Preparing your Car for a Long Road Trip: Checklist


Road trips – especially the ones with the family – are often a concern for most drivers primarily due to the fear of a possible breakdown en route. However, in reality long trips are often much easier to manage and pleasurable than your day to day drive to work or within the city commute.

The following would be the categorized long road trip checklist for your car in order to prepare the same before the travel day.

1. Fluids

Coolant: Engine coolant (or antifreeze mixture) is usually changed every 25 thousand miles or once in two or three years. However, if your last coolant change was a year or more back (or 15K miles) you might want to consider changing the coolant before a long trip to increase its effectiveness in keeping the engine under control.

Engine Oil: Check your vehicle’s engine oil level and its color to make sure that it is good enough for a few more thousand miles. If the oil is already very dark or has blackish sediments within, it is advisable to change oil before your long drive.

Wiper fluid: A lot of people don’t care about the wiper fluid. Well, if you run out of wiper fluid you could actually fill it with distilled water but it’s always good to have the viscous fluid mix as purchased from auto shops. Smoothly running wiper blades are needed for highway driving.

2. Check vital parts

Battery: Ensure that your battery is in good conditions and your vehicle cold starts in the first quick attempt itself. In addition, you might want to clean up the battery terminals with a brush and Vaseline applied on them to prevent corrosion.

Air filter: If your air filter has run 10,000 miles since last change or even close to it, consider changing your air filter before a long road trip.

Tires: Make sure that your tires have good enough grip and tread depth. A minimum tread depth for a long drive (that might include wet driving) would be 1/8th of an inch. If any of the tires doesn’t have that much depth remaining, it is time to change it. Make sure that you check your spare tire as well for good tread quality.

For long drives, you need to over inflate the tires a little more than the specified PSI rating. For example, if the recommended tire pressure is 30PSI you may consider increasing it to 32 for a long drive. Increased tire pressure would make sure that your tires don’t heat up much during long drives.

3. Spares

Spare bulbs and fuses are those additional things you need to carry depending on your vehicle model. I had the ill fate of having a blown fuse during one of my road trips that wouldn’t let me lower the power windows. Of course, this is not a high probability scenario and you may be able to fix such problems a little later.

4. Documents & Contacts

Make sure that your glove compartment contains all your valid vehicle documents or copies of the same. In addition, do not forget to carry the driving licenses of all those drivers who will be rotating during your trip.

It is also good to carry your road side assistance numbers, insurance agents contact number etc though it is far easier these days to search and find it using your smart phone.

Additional documents include a road atlas just in case you don’t have a GPS (consider one) fitted on to your vehicle.

Additional Tip: Consider becoming a AAA member, if roadside assistance is not part of your insurance plan. It can save really save you from a lot of headache in the middle of the road

5. Repair kit and Quick fixes

The following would be the typical road trip check list on top of the points mentioned above:

  • Jack and basic toolkit
  • Breakdown triangle or reflector
  • Jumper cables for jump-starting
  • Tire sealants (Use only if you can’t change the tire)
  • A flash light
  • A Swiss knife
  • Warm clothes
  • Couple of gallons of water
  • Anti-nausea pills

6. Final check up and cleanup

Finally, make sure that any major issues such as braking problem or sound from drive shaft etc are fixed before your long journey. Check your windshield wipers for proper functioning, check the tire pressures once again and you are good to go.

On the previous evening, you might want to vacuum the cabin and trunk, give it a good wash and have the gasoline tank filled.

Now you can sleep peacefully and be ready for an enjoyable drive the next day!