Road Trip Planning 101: Getting Your Car Ready for the Road (and Not the Side of the Road)

When most people think of road trip planning, they think about getting their car prepared as much as they think about their destination. Your car is how you’re getting there – you’re practically moving in!

road trip planning

Car problems on the road have become such a comic cliché that sometimes people don’t take them seriously enough. One recent movie that demonstrated how lightly we can take this cliché was Little Miss Sunshine. It’s a funny and clever movie, but it’s a little too convenient that in spite of the character’s Volkswagen Bus’s extreme problems (not starting unless pushed, and then everyone having to run to jump in, a horn that wouldn’t stop beeping) they still manage to get to their destination just in time for the beauty pageant.

Unfortunately, in real life it rarely works out that way. The more likely scenario is that your trip will be ruined because you’ll end up with your car in a repair shop in some nowhere town along the way and you might not even get to your destination due to the number of days it takes for your car to be repaired. Imagine the long faces as you return home having done nothing more on your vacation than hanging around a hotel while your car sat in a shop waiting on a part.

Preparing your car is an essential step in good road trip planning. Here are the steps you need to take to make sure that your road trip is a great one:

Road Trip Planning 101: Prepping Your Car

  • If you haven’t already, start by reading your manual. Particularly, read through the section (usually in the back) that gives the maintenance schedule for your car. Check your mileage and see if any of the items listed are due. If so, have those items attended to when you bring your car in to your local repair shop.
  • Check your tires. How old are they? Tires get very hot when they’re on the road all day and this usually leads to a blow-out if the tires themselves are worn. Get the tires replaced if they are old. Old or new, have your tires balanced and the alignment checked when you bring your car in.
  • With your list of maintenance items in hand, it’s finally time to bring your car in to your mechanic. In addition to your list, also make sure to have the oil changed (unless you have just changed it), all the fluids topped off (coolant, antifreeze, radiator fluid, transmission fluid, wiper fluid) and refresh your air filter (can effect your car’s gas mileage if it’s old).
  • While your car is in the shop, ask your mechanic to do a complete check of the car – especially the belts and hoses.
  • The next portion of car preparation road trip planning is all about packing. Bring along a spare set of keys to your car (have a set made if you don’t have one) and put that spare key in a magnetic car key hider somewhere on your vehicle in case you lose your keys.
  • Check your spare tire and jack.
  • If you don’t have AAA, consider getting a membership. Not only will you have the benefit of 24-hour roadside assistance, you’ll also get all kinds of other travel discounts.
  • Make sure you pack a roadside emergency kit, a blanket, a flashlight with fresh batteries, and some extra food and water for an emergency in your trunk.
  • Get a tire gauge and check your tire pressure throughout your trip. Under-inflated tires can affect your car’s fuel efficiency.
  • Consider getting a GPS system (TomTom and Garmin are considered the best). It can be a great help along the way – not only helping you find your way, but also helping you locate things that you’ll need along the way, like a restaurant or a pharmacy. Using maps in your road trip planning is obviously necessary – but a GPS will take it to the next level. You can also get GPS technology on your cell phone – check with your service provider for their offerings. Most companies (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint) price out this extra service at around $10 per month and you can stop at any time.
  • Lastly, check the oil in your car every day of your road trip before starting out. If you’re running low, add more when you stop to get gas.
With this road trip planning list for preparing your car, you’ll be ready to hit the road without having to worry about ending up stranded. Remember, it may be funny and quirky in a movie, but it’s not so funny when it happens to you!

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