gas mileage.
The quick and dirty method is to check the sidewall of your tire. You’ll find in small print, the PSI (pounds per square inch). The industry standard is around 35 PSI, but your owner’s manual should have this information for you.
Inflate to whatever that number says. If it’s too high or too low, you’re going to feel a massive difference in the way your car handles on the road.
Don’t forget your spare tire1! Make sure it is equally in working order with good grip and pumped up ready to go.
It’s not just your cell phone that dies when the battery is low. Your car does, too. All sorts of things can drain your car’s battery if power is used without your vehicle being recharged.
If the terminals are black or crusty, then it may well be time to buy a new one. Wipe them clean and make sure the connection is tightly sealed. The last thing you want is for your battery to catch fire while you’re driving down the interstate.
If your battery is more then 4 years old you may want to pre-emptively replace it before a long journey.
There are three fluids that every car needs: coolant, brake fluid, and motor oil (not necessarily in that order). It’s easy to take a quick look at each one and see if you need to add more. Make mechanical checks and prep your car fluids for the long trip ahead.
Coolant: This can be found in the engine compartment, usually near the radiator. There should be an overflow bottle that looks like a small milk jug present. Just look inside that to see how full it is.
Motor oil: Open your hood and look for an oil cap with a dipstick inside it. Pull the dipstick out and wipe it clean with a paper towel or rag. Put it back in and pull it out again after about ten seconds to see how much oil is on the end of that stick. The darker the oil on the stick, the quicker you need an oil change.
Brake fluid: Most cars have a reservoir for brake fluid near the tire on either side of your vehicle. It’s a translucent container that usually says “Brake Fluid” somewhere on it. If you’re not sure, check your vehicle manual for a picture of it.
4) Air Filter
If you’ve been changing your oil, then it’s a good bet that you know when your air filter is due. If you’re someone who has to take your car in to a shop every time the oil needs changing, then the chances are good that they’ll change this for you.
It’s an easy test to run yourself, though. Your owner’s manual should have a picture to show you where the air filter is located.
In most cars, it’s in the engine compartment and looks like a box with a mesh grill over it. Pop that open and do a quick look-see for any dark or oily spots, which would indicate that there’s a problem with your air filter.
5) Emergency Kit
These items will help keep you safe and prepared while out there on thousands of miles of road.
You may have used various items in your emergency kit over the years and not replaced them, so right before your next road trip is a good time to check everything is in order, replenish and replace items.
Some basics that every car emergency kit should include:
- Jumper Cables
- Warning triangle
- Hi-vis vest
- Safety working gloves
- Duct tape
- Tire repair kit
- Tow rope
- First aid kit
The easiest way to ensure you’re not missing any important items is to purchase a good ready made car emergency kit.
If you don’t feel confident making any of these basic mechanical checks yourself, take your vehicle to a licensed mechanic. Simply chancing it before a family road trip is no excuse.
Paperwork to check before a road trip
6) Road Assistance and Trip Information
If you’re on a road trip, then you might want to know some basic information like: what’s the speed limit, how many miles until your next stop, and where can you refuel along the way? A GPS or smartphone app is usually beneficial in finding this information out.
Don’t rely on your cellular network, though, as you might get a better signal someplace off the main road. Either way, having this sort of information at your fingertips is a great way to save time and gas money.
7) Driver’s License
If you have a driver’s license, then you know the importance of keeping it current. The last thing anyone wants is to be pulled over on their way to their vacation!
Ensure your license hasn’t expired (you should also watch for speeding tickets while you’re at it). If any changes need to be made, then take care of it as soon as possible, so you don’t have to deal with the hassle of going back and forth.
If you are traveling overseas, check if your local drivers license will be valid. You might need to apply for an International Drivers license (International Drivers Permit) depending on which country you will be visiting.
8) Insurance Information
We can’t reiterate enough the importance of having insurance for your road trip. Whilst you no doubt have basic insurance for your vehicle, there are plenty of things that can go wrong beyond just damage to your vehcile.
Think about what will happen in the event of trip delay, serious illness or accident (not while in your car) and potential trip cancellation.
9) Vehicle Registration
Something we can easily overlook is our vehicles registration documents. Whilst many systems may be automated these days, one thing you can be sure of, if you don’t have your registration handy it’s bound to be the day you’re asked for it!
Make sure your vehicle registration is up to date (which is also a good reason to get all those pesky issues and mechanical problems regularly checked)and won’t expire while you’re on the road.
10) Your vehicles manual
Yes, we know they are clunky and take up so much room in your glove box. Just think of a scenario where your vehicle has broken down, no cellphone reception and not another car in sight. It’s quite possible you will have to roll up your sleeves and do some problem solving; your car’s manual will be your saving grace (all else fails, read the instructions, right?)
Ready to drive?
Once all this is done, your car should be ready for a family road trip! Whether you’re going on a weekend getaway with the family or a cross-country adventure with friends, a little bit of precaution can go a long way in making sure that you stay safe and arrive at your destination on time.
Next up, it’s time to get your car packed with all that essential gear you’ll need once you’re on the road.
Pop on over to our essential road trip packing list next for a detailed checklist of over 50 items you may want to consider packing for a comfortable family road trip.
If you’ll be driving in any sort of adverse driving conditions you may also be interested to read our detailed guides to:
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