Car Maintenance: 5 Things to Check before a Road Trip

A lot of drivers are reluctant about taking their cars on a longer trip, especially if they are driving older or high-mileage vehicles. The truth is that day to day city driving with a lot of stops and turns is much harder on the car than long rides. Never the less, a check up before a longer trip could be useful because you really don’t want something to go wrong in the middle of nowhere. Most of the necessary maintenance you can do yourself, but a trip to a mechanic might also be advisable.

The fluids

This is the simplest maintenance procedure and it won’t require professional assistance. Start with the engine oil. Wipe and clean the dipstick and insert it for a clean read. Coolant is located in a plastic container near the radiator. Fill it with 50/50 percent water and antifreeze. The small tank located near the firewall is where power steering fluid is located. It shouldn’t be filled to the top. Break fluids are usually in a clear reservoir and it too should be filled between the minimum and maximum levels. In the end, feel the windshield washer container to the top.

Air filter

The air filter is usually located in a rectangular box in the front of the vehicle near one of the fenders. In older cars, the filter is on the top of the engine in the air cleaners. Lift the filter up and hold it to a strong light. If you can’t see through it, it’s too dirty. Don’t blow through it because you foil it up. Try shaking it a few times or dropping it on a hard surface. If none of this helps, it might be time to change the filter altogether. This should be done once a year on or every 20.000 miles whatever comes first.

The tires

Start by checking the tire pressure. The recommended pressure depends on the type of tyres you own, but it’s usually around 30 pounds per square inch.It’s important to do it when the car is cold (meaning at least 3 hours after you drove it the last time). Check the depth of a tire using a penny test. More than half of a penny should be able to fit in inside one of the ribs on a tire. If you can see more than a half of a coin it might be time to replace the tire.

The battery

Turn the ignition off and remove the positive terminal cover. Clean both terminals before you proceed with the checkup. Connect the voltmeter’s positive terminal to the battery. Both are usually red. The voltage should be between 12.4 and 12.7 volts if everything is all right with the battery. Using a power probe is an alternative solution. Connect the power probe in the same way. Crank the engine and then read the probe. At the time of the crank, the probe shouldn’t read bellow 9.6 volts.

A professional check up

All of this should be enough to get you through the trip, but if you’ve had problems with the car within a few weeks before the trip, you might want to schedule a full checkup with your mechanic. This should be done at least 2 weeks before you and you should try to test drive it a couple of times as well. A full check up should be done annually as well. It consists of checking the exhaust system, suspension, steering systems, belts, and inspecting undercarriage for leaks and drips. The lights should also be inspected regardless of how new the car is. Most mechanics will include a thorough car wash as well.

The key to not spending too much money on mechanics is to inspect the car yourself on a regular basis. A check up before a road trip is more of a precaution than a necessity if the car is maintained properly throughout the year.