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A Guide for Seasonal Car Care
Preparing for a Road Trip
Roadside Emergencies
What are TSBs and Recalls
Driving for the Environment's Sake
A Guide to Child Safety Seats
Breakdown Prevention
Finding an Automotive Repair Shop You Can Trust
Buying Car Insurance
    Preparing for a Road Trip

Make sure your car has all the nutrients it needs before you venture on a long road trip.


Rich Diegle
Automotive Technical Editor

Before you hit the road, it’s important to spend a little “quality time” with your vehicle. You’ll need to perform some quick checks and assemble an emergency kit. It’s also a good idea to have your favorite technician perform a “road trip check” on your vehicle before you take off.

Prevent a minor or major breakdown when you’re most vulnerable…on the side of the road. A little preparation now will save a lot of aggravation, money and precious time later. The inspection process can be performed by you or your technician - a simple walkaround inspection, then an under hood inspection, and finally an under vehicle inspection.

The Walk-Around Inspection
  • Wiper Blades - Inspect the condition of the blade material (it should be soft and pliable) for cracks or separation from the blade retainer.
  • Lights - Check the turn signals, headlights and brake lights, making sure they operate properly. It is a good idea to have the headlights checked for proper alignment in order to have optimum lighting and to prevent the “blinding” of oncoming drivers.
  • Tires - Check tires for excessive or uneven wear and tire pressure. It’s important to check the tire pressure when the tires are cold. The recommended tire pressure provided by the vehicle and tire manufacturers are designed to compensate for the increase in tire pressure caused by the rise in temperature of the tire when it is rolling down the highway.
    Tire Wear Notes
    1. Over-inflation would cause the tire to wear prematurely in the center of the tire. During wet conditions, an over-inflated tire is more prone to skidding due to less tread contact on the pavement.
    2. Under-inflation will result in sloppy, vague handling and cause the tire to wear prematurely on the outside and inside edges of the tire.
Under Hood Inspection
  • Fluid Levels - Lift the hood and check the engine oil, automatic transmission fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, radiator coolant, and windshield washer fluid levels. Top up if necessary.
  • Belts & Hoses - Check hoses for proper fit, leaks, brittleness, loose clamps, and softness in the elbow areas. As for the belts, check for alignment, glazing, adjustment, and tearing and cracking. Replace if necessary.
  • Air Conditioning - Test the A/C system to see that it is working and cooling the vehicle down in a reasonable time. Also, inspect the refrigerant lines for evidence of leaks. Remember, on most late-model vehicles, the defroster system utilizes the air conditioning for more efficient defrosting and defogging.
  • Battery Connections - Check / clean battery posts and cable terminals for corrosive buildup. White fuzz that surrounds the cable terminal ends at the battery posts can easily identify a corrosive condition. Cleaning or removal of the white fuzz requires the removal of the cable terminals after washing them down with a baking soda and water solution. The best cleaning results can then be achieved by using a battery post and cable terminal-cleaning tool. Performing this small maintenance activity will ensure optimum performance from the vehicle’s electrical system. Remember to always remove the negative terminal first to avoid sparks. (If you blow a battery up, you won’t have to worry about what to be next Halloween!)
Under Vehicle Inspection
  • Fluid Leaks - Examine the ground where you park your vehicle for leaks. Any fluid residue found should be examined for the type of fluid (gas, engine or transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, radiator coolant, windshield washer fluid), and the leak repaired immediately to avoid any problems.
  • Exhaust Leaks - Listen / look for leaks from the exhaust system, and if something seems marginal, have the system checked by a professional mechanic / muffler shop prior to leaving for your trip. The life you save may be your own, as the gases escaping from the system are very deadly.
  • Brakes - Test-drive the vehicle for brake response and feel. Listen for noises (high-pitched squeal, grinding or clunking). Look for fluid leaks from flexible brake hoses and steel brake lines. If you feel your mechanical expertise is limited in this area, I would recommend you have a professional look at your brakes to advise you on the condition of the brake friction material, drums, rotors, and the hydraulic system. It is important that the vehicle always be prepared to stop regardless of the driving conditions.
Emergency Road Kit

Carrying an emergency kit can get you out of a tough jam when stuck on the roadside. You can easily create one by putting together in a box the items listed below:

  1. One quart of Oil
  2. Two quarts of Premix Radiator Coolant
  3. Small Funnel
  4. Tire Pressure Gauge
  5. Pocket Knife (If you’re MacGvver…Swiss Army Knife)
  6. Rags and Waterless Hand Cleaner
  7. Assortment of Combination Wrenches, Screwdrivers, and Pliers
  8. Flashlight / Spare Batteries for Flashlight
  9. Roadside Flares / Battery Operated Roadside Marker Lights (If you don’t like playing with fire)
  10. First Aid Kit
  11. Electrical Tape/Duct Tape
  12. Battery Jumper Cables
  13. Blanket, Food, and Something to Drink (In case you’re stuck for awhile)
  14. “Help” Sign for the Window (For Sale Sign Optional)

Of course, a cellular phone can be your most useful tool, but they don’t always work. If possible, use a roadside emergency telephone call box. These call boxes are provided on some major highways in the US, but not all. Look for them on the right-hand shoulder with a sign indicating “Call Box” or “Emergency Call Box.” Consult the instructions in the box; in most cases, calls are free and you are connected directly to the Highway Patrol. If there’s no phone around and you aren’t able to use a cellular phone, you may have to rely on your emergency kit, so make sure you take it with you. In my experience, when you’re totally prepared, usually nothing goes wrong. Happy motoring!

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal or professional advice.