Are You Road-Trip Ready? What To Know Before You Hit the Highway
Summer is road trip season and even rising fuel prices aren’t dampening consumers’ enthusiasm for hitting the road: 80% of consumers say they plan to travel by car. And while mixing the perfect playlist and shopping for snacks are likely part of your road trip prep, there’s something far more important to take care of — and that’s car maintenance.
While you may be able to handle some of these tasks by tuning in to a good online video, it may be wise to seek professional help. Having a mechanic check your car’s “vital signs” and give it a tune-up allows you to hit the road with the peace of mind that your car has a clean bill of health. (As a bonus, many of these fixes will help with your fuel economy.)
Nine key areas of car maintenance to check
1. Your tires
Your tires carry the weight of your car, so you want to make sure they’re properly inflated and have adequate tread, which is what allows your car to grip the road as you drive. Worn tread makes it more likely the tire may blow out, causing you to lose control of the car. Your mechanic will use a tread depth gauge to give you an accurate reading.
It also might be time to rotate them since back and front tires may wear differently. Tire rotation provides a smoother ride and might extend their useful life. Finally, you’ll also want to have a spare tire accessible in case you get a flat while en route.
2. Your brakes
Worn-down brakes are a safety hazard. A squeaking or screeching noise will tip you off that they need attention, and your mechanic can then diagnose the issue. Typically, you’ll just need to replace the brake pads, although damaged rotors will yield a more complex fix.
3. Your oil
Oil acts as a lubricant to keep the metal surfaces in the engine from grinding together
and becoming damaged by the resulting friction. Your mechanic can let you know if it needs to be topped off or changed completely and can offer advice on the right formulation for your car and driving needs.
4. Your battery
Your car battery can wear out and become less effective over time, and a dead battery can not only put you behind schedule, but it can also be dangerous depending on where you are stuck. Your mechanic will test your battery life to confirm it’s still strong and that it’s not corroded or otherwise degraded.
5. Your air filter
Air filters keep out contaminants that can affect your car’s performance and lead to costly engine damage. You can typically tell if your air filter is dirty just by looking at it. Replacing it is relatively easy as a DIY task, although your mechanic can also do it as part of an oil change and/or general tune-up.
6. Your spark plugs
Sluggish acceleration is a telltale sign these need to be replaced, given that their role is to create the “spark” that sets your car’s engine into motion. Over time, they can break down from wear and tear, resulting in your car accelerating more slowly. Your mechanic will check their function and let you know if you are due for a replacement.
7. Your coolant, transmission, and other fluids
One common road trip hazard is an overheated transmission. Your mechanic will top off appropriate fluids, but remember to pay attention to the levels as you drive. If they fall too quickly, there could be a leak.
8. Your windshield wipers
Having a clean windshield is a must for safe driving — you need a combination of new wipers that can adequately clean the windshield, along with ample wiper fluid to help dislodge the dirt. Your mechanic will check both.
9. Any other issues
Keep note of any areas of concern — like strange noises or odd sensations, such as a shuddering steering wheel — and point them out to your mechanic. Often your car will refuse to display the problem when you bring it in, so be sure to document the frequency and the conditions (i.e. only when you’re driving fast or when you just started the car) under which it happens. Any details can help your mechanic diagnose and fix the issue.
What if your car does break down?
Of course, no matter how carefully you follow maintenance and upkeep schedules, things can still happen. Before you leave, make sure you have a well-stocked emergency kit. The National Safety Council offers a comprehensive list of what to include. If your car breaks down on your road trip, here’s what to do:
- Turn your hazard lights on. The blinking lights warn nearby cars you’re having an issue.
- Get out of the traffic lane. Carefully steer your car to the right-hand shoulder, which is a safer place to wait than the left-hand shoulder. Aim for a flat, easily visible expanse.
- Stay in the car. It can be tempting to want to see what the problem is (or try to fix it if you’re handy) but the speed of passing cars makes it too dangerous to be out of your vehicle.
- Call for help. If you’re in an area with cell phone coverage, call for roadside assistance (ideally a feature of your car insurance). If that’s not an option, call 9-1-1 and explain your situation. If you aren’t able to seek help, wait it out. Chances are good a passing motorist will call the police, even if you can’t, or that a police or tow truck driver will stop by to assist. Just never get in a car with someone you don’t know. If they volunteer to give you a ride, ask them to send help instead.
Finally, remember the most important thing to take on any road trip is adequate car insurance. The last thing you want is to be in an accident or have a breakdown without protection.
With Matic, you can find an affordable insurer (more money for travel!), without having to compare policies yourself. Just answer a few simple questions for a personalized quote, and you’ll be on your way.