Summer is here and your summer road trips are around the corner. As you begin preparing for a road trip with the itinerary and picking out the best snacks, don’t forget to think about the ride that will haul you to your next adventure. While road trips are all about new experiences, you’ll probably want to avoid getting your car fixed in a new town. With 20 minutes or less of prep, you can ensure you avoid any preventable car trouble.
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Preparing your car for your summer road trips requires a bit of your time, some knowledge and just a few supplies. You can do all of this yourself but there is always the option to take your car to a trusted shop for a quick once over before hitting the road. Either way, you’ll have a short list of items that should be checked to ensure a safe and interruption-free road trip.
Ensuring your tires are in good shape is an absolute must before heading out on your summer adventures. Tires are not only important for safety but can also save you money on gas.
The first thing to check is your tire tread depth, which is an indicator of how much life your tire has remaining. The easiest way to check tread depth is using the tire’s built-in wear bars. Every so often in between the tire treads you will see a raised bar. As long as your tire tread is above the raised bars your tires still have a safe amount of tread left. However, if the tread is at or below the wear bars you’ll want to get new tires fitted to ensure a safe trip.
The amount of air in each of your tires is the other critical measure to check. Having the correct air pressure in all of your tires will help you get optimal fuel economy, prevent your tires from wearing out early and ensure a safe and smooth ride.
First, you need to know what the appropriate air pressure is for your tires. Luckily the manufacturer of your car has done the math for you and put this number on a sticker along the edge of your driver’s door. Look for the measurement in Pounds per Square Inch (PSI).
Second, you’ll want to check the current air pressure in your tires. There are two ways to do this, using an air pressure gauge or using the onboard air pressure monitor in your car. Most cars built within the last 10 years will have a display on the in-car screen that tells you the current air pressure in all four of your tires. Refer to your owner’s manual to learn how to locate this reading in the menu.
If the pressures don’t match the optimal setting then you’ll want to adjust the air pressure. A great place is a Sheetz gas station using their air compressor available in the parking lot, taking your car to a friend with an air compressor or the shop where you had your tires installed. Filling your tires with air should be free of charge at a tire center.
You and your car have something in common, the need to be well-hydrated. To ensure your car is properly hydrated, there are five fluids you’ll want to check. Each should be between the maximum and minimum fill line or indicator when preparing for a road trip.
While each car will be different there are universal symbols or words you can look for under the hood that will show you where you can check and refill each fluid.
- Engine Oil
– Should measure between the two lines/dots on the dipstick.
– Separate dipstick and fill locations.
– Clear fill tank with min/max lines.
- Brake fluid
– Clear fill tank with min/max lines.
- Power steering fluid
– Typically a dipstick connected to the fill cap.
- Windshield washer fluid
– Clear fill tank.
– If no min/max lines, fill to the top off the tank to where you can easily see the fluid.
If these fluids are only slightly low you are good to top them off and get on the road. However, if you notice any of these fluids well below the minimum or you notice leaks, take your car into a shop. The consequences for some of these fluids being too low are the increased potential for a crash or needing to replace the engine.
Wipers & Windshield
Between thunderstorms or dusty conditions, you’re bound to make some serious use of your wipers during your summer road trip. Before setting out you’ll want to check your wipers for any tears, chips or dry rotting. A good rule of thumb is to replace your wipers every year.
The sign of a wiper in good working order is that it clears your windshield without leaving streaks or making noise. Wipers should run smoothly and quietly over a wet windshield clearing the water away cleanly. If this is not the case, check out your local auto parts store, Walmart or Amazon. Sellers make finding the right wipers for your car easy by using basic make, model and year information. If you’re looking to DIY some of your car maintenance, wipers are a great place to start. Check out the instructions in the box or YouTube University to learn step by step.
Finally, you’ll want to give your windshield a thorough cleaning, and don’t forget to clean the inside. Often the inside of your windshield goes unnoticed until it’s causing you serious problems seeing at night or during a rainstorm.
Bonus points for applying a Rain-X coating. The Rain-X coating is easy to apply by just spraying on, waiting and wiping off. It creates a barrier on your windshield that makes the rain bead up and slide off. Think of this as an assistant to your wipers in clearing water efficiently from the glass.
A couple of items you’ll want to ensure are working for your summer road trip are all your lights and horn.
For testing lights, you’ll need a partner to stand outside the car. Don’t forget to check your low-beam headlights, high-beam headlights, reverse lights, turn signals front and back and of course your brake lights. If you do have a light out, it’s best to take it to a shop for a quick replacement. They will be equipped to replace the bulb fast and get you on the road.
Just in case you’re not a frequent horn user, like at least 50% of the population, you’ll want to do a quick toot to test if it’s working. Driving in new places might mean you need to let someone know you’re there.
The final recommendation would be to take your car through a car wash. If you start with a clean car it will make it easier to clean once you get back home.
Taking a few minutes to when preparing for a road trip and complete these checks will give you peace of mind as you hit the road to make new memories.
Safe travels and happy road-tripping!
Amanda is an automotive enthusiast, racer and industry expert working for a global automotive manufacturer. In addition to her day job she enjoys empowering women with knowledge to maintain their cars with confidence through her new business Empowered Automotive. Outside of cars Amanda enjoys exploring small businesses in Frederick and hiking with her dog Zeke.