Road trip season is in full swing, but if your first thought is, “I hope my car can make it!” you have some preparations to make. Nothing ruins a trip faster than a broken down vehicle, which is why many Americans choose to rent a car for a road trip (even when they have a perfectly functional car of their own).
Renting a vehicle decreases the wear and tear of your own car while ensuring a fast swap-out from the rental company should something go awry. You don’t have to worry about tread on the tires, getting your vehicle messy with those snacks on the go, or anything else that comes with using your personal wheels for a long trip.
However, if you do want to take your car on the road, these essential tips are a must for keeping it running on the journey:
Get a maintenance check a month in advance. You should be taking your car to a trusted mechanic at least once a year anyway to make sure it’s in good working order. However, taking it in before a road trip is essential. Give yourself around a month so that any issues can be handled before the trip. Ask for a full diagnostic check for peace of mind and a car that runs like a dream.
Get the tires rotated. Tread doesn’t wear evenly, but this is a task that many people overlook. You can gauge the tire tread yourself and easily see if the tires look evenly worn. Use the penny test for the tread (if the tread isn’t deep enough to cover the tip of a president’s coif, you need new tires).
Make sure you have adequate roadside coverage. Whether it’s through your car’s financing package, your insurance, or a third party, you should always have fast, reliable roadside service available. Take the time before a road trip to learn about coverage including what’s included as well as any out of pocket expenses. It might be time to upgrade.
Utilize the emergency brake. This goes double if you’ll be driving in hilly areas like San Francisco. A lot of people don’t regularly use the e-brake, and that can be fine if you normally park on flat surfaces. However, a car that isn’t used to parking on steep hills might struggle without the e-brake—especially older cars. This is one of the easiest ways to make parking for vehicles easier and avoid sudden rolls.
Don’t drive when you’re tired. Driving when you’re tired is just as dangerous as driving drunk. Take turns with all suitable drivers in the car, and pull over for a nap if you start to get too groggy. Driving tired is life-threatening, and one of the most dangerous things you can do on a road trip.
Don’t wait until the last minute to fill up the tank. This is a game of chance you don’t want to lose. However, waiting until the tank is on empty to fill it up doesn’t just increase your odds of running out of gas. It’s also tough on the engine and can wear down a car faster over time. Download an app to find the nearest gas stations and commit to filling up by the time the tank hits the 25 percent mark.
Take care of check engine lights. If you notice the check engine light appear while on a trip, now isn’t the time to engage in a little road trip Russian Roulette. Immediately find a mechanic who can quickly diagnose and address any issues. The longer such a light is ignored, the more potential damage your car may sustain.
Staying safe on a road trip starts with making sure your vehicle is in great working order, and stays that way. Otherwise, a fun-filled trip might be spent booking a costly flight home.