Going on a road trip is both fun and memorable. But to really ensure you don’t have a tough time, it’s critical to ensure that the vehicle is really taken good care off. So while we spend countless hours in picking the best hotels or road trip packages; we seldom spend time in prepping the vehicle to perform to it’s fullest on the highway. To make this simpler, we’ve put together a list of 20 must do items for a complete car checklist before a road trip.

We spoke to 7 automotive and travel experts on what they recommend as the ideal and foolproof car checklist, and we promise you that this is all you will ever need!

1. Get the right oil for the trip

This is important to do year-round before a long drive. But if you are road tripping in the spring or summer, it’s important to remember that higher temperatures require higher oil weight/viscosity. Most new cars run fine year-round on the same viscosity oil, but if you’re driving an older car that’s racked up some significant mileage, it might be helpful to upgrade to a heavier oil to compensate for internal engine wear. However, before making the switch, do your research and make sure your car’s make/model will fare well with heavier/thicker oil in the summer.

2. Check your battery date

You don’t want to get held up by a dead battery in extreme heat or cold! Most worry about their battery dying under the impact of cold weather, but what they don’t realize is that car batteries are more likely to die in the heat of the summer. If your battery is over three years old, get it tested, or it might be a good idea to get a new unit just as a preventative measure to avoid getting stuck and delaying your road trip. This is often forgotten on the car checklist before a road trip.

These days, most car batteries don’t require maintenance, but they do wear out, usually after five to seven years of use. Fortunately, most batteries lose their ability to start your car gradually, so they give you a warning signal before they go completely dead. If you’re having difficulty starting your car, check the date on the top of the battery or have a technician check its charging ability.

3. Top up fluids

Your radiator’s antifreeze does not need replacing every year, but some mechanics may suggest it. The mechanic should first test the fluid using a coolant hydrometer. You can check the coolant level yourself (easy to do at the see-through overflow bottle). If you need to top up, be sure to use a 50/50 mixture for best boil-over protection. If you’re road tripping during the winter and there’s potential for bad weather, you can switch to using 100% antifreeze, rather than a 50/50 mix to keep your windshield clear. This is an absolute must as part of a car checklist before a road trip.

4. Change your air filters

Riding around with dirty filters prevents fresh air from getting to your engine and your interior, which has a lasting effect on your engine’s well-being, along with your fuel economy and your sinuses. Engine air filters are super easy to replace yourself. Consider the washable and reusable ones for better filtration and long-term savings.

5. Cabin Air Filters

Don’t forget the cabin air filter, which keeps outside smells and pollens out of your heating and A/C systems — your road trip passengers will thank you!

6. Check your tires

Make sure all your tires are at the required pressure. If one is particularly low, it might indicate that it has a leak, and you need to have it checked out. You also want to have a look at the tread and make sure it’s adequate. If you don’t have good tread, you may slide or be more susceptible to blowouts. And don’t forget to check your spare. The last thing you want is to blow a tire and learn that your spare is flat too.

7. Put together an emergency kit.

Your emergency kit should include jumper cables, warm blankets, flares, a first-aid kit, water, and a flashlight. If you’d rather, you can buy a prepackaged emergency kit on Amazon.

8. Consider Road Side Assistance

For a low yearly fee, help is just a phone call away should you get in an accident or break down. Trust me, it’s a life saver. And make sure to get a good night’s sleep. The night before you go, you may feel anxious. But it’s crucial to get a good night’s sleep beforehand so you’re fresh and alert. So go to bed early.


9. Clean your car

Before a long road trip, I get my car ready by making sure it’s clean. I’m going to be in the car for a long time, so I like it to be as comfortable as possible. I vacuum and wipe everything down, plus I change out the air freshener, keep a trash bag handy so I don’t make a new mess while driving and I make sure my music selection is on point. I also wash the outside of the car so all my windows and mirrors are clear.

10. Keep Paper maps

I also make sure there are paper maps in the car. We become very reliant on technology, but once my cell phone died in the middle of a long road trip. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in the middle of the forest in Oregon with no technology and no good, old-fashioned map.

11. Fill the tank!

Oh – and don’t forget to fill the tank! It saves you at least 15 minutes on the day you are leaving for the road trip. Tank it up the previous day, so you can zoom past the city traffic and hit the highway sooner! This seems simple enough but often forgotten in the vehicle checklist before a road trip.

12. Get it serviced professionally

Have a mechanic check and service your vehicle including fluid levels, battery charge, hoses, belts, brakes, tires and anything else that could cause problems.

13. Check the spare tyre /

Make sure your spare tire is fully inflated and that you have all tools needed to change a tire. Work gloves are useful to avoid getting tire grime on your hands. We can’t recollect how many road trippers would have hit the road without this off their car checklist.

14. Vehicle Documents

Make sure your driver’s license, vehicle insurance, and registration are current and in the vehicle.

15. Review the route

Review your route using a road trip planner and directions app or site to learn if there are any road closures, construction projects, or other issues that might cause delays or detours.

16. Do a quick tyre test

Tires are important — they’re the only things connecting your car to the road, so examine them carefully. Pay close attention to tire pressure and tire tread — you can buy a tire pressure gauge and tread depth gauge from your local auto parts store. When checking tire pressure, check your owner’s manual for air pressure information or you can find the same information in your door jam. Make sure to check your tire pressure before every road trip.

17. Component Check 101

Check the components of your car, including the air conditioning, windshield wipers and the inside and outside lights. Lift the hood and check your car’s engine parts. Start by checking the battery and cables for any cracks, corrosion or dirt. Hot weather can shorten the life of your battery — if you need to, replace it before a long road trip. Next, take a look at the radiator and hoses for cracks and leaks and don’t forget to change the air filter. Don’t know a thing about checking your engine parts? Don’t worry — your local mechanic can help.

18. Change or top up the Oil

Changing the oil is one of the simplest, yet most important maintenance tasks for your car. It’s also the single best thing you can do to keep your engine operating smoothly and efficiently. Depending on the make and model, auto manufacturers typically recommend changing the oil every 3,000 to 10,000 miles.

19.  Radiator coolant

Radiators perform the essential task of cooling your engine to keep it from overheating, so it’s important to make sure it doesn’t run out of coolant. Check the fluid level in the coolant reservoir next to the radiator. If the level is below “full,” add a 50/50 mix of water and coolant until it reaches the “full” line. For safety, always wait until the engine is cool before performing this maintenance task.

20. Lights

Ensure all headlights and brake lights are working. Having a burnt out light is an easy way to get pulled over on a long drive.

21. Bonus check – or NOT

Keep your car from breaking down on a long trip by not taking it in the first place. Find a self-drive car rental and get something for a week or two, unlimited mileage, and you can take it out of state. You’ll be driving a brand new vehicle, with all the toys, GPS, blue tooth, backup cameras and safety stuff, and if it breaks down in the middle of nowhere, you call the rental company and say “Your car broke, bring me another one.” It is their problem, not yours.
After a week or ten days of flogging it absolutely mercilessly, riding it hard and putting it away wet, you give it back to the rental company and walk away, you’ll never see that car again. They get to scrub it down, shovel out a week’s worth of fast food wrappers, dropped french fries, empty coffee cups, paper napkins, toll receipts, pet hair, baby barf, chewing gum and other garbage, and none of this is your concern. No worries, no maintenance, no repairs, no hassles. And YOUR car will thank you.
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