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How to Prepare Your Car for a Road Trip

The open road calls to us. Whether we are heading off to visit family or setting out to explore new terrain, traveling in your own car is often the more economical way to vacation, and it gives you the flexibility to make detours and see the country along the way. Summer is the most popular time to hit the road, but the Great American Road Trip is a popular pastime all year long.

However, a road trip is not fun or economical when mechanical problems cause a breakdown or car accident. Following these tips to prepare for a road trip now can prevent a lot of anguish later.

Collect Important Documents

The first step to getting ready for your road actually prepares you rather than your vehicle. It is a good idea to gather information that you might need so you’ll have it in one place. This includes:

  • Vehicle owner’s manual –this book can help you with everything from identifying warning lights on the dashboard to adjusting the music settings on the audio system. If you can’t find your copy, you can download the information.
  • Registration—make sure it is current and not set to expire during your trip
  • Insurance information—Make sure your insurance is also up-to-date and that you know how to contact your agent if there’s a problem
  • Roadside assistance—if you or someone you’re traveling with belongs to a motor club, make sure you have the membership number and contact information. Some dealerships and auto manufacturers provide complimentary membership for the first few years of ownership, so you might check into your eligibility or sign up for a new plan in case your vehicle needs towing or battery charging or in case you lock your keys in the car.

Conduct a 3-Way Tire Check

Tire problems are one of the leading causes of accidents for trucks and other vehicles on the road. Before setting out on your trip, you should make sure your tire pressure falls within the range listed in the manual or on the edge of the tire. It is a good idea to keep a tire gauge in your car so you can check the pressure regularly to keep the vehicle safe and operating at the best fuel efficiency.

You also need to check the tire tread to make sure it is not too worn to grip the road. The penny method is one of the easiest ways to check for tread wear. Take a penny and insert it between the tread lines with Lincoln’s head facing in. The tread should cover the top of his head. If you can see all of his head, then it’s worn down too far, and the tires should be replaced before your trip.

The final part of the tire check is to make sure the spare tire is in good shape. Finding it is often the first challenge if you’ve never used it before. Check to see that it is inflated properly and that you have a lug nut wrench and jack.

Check Your Brakes

Brake problems can easily lead to a rear-end collision or even trigger a multi-vehicle accident. If your brakes make any type of noise when you press the pedal, that is a sign of trouble, so it is important to have a mechanic check out your vehicle’s brakes before you drive any further and especially before taking a road trip.

Your other senses can alert you to a brake problem as well. If the pedal presses too far down or feels “mushy,” it is a good idea to get the brakes examined. A funny smell or burning smell can also be signs of excessive wear or other dangerous problems.

Battery Testing

Nothing can end your plans faster than a dead battery. Having a professional check your battery can provide peace of mind and prevent headaches later. Your motor club may offer free battery checks, and automotive supply shops will also often provide free battery tests.

Replace Wiper Blades and Check Fluids

Visibility is crucial to your safety while driving, particularly in hazardous weather. If you have not replaced your windshield wiper blades recently, this is a good time to do so. Also, check to make sure your washer fluid tank is full so you’re ready to clean off whatever debris hits you along the way. While you’re checking the washer fluid, check and top off other vital fluids including oil. If you’re not comfortable checking engine fluid levels, stop at your local mechanic and ask for a check-up.

Check Lights

Make sure headlights, brake lights, and hazard lights are all working properly and that the lenses are clean so the lights shine brightly. Your lights not only help you see potential dangers on the road but also make your vehicle visible to other drivers who may be drowsy or inattentive.

Do You Have an Emergency Kit?

Having a roadside emergency kit is like carrying an umbrella—you bring it hoping you’ll never need it. If you do need it, however, it can literally be a lifesaver. To make your trip safe and enjoyable, it is good to pack a roadside emergency kit, first aid kit, and comfort kit with items such as:

  • Jumper cables
  • Tire sealer/inflator
  • Duct tape
  • Light sticks, reflectors and/or flares
  • Paper towels
  • Flashlight
  • Drinking water and snacks
  • Sterilizing wipes
  • Bandaids

In addition, it’s a good idea to keep aspirin or other pain killers in the car, as well as motion-sickness relief. A driver or passenger who is in pain from sciatica or feeling nauseous can provide a dangerous distraction.

Know What to Do in an Emergency

Despite all your preparation, factors out of your control such as road hazards or impaired drivers can cause an accident. When that happens, check for the safety of your passengers, remove your vehicle from danger, and call for emergency assistance. Taking photos of the accident scene can help if you need to file a claim later.

Make sure everyone gets a thorough medical exam to check for internal injuries, head trauma, and other medical problems you may not be able to detect. If another driver’s insurance company asks you for information, it is a good idea to consult a personal injury lawyer for advice before making a statement so that you don’t inadvertently say something that could be used to shift liability for the accident. 

If an accident has ruined your road trip, the experienced team at Levine Law is ready to help. Contact us for a confidential free consultation. We have offices to serve you in Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Loveland.

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