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The Ultimate Car Checklist for the Best Road Trip

May 31, 2017

Although three-day weekends might bring a smile to your face on Friday, road tripping is serious business – you don't want to end up stranded on the side of the road!

Whether you're heading to a nearby national park or just to the in-laws for some family time, take a few minutes to check out your car's most important components. We know the summer months are hard on the engines of cars. The extreme heat of summer causes wear on mechanical components of cars. But winter weather can also cause problems with tires, brakes and the engine. 

In order to keep your family safe on all its road trip journeys, it's important to do a little car maintenance. Here is a five-point checklist to ensure your safety on the open highway:

Copyright © 2018 RepairPal Inc. All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 2018 RepairPal Inc. All Rights Reserved

1. Keep track of tire pressure and treads 

Making sure your tires are in good shape is one of the most important safety checks before traveling. Check the air pressure of each tire and make sure it's at the recommended pressure rating. The pressure rating is printed on the sidewall of the tire and will be measured in PSI (pounds per square inch). It's also important to check the tire treads using the coin test, which tells you if it's time for new tires. Here are some of the items needed for tire maintenance on the road:

  • Tire gauge
  • 12-volt portable compressor

Problems with tires often start with a small puncture due to a nail, screw or road debris — here’s what to do about it. Always check the tire pressure and keep an eye out for punctures that need to be repaired.

2. Check, change and pack essential fluids

Your car relies on certain fluids, so they should be checked and changed before a road trip. Change the oil and check the levels of the transmission and brake fluids a few days before you head out. It's also a good idea to pack extra fluids with your repair kit and tools. Here are the fluids that you want to have with the spare tire in case of an emergency:

The spare tire compartment in most cars will have room for extra fluids. In addition, keep an extra bottle of water with the other fluids for emergencies.

road trip 2
Image courtesy of Pixabay

3. Check your brake pads

Your brakes give you stopping power and aid in handling — pretty important stuff. Before traveling, they need to be inspected. Here are the essential brake components that need to be checked before travelng:

  • Pads
  • Lines
  • Fluid

First, check the pads and have them changed if needed. If the pads don't have much material left, they often begin to make noise due to a metal indicator built into them — this means they need to be changed. A brake inspection is usually free at a RepairPal Certified shop near you. In addition, check all the lines for signs of wear or damage and bleed the brakes. Lastly, the fluid in the master cylinder needs to be checked and more brake fluid added if the level is low.

4. Check the A/C and heater, wipers and air filter 

Depending on the season, you could encounter hot, cold or wet weather on your trip. You'll want to make sure your air conditioner, heater and windshield wipers are working well.

Check these the following items before hitting the road:

Check the A/C compressor and have an auto mechanic charge it if necessary. The A/C compressor is connected to belts and pulleys on the engine. Turn on the engine and the A/C to see if the belts make noise and visually inspect them for damage. If you're traveling during colder months and notice your heater is blowing cold air, one of these things might be the culprit.

It's a good idea to change the air filters in your car, too. Many modern cars have an air filter for the engine, along with one for the cabin. And give some attention to the wiper blades and wiper fluid level, as well.

5. Check your coolant system

Viscosity breakdown is a common problem during the summer months. The heat of an engine begins to cause the oil to break down — if left unchecked, it will stop lubricating the engine. The resulting friction will wear on the engine's parts, and eventually your car will stop working. To avoid viscosity breakdown, it's important that the engine stay cool. The cooling maintenance and checks needed before a road trip include:

If the radiator has a leak, or any hoses are dry and cracked, have them replaced.

To avoid car trouble and stay safe on the roadways, make sure you make a checklist. Before you pack the luggage, take care of any repairs before your next road trip.

6. Keep our troubleshooting guide handy

Unfortunately, we can't predict the future, and even the most prepared of all of us can find ourselves in a tough situation. If you do get into a bind on the road, be sure to check out the updated troubleshooter. This guide allows you to simply plug in what symptom your car is facing and get quick facts, fixes you can try, or recommendations on a shop you can trust nearby when you're out of town.

On top of that, we also back up the Certified shop's warranty and bring that nationwide after you register the repair. So say you get your brake pads replaced in Idaho, but realize something's gone wrong after you hit the Oregon border – don't worry. Visit a RepairPal Certified shop wherever you find yourself, make sure to register that repair to extend it nationwide, and get back on the road!

Safe travels on the long stretch ahead!


RepairPal is working to mend the lack of trust consumers have in the car repair industry by providing them with in-depth knowledge and resources that connect them with dependable and reliable car repair shops near them.

Our goal is to establish an auto repair process that is less stressful and much more trustworthy for everyone involved. Our website hosts a car repair Estimator that gets rid of that "ripped-off" feeling. We also provide matches to local Certified shops that are guaranteed to do repairs with quality parts, a fair price, and a trained, awesome staff.

Have a question about RepairPal? Send us an email at community@repairpal.com.

About the Author

Kimberlea Buczeke is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

2 User Comments

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By , June 13, 2017
Glad to know that you are there !
By , July 12, 2017
Great to have this article, helpin me get ready for my next road trip!