Some people look forward to long road trips — it means new adventures, the chance to escape the mundane and discover new sights. However, long road trips can sometimes be dangerous due to accidents or mechanical breakdowns. So, you want to be sure that your car is fit enough for the trip to ensure you won’t have problems along the way.
Keep reading as I discuss the topic further and share some tips on staying safe on the road. I will also answer commonly asked questions regarding long-trip driving.
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The first thing to do is to look for any warning lights, the “check engine” and “check battery” lights may not be infallible, but if they’re coming on and staying on regularly, you want to figure out what’s causing them.
Listen to your car’s engine. If it makes any unusual sounds, you’ll want to have those checked out; it could be a sign of trouble. Likewise, if your car struggles to start, that could be a problem with the battery, starter, or alternator.
Remember, you might be able to limp home if a part breaks down most other days, but not when you’re several hundred miles from home. Trust your gut. Don’t wait too long until you finally deal with the rattle or squeak that doesn’t quite sound right.
Make sure your tires are in good condition. Your treads should still be at least 1/16 of an inch (0.15 cm) thick. You can use a penny to do a quick check. The penny test will help you check if you’ve reached the 2/32” threshold.
Look for uneven wear on your tires, too. If you see “bands” of heavier wear on your tires, that means your wheels are probably out of alignment.
Check your tire pressure also; you want them fully inflated. Don’t forget to check your spare tire as well. Hopefully, you won’t need it, but a usable spare can be the difference between an hour delay and a several-hour wait for a tow truck.
On that note, if you haven’t used the jack before, this would be a good time to take it out and see if you can assemble it. You don’t need to change a tire, but knowing how to use a jack is essential for every car owner.
Check your overall oil level. You shouldn’t need to put in extra, but you want to make sure that your oil level is where it’s supposed to be when you set out.
Follow the schedule set by the manufacturer for oil changes. You shouldn’t feel the need to get your oil changed before going on your trip unless you’re close to being due for one already.
But when your oil finally needs a change, by all means, get that taken care of before your trip.
Again, you want to ensure that your radiator fluid level is at the level your auto’s manufacturer recommends.
The radiator is part of your car’s cooling system. If the fluid is low, your engine is more likely to overheat – especially on longer trips.
You shouldn’t feel pressured to get your fluid changed ahead of schedule, however.
Most batteries last between five and seven years. If your battery is older than that, you might want to invest in a new one.
Look for corrosion on the battery terminals and connectors. A bad connection can mean your car will fail to start.
That might not be a big deal when you have a friend nearby to give you a jump, but it gets riskier when you are far from home.
There’s one last thing to look at while you have the hood open.
Take a look at the “serpentine” belts. These rubber loops connect your engine to the alternator, water pump, power steering, and air conditioning.
These belts last a long time, anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 miles (80,000 to 160,000 km), so they probably won’t need replacing. However, check for cracks or fraying, just in case they’re close to failing.
Tips for Staying Safe on a Road Trip
Once you’re sure your car can physically handle a long trip, there are a few other aspects to keep in mind to ensure you make it home safely.
After all, even if your car is in top condition, a stray rock or screw could easily ruin a tire and throw a wrench in the works.
Be sure you know your route in advance.
If you have a GPS, enter your destination and any important points along the way (like hotels you’ll be staying at if your trip will last more than a day) before you leave. Or at the very least, make sure you have them written down where you can find them easily, like a planner or stored on your smartphone.
Resist the urge to take “the scenic route.” Stick to the main highways as much as you can when you’re out in the countryside.
Cellular phone reception will be more reliable if you have problems, and chances are better that help will be nearby.
Depending on where you’re heading and the weather you expect to encounter, you may want to take:
- Drinking water
- A jacket
Then if you have a breakdown, you can remain comfortable while awaiting help.
If you’re a handy person, consider taking a basic toolbox for quick repairs, along with a couple of quarts (liters) of motor oil and radiator fluid that you can use to deal with minor leaks that might happen.
As much as you want to maintain your auto, be sure and take care of the driver.
Know your limits; make plans to stop for meals and get adequate sleep. If you’re taking along passengers, go ahead and let someone else drive while you relax and enjoy the scenery.
With a bit of preparation, a road trip shouldn’t be a cause for anxiety.
Still, unless your car is brand new, there is always a slight chance that driving too far can be too much for your vehicle.
Your car isn’t too old for a trip as long as you keep it in good shape. While you probably shouldn’t take your classic 1960s model out for a long road trip, cars older than ten years of age should hold up just fine as long as they’re well-maintained.
You might think that long driving spells at higher than usual speeds might be harder for your car. But long trips by themselves don’t put much additional stress on your automobile. If anything, the reverse is true: driving in the city is worse than driving on the highway.
That’s because your car is designed to run at highway speeds, and cruising at a steady velocity is better for many key parts. As a result, your engine can run at a consistent rate instead of revving up and down.
You also don’t need to use the brakes as often or make tight turns. The transmission doesn’t need to shift gears constantly. Your battery doesn’t have to crank the starter as often; it can charge up completely during long drives.
Breakdowns can still happen on the highway, though, and you don’t want to be stranded in a strange town or on an isolated stretch of road.
But if you can rely on your car on a day-to-day basis around town, you can probably trust it on a long trip.
You can get your car checked at a workshop before heading out for your trip. If you know someone you can trust with mechanical inspections and maintenance, have them check your car for you. Alternatively, you can check all the key components yourself if you have mechanical skills.
Most of this consists of double-checking all the basic maintenance a smart auto owner would be doing, anyway.
You shouldn’t need to let your car rest on a road trip because highway miles are easy miles for your car. You might want to keep an eye on the engine temperature to ensure it doesn’t overheat, but that can happen anywhere, including close to home.
As long as you have a reasonably reliable automobile and keep up with basic maintenance, your trip should go smoothly. Many people enjoy the sense of adventure that comes when they are out on the road. So, take care of the basics, relax, and enjoy the trip.
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