10 Essential checks before a long drive

A long road trip could be good for the family–you get to see the country, visit scenic spots along the way, and maybe pass by historical spots. But if you’re single, sometimes a long trip could be a great experience for thinking and doing some introspection while traveling.

But before you take your car out for a long ride, make sure you check it. Nothing ruins a good vacation like a car that refuses to run.

Here’s a list of 10 essential checks before a long drive.

1. Engine Oil

A lot of newer cars already have built in reminders in the dashboard. When the Maintenance Require light comes on, you better go to a shop to have it serviced. But even if your car has this automatic check, you should still check your oil levels manually. If it is lower than the recommended

Take a look at the sticker posted by your mechanic to see if you are approaching the next mileage level for your change oil. If it’s close and you think that it will hit the number of mileage for your scheduled oil change while you’re traveling, go ahead and have an oil change.

2. Transmission fluid and other fluids

In addition to your engine oil, do check the other oils and fluids such as the transmission fluid, brake fluid, and heck, even your windshield washer. When you get an oil change, just mention to your mechanic that you also want to have the transmission and other fluids checked. If you hear any squeaking under your car, ask them to check all the parts that need grease.

3. Hoses & Belts

All the fluids in your car need to go to the right places where they are needed. The hoses–with different sizes–help do that. The rubber and plastic components of hoses are subject to temperatures around boiling point. At different times, seasons, they are also subject to freezing cold. As they go through this cycle, the hose gets hard, it may crack, which will compromise the performance of your engine. Look at the ends of the hoses where they connect to different components such as the radiator.

Look for blisters, bulges, cracks, or even holes. If you find any, then have them replaced. You can search some DIY videos or instructions online and see if you can do it yourself. Otherwise, get the help of your mechanic.

Also look for signs of cracks and tears in your engine belts. Feel them with your hands. One big symptom of a loose belt is a loud screech when you try to speed up after stopping at a traffic intersection.

4. Coolant

A lot of cars have overheated, or even caught fire because many a driver forgot to check their coolant level. Newer cars have engine coolant that can go up to 150,000 miles. Check your coolant reservoir under the hood and see if the level is still topped up. If it is below the recommended level, get an engine coolant appropriate for the season and top it up.

Don’t just put water in your coolant reservoir, consult your owner’s manual on the right type of coolant to use for your car.

5. Tires

You can’t go far with tires that are defective or those that are nearing the end of their life-cycle. Don’t fill your tire with the maximum air pressure. With the heat of the tires’ contact with the road, it might explode if it is inflated a little too much. Instead, leave for some room for the air inside to expand. Check your driver’s side door, the glove compartment, or even the door of the fuel tank for the tire pressure recommended for your tires.

Remember that low tire pressures will waste fuel and will lead the tires to become hotter due to the friction. Then measure the tread of your tires. Make sure it is not too worn out. The simplest way to measure tread is by using a penny. If the depth is under the shoulder of Lincoln, then time for new tires! If there are bubbles or bumps in the tires, you better get a new one. I often see worn out rubber on the Interstate and I wondered what happened to the cars and the people who were in those cars when the tire decided to suddenly unravel.

5. Brakes

If you have not flushed your brake system in over 3 years, go visit your mechanic and ask for it to be done. Brake fluid tends to attract moisture and if there’s too much water in the brake fluid, it may lead to the rusting of the components of your brake system. Besides, if there’s too much water in the brake fluid, the brake pedal will become squishy. Newer cars that use DOT5 brake fluids have less to worry about moisture absorption. But it would still be better to have your brake fluid checked. If you’re passing through the mountains, you don’t want to slide on your way down.

6. Battery

Check the terminals of your battery. They should be free of corrosion. If some corrosion buildup have crept into them, clean it up. If you are having some trouble starting your car, do check your battery for corrosion and for overall health. If you feel like your battery is about to give out, consider getting a portable jump starter.

7. Lights

While driving at night from Washington, DC to Nashville, TN, we got stopped by a state trooper somewhere in Virginia. The officer took a look at my license. Thankfully, he did not issue any tickets. But he told me that the light illuminating my license plate has gone out. He just told me to have it fixed.

If you intend to travel at night, you cannot afford to be blind. Make sure that all your headlights are working, as well your blinkers and other lights.

8. Clean your car inside out

It’s time to clean your car inside out. Remove anything that you don’t really need to bring. Extra weight in the car will lead to poor mileage. Besides, having a clean car is definitely nicer for everyone traveling with you. Sure, your traveling companions may leave some crumbs on your car floor, but removing molds, or any dirt is always a good practice in maintaining your car.

9. Emergency tools & numbers

Your phone may already have these numbers, but keep a printed copy of the phone numbers you need–police, family, roadside assistance from your insurance or any other provider. You also need to check the tools you’ll need in case of emergencies–do you have a cross wrench for your car? Is your hydraulic jack working? How about your spare tire? Do you have something that will help you cut the seatbelt and break the glass in case of emergency? Do check out our article on the essential accessories for your car here.

10. Map and Route

We are living in the age of technology, which is a far cry from the printed maps from MapQuest just a decade or so ago. But you should still plan for your routes. Specifically, look for places to get food and gas along the way. If you’re driving through the desert or places without cities or people, make sure you have enough gas, food, and water to sustain your trip. Nothing ruins a vacation than an overconfident driver and getting stuck somewhere.


If you’re traveling to a far place, always remember to keep safe. And part of keeping safe is ensuring that your car is road-worthy for thousands of miles.



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