Spring break is almost here, and Summer vacations begin soon after that. Whether you are driving as usual, or a member of your family is road-tripping for the first time, there are a number issues to remember and deal with now before they become a problem a couple of hundred miles down the road and in a remote area or a cell dead zone. Here are a few suggestions:
First up, check your oil! If you hadn’t had an oil change since before the new year started, do it, or get it done before hitting the road. Most of the autos on the road today require only one oil year-round, but having clean, new oil in your engine as temperatures rise is far better than driving hundreds of miles on the old stuff that saw you through Fall and Winter.
Now, look at the other fluids. Fresh oil keeps the parts moving, but a full coolant reservoir keeps the engine from overheating and turning into a fully lubricated, steam-blowing, roadside attraction. In addition to the new coolant, check or have checked the hoses, pipes, and connections that keep it flowing through the engine as you travel.
This also includes power steering and transmission fluids for proper wheel-handling and internal shifting. Low power steering fluid can make handling a two-door compact feel like trying to turn a tractor-trailer in a gravel parking lot. Low or dirty transmission fluid can keep a car in a lower gear, forcing lower speeds and eventually, increasing the risk of engine failure. While you’re at it, check the windshield wiper fluid too. Getting mud splashed on you is annoying, but not being able to wash it off so you can see and avoid the tire-busting pothole about to swallow your right, the front wheel is much more important.
Speaking of tires, check them before loading up that first suitcase or cooler. You should be able to see the tread pattern with no smooth patches anywhere in sight. If you are not certain, take it into a garage to be sure. Also, know what the proper tire pressure is for your vehicle. There is not always a full-service station wherever you stop, but almost every gas station and convenience store has a slot where you can check and up your pressure level. The right level keeps you riding smoothly and with even tread wear across all four tires.
Make sure your lights work and the lens are clean. Have someone in front signal for the regular lights and high-beams. Switching out a bulb is cheap and easy to do in most autos. Next, you need to wipe down your headlight lens, so the bulbs provide better illumination. If they are cloudy, there are several cleaning kits you can pick up at a local garage, big box store, or most retailers.
Finally, be ready for time on the side of the road. Make certain you have a well-stocked first aid kit, rain gear or a tarp, jumper cables, enough water and snacks for an overnight wait and a charging cable or battery to keep your phone live while you wait for a tow truck or roadside assistance. You should also have a basic tool kit. Even if you cannot use it, the assistance driver might be able to fix the problem.
A little prevention can help ensure your road trip stays an enjoyable experience. Dealing with these issues can keep you on the road where you belong until you return home.