A lot of preparation goes into making a big road trip memorable. One of the first things every vehicle owner should do before hitting the road is to have your car inspected by a professional in several key areas. At a minimum, a pre-road trip inspection will give you peace of mind that the memories you create will be good memories, not bad ones. At best, a quick inspection will prevent your trip from being ruined entirely!
To give you a leg up without requiring you to spend a bunch of money, we developed this 13-point checklist to help you make sure that your car is road trip ready. If something doesn’t make sense or you’d like to know more, feel free to call or email us and we’ll help where we can.
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One of the most essential parts to check are your tires. From road safety to fuel efficiency, ensuring tire health and proper air pressure is essential to the well-being of your vehicle and everyone inside.
Tires tend to wear unevenly because their edges take on the brunt of the force when your car turns a corner. Rear tires tend to wear more evenly, which is why moving them to the front can even out the overall wear of your tires, extending the life of your tire and saving you money in the long run. We recommend your to get your tires rotated every 6 months or once every 5,000 to 8,000 miles—essentially, every time you get your oil changed. If you’re planning on a long road trip and haven’t recently had your tires rotated, we recommend to get that done during your pre-road trip inspection.
Although it might not feel serious in the moment, hitting a curb or a pothole can damage your tires and put them out of alignment. Tire misalignment can cause a variety of issues, from uneven tire wear to your vehicle actually pulling to one side of the road or the other. If it feels like your car is pulling to one side of the road while you’re driving or if you can visually see your steering wheel tilted when it should be straight, have a professional correct the alignment of your vehicle before you hit the road.
Bald tires or flat spots on tires can be a major safety concern. You can check your tire tread depth by inserting a penny into each groove, with the top of Lincoln’s head upside down. If you can see the top of his head above the tire groove, then the depth does not meet the recommended 2/32-inch depth and the tire should be replaced. Even if only some of the grooves don’t meet the recommended tread depth, these flat spots could indicate an underlying issue, like tire misalignment, and you should have a professional check it out.
Under inflated tires can reduce your vehicle’s fuel efficiency and cause damage to your tires, affecting the quality of your ride and potentially wasting your money. This is even more true when your car is heavy from all the items you’ve packed for your road trip. To get an accurate read, check your tire pressure when your car hasn’t been driven for at least three hours—ideally in the morning, after it has been sitting overnight. The heat of “warm” tires expands the air inside, which can give you a higher, inaccurate pressure read. Check your vehicle manual for proper air pressure measures.
The part that everyone forgets about is their spare tire. Don’t forget to check your spare tire for visible cracks or punctures, pressure, and tread depth because if you do damage one tire, this will need to be your backup. Also, if you’ve had your spare tire for more than a few years, you may want to consider replacing it if it shows signs of aging. Nothing is more inconvenient than having an unusable spare tire in case of a roadside emergency.
Next up, you’ll want to inspect your car’s headlights and tail lights. Grab a friend or a family member and check that both your headlights’ high and low beams work, your tail lights are functioning properly when you put on the brakes, and none of your lights are out. Take notice if any of the lights look foggy or dim. If so, you may need to clean them. Dim or foggy lights could also be a sign of a low car battery, which is even worse. If anything is wrong with your car’s exterior lights, have a mechanic look at it right away.
A dead car battery can literally kill a road trip, especially if the battery needs replacement and can’t be jumped. You can check the health of your battery by reading our article on the topic. If you still need help figuring things out, give us a call and we’ll have a professional look over your battery to make sure you’re safe on your road trip.
Another service to have before a big road trip is having your oil changed and oil filter inspected. Your car’s engine will be running for long periods of time, and clean oil will help keep it from overheating or sustaining damage from the particles that are in old, dirty oil. If you’re uncomfortable changing the oil yourself, our guys can have it done within an hour and we’ll replace your oil filter while we’re at it.
Another major safety concern for road trips are your brakes. Brakes naturally wear down over time, so it’s important to get them regularly changed once every 20,000 to 60,000 miles. When you bring your vehicle to Gateway Auto for a professional inspection, we’ll also check your brake fluids and other critical systems to ensure that your brakes are working properly.
Ever wonder why it’s so easy to turn a few thousand pounds of metal around a corner when you’re driving? It’s because your power steering system does most of the heavy lifting for you. Your owner’s manual will be more specific to your vehicle’s needs. If you have any difficulty turning your steering wheel due to power steering fluid, we can help you if you bring your vehicle to Gateway Auto.
Long trips can make your car engine hot enough to melt solid metal, so making sure that your engine’s cooling systems are functioning properly is essential to preventing damage or dangerous situations. Having a professional look at your coolant fluids ensures that subtle indicators of issues like cracked radiator tubes or debris in your coolant fluid are caught before they become problematic. This is especially important before a long trip.
Checking your transmission fluid is easy, so unless you’re already at the mechanic you can check the levels on your own. To check your transmission fluid levels, pop your hood and look for the transmission fluid dipstick (not to be confused with the oil dipstick).
Pull it out, wipe it off, and carefully insert it again. Pull it out again, and check to see where the fill line rests on the “low” or “high” marks of the dipstick. Be sure to notice the color of the fluid. Reddish-pink fluid is clean, while dark red to black colors could indicate it needing to be changed or possibly a more serious issue. Consider calling a mechanic if your transmission fluid is anything but the reddish-pink color.
Wiper blades become essential elements of your safety the moment a storm hits. While wipers are easy to forget about, they’re one of the cheapest and easiest parts of your car you can inspect and correct on your own. If they’re flimsy, cracked, or the rubber edges are falling off the blade - it’s definitely time to get a new pair. And while you’re doing that, make sure you top off your wiper fluids so you don’t run out during your road trip.
Your engine needs to breathe, just like we do. Your car’s air filter prevents particles, debris, and insects from getting into the engine, helping your car stay in peak performance and optimizing fuel efficiency. You should replace this air filter every one to two years, or every 15,000 to 30,000 miles.
You wouldn’t want a musty odor coming from your vents while you’re driving for 8 hours! Your car’s cabin air filter prevents dust and other nasty things from the engine from being inhaled by your passengers when you turn on the A/C, which is essential during a summer road trip. Have a professional check that this filter is in good condition so you don’t have to worry about it when you’re on the road.
Your car’s fuel filter helps prevent contaminants from entering your fuel pump, making sure that only clean gas enters your fuel injector. If your fuel filter is clogged, it can weaken your car’s performance, potentially even causing your car to stall. Worse, the debris in the fuel could do long-term damage to your fuel pump and injector, which are expensive to repair. Older cars need their fuel filters changed once every two years or so, but newer cars can go longer. Consult your owner’s manual for how often you need this filter professionally inspected.
This is a catch all box for a once-over on all your car’s belts and hoses. The rubber on any of your vehicle’s belts and hoses may have degraded over time - causing breaks, leaks, or other problems - so having a professional mechanic inspect each of them in this once-over prevents any potential issues being missed before you start your road trip.
Everything on this checklist is included in our standard Road Trip Inspection service package. Make an appointment with our expert mechanical technicians to get your car road trip ready! Call 402-932-0500 or schedule online.