Last updated: 03:00 AM ET, Wed March 18 2015

Is Your Car Ready for the Long Haul? 8 Essential Road Trip Checklist Items

Features & Advice | Tom Bastek | March 18, 2015

Is Your Car Ready for the Long Haul? 8 Essential Road Trip Checklist Items

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

With the price of gas holding steady below three dollars a gallon and airlines figuring out new fees to tack onto our airfares, road trips are the stuff that summer will be made of. Before you head out on the highway, here are a few things to check out on your vehicle that will help insure that you are going to make it to your final destination.


You have to see where you are going, even if you have the back seat loaded up. Make sure all the windows are clean, both inside and out, all of your mirrors are clean, and that your windshield wipers are not cracked or streaking. If your wipers are wiped out, spend the ten bucks and change them; this will be appreciated down the road, especially if you are going somewhere that is expecting weather. Also, spend the extra dollar and get some washer fluid instead of just opting for water. It gets bug guts off the windshield much better.   


One of the most important fluids to check here is also the most obvious: the oil. Make sure that you are topped off and if you have a car that is high mileage or older, throw an extra quart in the trunk just to be on the safe side. If you are getting close to your oil change date, go ahead and do it before you go. Your car will thank you. The next most important thing is your coolant. Remember to plan for where you are going and if there are weather extremes, opt for coolant over just plain water. Don’t forget your transmission fluid, power steering fluid, and brake fluid.


Most people know how to check their tire pressure, but make sure you are filling it to the correct PSI. The PSI listed on the tire is the maximum that the tire can be inflated, not the optimum inflation for your vehicle. Look on the driver’s doorjamb, in the glove compartment, or in the manual for the recommended inflation. Don’t believe that rule that if you inflate five pounds over you will get better gas mileage. You may get a few better miles per gallon, but you run the risk of uneven wear, and road conditions may damage the tires more easily. In addition to checking out your tire pressure, check the side walls for bubbles, bumps, or tears, and make sure the tread is deep enough.


First of all, make sure that the terminals are clean of any corrosion. The last scenario you want when you are away from home is a search for baking soda to get the corrosion off of the battery so you can get a jump. Make sure the cable screws are tight as well as the battery hold down screws. If there are any cracks in the battery case, replace the battery before you go. Once again, if you are traveling to an extreme temperature climate and your battery is old, replace it before you go.


Often forgotten about is checking to make sure all the lights on the car work. Headlights you can probably see, but testing the rest of them takes a second person. Don’t give the cops a reason to pull you over for having a taillight out. Make sure your interior lights work as well, because you don’t know if you are going to need them for unpacking in the dark en route to your destination. If your lenses are starting to fog, you may want to consider buying a repair kit to polish them, or having a professional do it. If you are considering using one of those hacks like toothpaste or bug spray, you need to do your research.

Air filter/Air Conditioning/Heat

Whether it is air for your car, or for you to breathe in the cabin, filters need to be maintained. Check and/or change your engine’s air filter before you leave. Better gas mileage is only one of the benefits you can reap by making sure you have a clean filter. The same goes for your internal air filter. Almost all late model cars have a filter that should be checked at least every oil change or so. Also, make sure that your heat or air conditioning works properly. There is nothing worse than living in the cold, and escaping to the heat just to find out that you’re air conditioning isn’t working.

Emergency Kit

Here is a list of things that should be in your emergency kit. This is in addition to a properly inflated spare tire and a jack/tire iron to change it.

Jumper cables, tire pressure gauge, first aid kit, flashlight, small tool set, matches, some sort of non-perishable nourishment like energy bars or snacks, bottled water, reflective triangle or flares, an actual real paper atlas or maps, an ice scraper, blanket, paper towels, pen and paper, umbrella, phone chargers, extra fuses, a quart of oil, a few rags, a paper funnel or two, a fluorescent safety vest, trashbags, baby wipes, feminine products, duct tape, and a small fire extinguisher rated for auto fires.


You should always keep this information in your car even when not traveling, but this is a great time to check it. You should have your car’s manual, a copy of your registration, your insurance information, any warrantee information, and roadside assistance information.

Keep safe this summer out there on the road and be prepared by making sure your ride is ready to rock and roll.  Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments below! 


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