6 Things You Should Always Check Before a Long Drive

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Checking oil level in car (Photo: @davep via Twenty20)
Jason Unrau · Jan 28, 2021
TABLE OF CONTENTS
  • Road trip checklist
  • 1. Inspect your tires
Americans are going on more road trips than ever, with many as 70% of personal out-of-state trips for recreational purposes racking up the miles on a car instead of a plane. Safe driving involves keeping your vehicle in good condition, and that’s even more important when you’re going on a long drive.
Before you leave on a long drive, a comprehensive visual check is the responsible thing for any driver to do. Follow these tips to help prevent issues as you listen to the hum of the tires on the pavement.

Road trip checklist

Routine maintenance is key for your car’s longevity. If you’ve had your vehicle properly maintained in recent weeks or months, a check before a long drive should be a formality. However, a visual inspection is still an important detail to allow for confident travel.

1. Inspect your tires

Your tires are the only parts on your car that touch the road. That makes them your primary safety system. Check your tire pressures and adjust it to the correct spec on the driver’s door sticker. Don’t assume a tire pressure monitoring system reading is correct. Use a tire pressure gauge on the tires themselves.
If one or more tires are more than a few PSI low, have a tire shop or your dealership look them over for leaks. A flat tire is one of the worst ways to disrupt your trip.

2. Check your fluids

Low fluids are an indication that your car either needs maintenance or has a mechanical problem. Check your engine oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, and engine coolant to ensure they’re full and clean. If something is dirty or low, deal with it before leaving on a road trip. It might be a matter of routine servicing or a repair you didn’t know you needed.

3. Visually inspect belts and hoses

For almost all vehicles, the serpentine or V-belts operate accessories or supplementary systems like power steering, the alternator, and air conditioning. If a belt breaks, you could either be uncomfortable, inconvenienced, or stranded. On the other hand, hoses ensure coolant circulates properly to keep the engine in the optimal temperature range, and a leak or collapsed hose is no laughing matter. Inspect belts for cracks and check that hoses hold their shape and aren’t leaking.

4. Check the exterior lights

A car’s outside lighting is solely for safe driving. Headlights help you see, but all the other lights are to indicate your intentions to other drivers. Make sure your brake lights, signals, and marker lights all operate so other motorists can tell where you are and identify any maneuvers you’re about to make. Replace any bulbs that are burnt out.

5. Monitor for warning indicators

Are there any yellow or red warning lights illuminated on your dashboard? They indicate a problem with an important system, whether it’s the Check Engine light, an ABS warning light, a battery lights, or parking brake indicator.
It wouldn’t be wise to take a long drive in a car that has warning lights on, especially if you don’t know what they are. At minimum, have the problem diagnosed before your trip so you know if it’s safe to drive or not.

6. Check the air filter

Your engine needs plenty of clean air to run efficiently. Before you hit the road, check the engine air filter and replace it if it’s dirty. You’ll get the best fuel efficiency with a clean air filter.
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