Guest post by Jeff Good
The road trip.
Many families’ fondest memories come from that classic American vacation rite.
The roadside attractions, meal stops at small towns, and the call of the open road lets families bond in new and wonderful ways. But before you hop in your car to some far off destination, you’ll want to make sure your vehicle is up for the trip.
While there are many tips to keep in mind in order to keep your family safe during a road trip, the most important action you can take during the whole trip happens before you even leave the driveway.
Check your car before you start your trip to ensure a happy, carefree, and safe vacation. Not sure what to look for? Just follow these five steps before you head out the door and you’ll be good to go!
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1. Check Oil and Various Fluid Levels
When you wait too long to replace your engine’s oil, it causes the engine to heat up, which can cause damage or even completely destroy the engine over time. Which is why, if you’re due for an oil change, you need to get that taken care of.
You can either take your vehicle into a shop, or change the oil yourself. But if you’ve driven more than 5,000 miles, or it’s been more than six months since your last oil change, it’s best to change the oil before you leave to avoid any potential problems.
If your oil has been changed recently, you still have fluid levels to check. Using the dipstick, you can check to make sure your oil levels against the top notch (the high limit) and the low notch (the low limit) on the stick. If the oil is low, you’ll likely want to top it off before heading out.
Once you’re confident that your oil levels are good, you’ll want to check the other important fluids in your car. Using your manual, you can find where to check your windshield wiper fluid, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and coolant in your radiator. If any of these seem low, top them off to make sure you hit the road as safely as possible.
2. Make Sure Your Tires Are Fresh and Properly Inflated
Worn down tires can reduce your ability to keep contact with the road, threatening the safety of your entire family. So before you go anywhere, check your tire pressure, and your treads, to make sure everything is in working order.
First, you can check your tire pressure to make sure it is within the proper limits stated in your owner’s manual. Assuming your pressure is fine, you’ll need to check your treads. If your tread depth is less than 1/16 of an inch, your tires are unsafe to drive on.
To check your tire treads, do the Lincoln penny test. Take a standard penny, and stick it upside down into the groove of your tire. If you can see a gap between the top of the penny, and Lincoln’s head, then it’s time to replace your tires.
3. Inspect Your Air Filter
Many car owners tend to overlook their air filters because they don’t often need to be replaced. But before a big trip, that filter is essential to make sure your engine runs properly the whole time.
You can usually find the filter in the air box connected to your intake, which is a ruffled plastic pipe. Upon opening the airbox, you should see that the filter is clear of debris, and white in color. If it appears dirty, replace it before closing the airbox.
If you have to replace the filter, you can at least take solace in knowing you’ll not have to worry about it for tens of thousands of miles. And you can rest easy knowing your engine will be running optimally as you chaperone your family across the countryside.
4. Resolve Any Maintenance Issues
If you’ve experienced any nagging issues with your vehicle that you’ve put off repairing, you absolutely must take care of them before you find yourself driving hundreds, or even thousands, of miles on vacation. The last thing you’d want is to strand your family in a different state because you decided against getting that “Check Engine” light looked at.
If any lights are activated on your dashboard, you can check those using a OBDII scanner, if you have one. If you don’t have a scanner, not to worry! Simply bring in your car to any local mechanic. They can check those lights for you. It could be a false alarm, or it could be indicative of a larger issue within your vehicle. It’s better to be safe than sorry, or even worse, stranded.
5. Pack an Emergency Kit
At this point, your tires are set, your fluids have been topped off, and your car should be in tip-top shape. But no matter how well you plan for your trip, the unexpected can always occur. All you can do is prepare for any and all situations you run into. Which is why you need to pack an emergency kit.
First, you should ensure you have everything you need in case you get a flat tire. That requires a spare, a jack, and a tire iron. Then, you’ll assemble anything else you might need if you encounter a roadside emergency.
You should have jumper cables, a flashlight, and a first aid kit. You might want to try to secure a few road flairs, just in case, as well as stocking some water and non-perishable food items. Blankets and rain gear could end up being essential If you’re driving in winter conditions, some cat litter could help you get out of some slushy situations.
The key is to be prepared. You’ll hope you never have to use any of these items, but if you ever do, you’ll be thankful you have them.
A Spring Break road trip or camping trip is the perfect family vacation, and if you follow these tips before setting off, you can make sure that it does, in fact, go perfectly.
By Jeff Good is a writer and researcher based in Chicago. His passions include creating content that teaches and inspires, learning through writing, and cheering on his beloved Cubs.
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