Springtime and warm weather tempts us to hit the road, explore and enjoy the sights after being cooped up during the cold winter months. Before we can begin the journey, we need to make sure the car is as ready as we are.
The first step to putting the winter behind us is a good cleaning. Wash the salt off the surface of the car. It may be easy to run the car through the automatic car wash, but it's better if the job is done manually. Make sure that all of those hidden and hard to reach spots (around the license plate, under side mirrors, under the roof rack, in the wheel wells, etc.) are rinsed clear. Don't forget to clean under your car where all the accumulated road salt and slush are eating away at the metal surfaces; it's easy to wash the undercarriage by slowly driving over a low-profile lawn sprinkler in your driveway.
Next, don't forget the interior. Clear the clutter from the passenger compartment; shake and rinse floor mats; wipe down your dash and instrument panel; vacuum the carpet and seats; and clean the inside of all the windows. Put your most recent insurance card and registration in the glove compartment, and put coins in your console for tolls. Replace the windshield wipers (front and rear). Clear clutter and organize your trunk to make room for luggage; eliminate the heavy bags of salt/sand and extra blankets you keep for winter driving. Make sure you have a reliable spare tire, jack and fully stocked emergency car kit, as well.
An emergency car kit should include a charged cellphone and plug-in charger, batteries, a flashlight, reflective road markers, a simple first-aid kit, a fire extinguisher, a tire gauge, duct tape, a can of spray tire sealant, rags/paper towels, work gloves, jumper cables, a white sheet and a marker, an all-purpose tool kit (with pliers, screwdrivers, a knife, etc.), personal drinking water, and nonperishable protein snacks. You probably carry your cellphone on you, but tossing an old out-of-service cell and charger into your emergency kit will still allow you to dial 9-1-1 (as long as you can plug it in to a working lighter plug); a walkie-talkie may help you reach someone even if cell towers are not available.
Whether you will be doing a lot of traveling or just staying local, now is the time to get the car tuned up to help save on gas mileage. Do it yourself or take it to a mechanic: check the fluids, belts and hoses, and fill or replace if needed: check/replace oil and filter, replace the air filter, check the fluid on non-maintenance-free batteries, refill windshield washer tank, check tire tread, get tires realigned, change brakes if needed, and check all exterior lights. Recharge air conditioning before the weather gets hot.
Whew! Now you are ready to start planning your road trip. Plan your route as well as the availability of hotels/motels, campgrounds, and shopping centers; knowing what is available will help you pack what you need and avoid lugging around what you don't. Know the terrain of your route: will you be climbing mountains, traveling at highway speeds, or suffering the stop and go of urban traffic? Will motels or campgrounds offer laundry services or laundromats? Knowing what you need can help you decide if you need to carry equipment on the roof of the car or tow a trailer. Car top carriers usually require roof racks (aftermarket is often an option) and could cause drag and noise from highway airflow.
You need a trailer hitch to tow a trailer. Some hitches fit into already existing bolt holes in the vehicle frame, just follow manufacturer's directions. If any frame modification is necessary, it may be better to let a professional installer do the work. You will also need working trailer lights; most trailers have these pre-wired and simply need connection to the car's electrical system. Finally, make sure that your vehicle has enough torque and horsepower before hitching up a tow and trailer (to carry luggage, camper or boat) and good brakes for stopping, especially if you will be driving up and down mountain roads.