Ready to the hit the open road? Before you pack your bags, hop in the car and tune the radio, do this: Make sure your vehicle is ready for the trip.
"I love taking road trips with my kids," says Adam Cole, an author and jazz musician who lives on the East Coast and has five children, ages 10 to 32. "Over the years we've taken a two-week tour of the Southwest, trips to New York and D.C., and numerous beach excursions. With as many as seven of us in the car at once, we've learned to get good at it."
Cole always services his car and checks the brakes and tires. He also cleans the interior before the trip so it's tidy for long hauls.
Automotive expert LeeAnn Shattuck, the chief "Car Chick," of Women's Automotive Solutions, a car buying service, recommends making an appointment with your dealer or ASE-certified mechanic at least a week before you leave. The extra time helps if they need to order parts or repair the vehicle before your trip.
The mechanic will make sure the oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid and differential oil are clean and full. Get an oil change now if your drive will be longer than 2,000 miles.
Next, change the air filter and engine air filter, and make sure hoses and belts are tight and not cracked. See that the cooling system isn't leaking; that could cause your engine to overheat. Check your car's air conditioning system, too, as well as brake rotors, pads and fluid.
Test the headlights, brake lights and turn signals. Refill windshield wiper fluid and, if needed, replace the wipers.
Make sure your tires have good tread and are properly inflated. That's especially important if the car is loaded with gear.
Fingers crossed, your road trip goes as planned, but it's smart to be ready for potential problems.
Shattuck advises packing a roadside emergency kit including flares, jumper cables, a tire jack, wheel chock and lug wrench; a basic toolbox with a few screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers and work gloves; a small air compressor; a cellphone car charger and/or a portable charger; a flashlight with extra batteries; and a first-aid kit. Bottled water is also important to cool down you and your car.
Good car habits can help keep your trip smooth. For example, when fueling up, don't cut corners.
"The worst thing you can do is buy the cheapest gas you can find," says automotive expert, Lauren Fix who calls herself, The Car Coach. "Use the proper fuel for your vehicle."
Fix also reminds drivers to stay on highways, rather than back roads, for consistent speed, which results in better miles per gallon.
Cruise control can help you maintain a steady speed and conserve gas. Habits like accelerating quickly and frequent braking can waste gas and add wear and tear to your vehicle.
Don't load down your vehicles with lots of luggage, including storage boxes on the roof.
"That extra weight not only lowers your gas mileage, but the box on top kills what little aerodynamics you have," says Shattuck. "Plus, it puts more weight on the tires, increasing your friction patch which, in turn, lowers your gas mileage."
She advises only packing what you need for the journey and buying extras at your destination, if possible.
*Back at Home
When you get home from the road trip, there might be more auto maintenance to do. For a short trip, your car probably doesn't need much TLC. Check your tire pressure; make sure you didn't run over anything; and clean your vehicle.
After a longer drive, Shattuck suggests checking your mileage and comparing it to the number listed on your oil change sticker. Get a fresh oil change, if needed. Check the alignment if you think you hit potholes. If you towed a car, camper or trailer, check the oil and transmission fluid.
Now that you know how to prep your car for a road trip, there's only one more thing to decide. What's your next destination?