11 Summer Vacation Driving Tips: Are You Ready for a Roadtrip?

Fran Majidi
May 14, 2019

There’s nothing more American than the love of the open road. Roadtrips short and long are the best way to spend summer days away from home. Whether you're taking a romantic trip with your partner or you are taking the family on an excursion in the family van, you need to take a few precautions first. You’ll also need to do a little maintenance so you’re sure your vehicle will make it to your destination without incidents and accidents. We’re here to help you get your car roadtrip-ready with our suggestions. Also, if you want to see if you can get a better car insurance rate, visit here.  

  1. Oil Change. Long gone are the days when our cars needed an oil change every 3,000 miles. Some manufacturers even recommend waiting for 6,000 miles (or more) before getting an oil and filter change but the fact is this: The more often you perform an oil change, the better and cleaner your car will run. If you learn how to do this task yourself, you can save hundreds of dollars a year. If you’re getting close to your oil change date, you may want to hasten the appointment to get it out of the way and put some clean miles on your car while you’re on the road.

  2. Fluids: Have your brake fluid, transmission fluid, coolant strength, and power-steering fluid checked. There’s nothing worse than your car stalling on the way to you hiking spot. Your fluids are more important than you think and they are the most overlooked part of a thorough maintenance regimen. With the brake fluid, make sure it is within half an inch or so of the cap and that it’s not too dark and muddy. Your transmission fluid should appear pinkish or clear when you wipe the dipstick between your finger and the tip of the thumb. Also, make sure it’s level with the “full line.” Otherwise, top it off.

  3. Coolant: Run the car or drive around for a few minutes to warm up the engine. See if you detect a sweet odor. If you do, you may have a coolant leak. Check your engine oil with a dipstick. If you see green or yellow streaks you most likely have a leak and will need repairs.

  4. Belt & Hoses: Check your belt, hoses and even the timing belt if you have one. Taking care of these parts of your car may help you prevent overheating your engine or losing the power steering.

  5. Battery: There are all sorts of suggestions on how to clean a battery, including using Coca-Cola to remove rust. Regardless of what way you’ve found works to clean your car battery, it’s important to keep that battery clean because it will last longer. You may need to replace your battery before your car dies on the road if you see any of the following: frayed or broken cables, corrosion (rust), dirt, cell connector corrosion, cracked cell cover, cracked case or water on the outside of the battery. Don’t leave home with a nasty battery. Making friends to get a jump start is not much fun, really.

  6. Air Filter: Clogged cabin air filters restrict airflow and make it impossible to use the defogger. There’s nothing worse than foggy windows when you’re driving in unfamiliar areas. You should ideally change yours out every 20,000 miles. To check to see if it needs to be replaced or cleaned, just lift it out and hold it up to the light. If you can’t see the light and it’s dark, that means it needs cleaning. To do this duct tape the open end of the air intake hose so dirt can’t get in. Then use the air hose (or vacuum) to clean the dirt out of the air filter. Changing air filters is not difficult either. If yours is in bad shape, invest in one. Just remember to buy a reputable brand name and to tighten the lid back on the air filter box

  7. Windshield Wiper: Replace worn ones because you never know when there will be a sudden downpour. One-piece blades perform better and last longer. Also make sure your window washer fluid is full.

  8. Brakes: Unless you’re a mechanic it’s best to have your brakes checked by a professional so they can inspect the entire braking system. It doesn’t cost much to have a mechanic look at it, and it might spare you an accident if it’s time to buy new ones.

  9. Tires: Would you be able to change a spare tire if you had to? Well, first, you should make sure that the spare tire you have is in good shape. Also, do you have a jack, a crank, tire wrench, and tire gauge? Always check the air pressure in your tires before heading out. Often, the car alerts you to low air pressure at the most inconvenient times (like when you’re nowhere near civilization). Also, check the tread on your car using the penny test, which only requires (you guessed it) a penny. The penny test determines whether or not your tires are bald (2/32 of an inch tread or less). A new tire is about 10/32, just to give you a point of comparison. Insert the penny in the groove of one of the continuous horizontal lines you’ll find on the base of the tire. Change your tires if your tires are bald. It’s just not worth risking a deadly tire blowout on the highway!

  10. Plugs: Change your spark plugs!

  11. Insurance: Make sure you have adequate insurance on your vehicle. You may consider adding roadside assistance on your insurance prior to the trip. You may also consider raising the limits on the coverage you have in case there is an accident. Regardless of how much insurance you buy for protection, you should never pay too much. For the best and cheapest car insurance quotes, fill out a form here with SmartFinancial, and we’ll connect you with an honest and trustworthy agent in your area.

Other Helpful Tips:

  • Gas: Make sure you have lots of it.

  • Belongings: The heavier the load you carry in your car, the more you’ll pay in gas and the more wear on your tires. Again, make sure you have enough tread and air in your tires, especially if you’re traveling with some weight in the car. Another thing to keep in mind is that objects will sometimes move around and can be potentially dangerous if they become projectiles.

  • Owner's Manual: Keep your car owner’s manual nearby in case you run into problems that require troubleshooting.

  • Emergencies: Carry a disaster supply kit: high protein snacks, water, FirstAid kit, flashlight, battery-operated radio, batteries, motor oil, flares, jumper cables, tool (screwdrivers, pliers, wrench, pocket knife), emergency contact names and phone numbers, disinfectants and bandages, prescription medications if you have them and any documents you may need.

  • Contact: Let someone know about your plans, the destination and approximate arrival time. If possible give the contact person know your predetermined route, in case your car gets stuck in route.

  • Change of Clothes: Make sure you have plenty to layer with if temperatures drop. Also, make sure everyone has a change of clothes in case you get wet in the rain while tending to a car emergency.

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