Is Your Car Ready for A Cross-Country Trip?

Few pleasures compare to a long road trip by car. As the miles disappear in the rearview mirror, you can sit back and engage the cruise control, look out over the countryside rushing past, and enjoy the journey.

However, the critical question to ask is whether your car feels the same way. Modern cars are a marvel of engineering. Not only do they consume very little fuel, but they are comfortable and have safety features that are rather astounding.

But before you leave home and drive a few hundred miles to your destination, check out our tips below.

Essential Tips for Car Maintenance Before Your Trip

Self-test the vehicle. There is a lot that you can do yourself without visiting a mechanic.

  • Park the car on a level surface and start the engine. Listen for any unusual sounds. A healthy engine should rev smoothly with minimal backfiring. An occasional backfire can be okay, but if it’s happening regularly, a trip to the mechanic is in order.
  • The engine’s temperature gauge should remain in the acceptable range regardless of engine RPM or outside temperature. Use the engine’s dipstick to check the level of engine oil to determine if it’s in the correct range. Be sure the oil is translucent, and that you have not gone beyond the manufacturer’s recommendation for a scheduled oil change. 
  • Get out of the car and walk around. All the lights (red, yellow, white, and daytime running lights) must be clean and operating properly. Any additional lights such as fog lights and side lights should be operating properly as well.
  • It’s important that your tires are in tip-top condition before beginning any road trip. Use a tire gauge to measure the pressure of each tire. If you’re unsure what the correct tire pressure should be, you can view the information on the sticker located inside the driver’s side door. Some tires must be filled with nitrogen, and others with air. Be sure to only inflate your tires with the correct substance.
  • It’s also essential to check the tread depth of the tire. You can purchase tread depth gauges at any auto parts store, but there’s a free way to do this as well. If you have an American penny coin, insert it in between the tread of the tire with President Lincoln’s head facing down. If you are able to see all of Lincoln’s head, it means the tires are too worn and need to be replaced.
  • Check that you have a spare tire and that it is in as good of condition as those on the road.
  • The car should not make any creaking sounds. This usually arises from suspension and indicates that the shock absorbers need replacement.
  • Take it out for a drive and find if it can brake smoothly. Otherwise, the brake fluid needs topping up, or brake pads need to be replaced.
  • Take your hands off the steering wheel. Does the vehicle drift to one side? If so, it can be either bad wheel alignment or faulty suspension. In either case, a mechanic needs to fix it.

You can do all of these in half an hour without visiting a garage. Of course, one assumes that you have the vehicle serviced regularly, and the chassis has not suffered any damage.

When to Visit a Garage

  • If your car drifts to one side, the wheels are out of alignment. All of the four wheels need to be parallel to each other. Otherwise, the car is stressed. As the car gets older, the suspension begins to decline. The wheel angles change slightly, with both front wheels not pointing in the exact same direction. A mechanic can set it right in a few hours.
  • If the engine overheats, then the cooling system is not working as it should. An engine runs very hot, and a special fluid is needed to transport the heat away. If the fluid has evaporated, the engine may seize due to excessive heating. Inside the city, it takes longer to fail since you stop the car every few miles. On the highway, it is a different matter. If your engine is overheating, it could be cause by a number of things that a mechanic would need to diagnose.
  • If you are unsatisfied with the sound of the exhaust, it usually means the car is not properly tuned. The valve springs might also need replacing.  Frequent backfires can also indicate dirty spark plugs.
  • If your vehicle has not been serviced for more than six months, the oil filter and air filter may need to be replaced. A car is a complex machine and needs service every few thousand miles or kilometers to keep running smoothly. Each car will have a detailed maintenance schedule in its owner’s manual that you should follow.
  • If the inside of the car gets too hot, you may have to fix the air conditioner before you hit the highway. Once again, a malfunctioning air conditioner can be caused by several things, and only a mechanic can correctly diagnose the problem and fix it.

What to Carry on a Long Drive?

  • The enthusiast in us would urge you to carry an entire tool kit. However, if you are not a petrol head, there is little use for 40 different types of spanners. A couple of sizes of standard screwdrivers, Phillips’ screwdrivers, and an adjustable wrench is enough for most minor repairs.
  • The car must have a jack that is in excellent condition. You must know how to change a flat tire. Even tires that are advertised as “run-flat” can still leave you on the side of the road. The last thing you want is to be stranded a hundred miles from civilization at sundown with no way to keep going.
  • A pair of jumper cables is very important. They are needed if your battery has died. The jumpers are attached to the battery of another car to help your engine to start.
  • A tow rope is compulsory. In case your vehicle breaks down, and a tow truck is nowhere to be found, a kind passerby can tow you to the next gas station or motel.
  • Make it a point to carry extra fuel – at least 10 liters/2.5 gallons should be sufficient for most emergency situations. Carry a can of general lubricant (such as engine oil) and a jug of radiator coolant. In case the engine and lube systems spring a leak, you can top it up again and drive until you find a service center. It’s never a bad idea to carry an extra jug of windshield-washer fluid as well. On an evening where there are a lot of bugs, it’s no fun running out of washer fluid and being unable to see clearly.
  • An ammeter is a cheap device that is very easy to use. Up through the 1960s, all cars used to have one on the dash. An ammeter tells you if your battery is working or about to die.

General Advice

  • Your vehicle must have the necessary registration documents. Otherwise, you could get pulled over for violating the law. It is one thing to have your car confiscated in your own city, but quite another if it happens far from home.
  • Plan your drive, including rest stops. Speeding does not get you to your destination faster. You are not a professional Le Mans driver, and few minutes of driving at high speed can tire you. In addition, you could end up in an accident. Reducing rest stops is the fastest way to complete your journey. Plan your drive at no more than the posted speed limits, and make extra time for road construction or inclement weather.
  • A flashlight and GPS are essential. GPS has made it impossible to become lost. Every smartphone is a GPS device by default. Scroll over your route once before you start and have a general idea of the roads over which you would travel. In case the GPS suggests alternate routes, choose the most scenic one.
  • Buy adequate travel insurance or travel medical insurance. Insubuy offers several policies that can help you in case of an emergency or unexpected travel situation.

And Off You Go…

  • It is a great idea to have a second driver. Another driver allows you to rest and drive through the night if needed. In addition, having a friend along can increase the enjoyment of your road trip.
  • If the car doesn’t have a keyless entry system, make sure you have a second key in your wallet. Getting locked out of your own car is embarrassing and time-consuming.
  • Don’t turn off the GPS. It is an easy way to prove to highway police that you are on a long-distance trip.

Enjoy the journey. The road is the destination.

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