Prep Your Vehicle Now for Your Summer Road Trip
A summer road trip should bring good memories, not car trouble.
There’s nothing like a summer road trip. The sights, sounds and wind in your hair carry a sense of freedom only found on the open road. But one thing that can dampen those good vibes is car trouble. Fortunately, a little preparation can help safeguard your road trip from vehicle trouble. Check out the tips below, then head to a mechanic or your own driveway to get your ride as ready as you are to hit the road.
Start With The Tires
Check your tires for wear. Worn tread can lead to unsafe driving conditions.
In the U.S., tire tread depth is measured in 32nds of an inch. New tires typically come with 10/32” or 11/32” tread depths, with some truck, SUV and winter tires having more. The U.S. Department of Transportation recommends replacing tires when tread depth hits 2/32”. Checking if your tread meets the minimum depth is simple; all you need is a penny.
- Place a penny between the tread ribs of your tire with Abe Lincoln’s head pointing into the tread.
- If the top of his head disappears, your tread depth is still greater than 2/32”. If you can see his entire head, replace your tires before hitting the road.
Remember to test in various places around each tire, especially areas that appear worn. Replace your tires if any areas fail the penny test.
Uneven tread wear could be a sign of improper inflation, wheel misalignment or a variety of other things. If you see uneven tread wear, have a technician inspect your vehicle before you head out.
Check tire psi and ensure your valve stem caps are secure before embarking on a summer road trip. It’s also a good idea to check that the lug nuts are properly torqued. Find the proper foot-pounds in your owner’s manual.
One more thing – grab your front tires and give them a good shake. You may have a bad wheelbearing and this will be obvious. It’s something that we see more often go bad where they salt the streets. Worn bearings are dangerous but at the least will cause alignment issues and poor fuel economy.
And don’t forget the spare. Check for proper air pressure since tires tend to lose pressure as they sit unused.
Mind The Motor Oil
Regular oil changes are critical for vehicle performance and longevity. Before you head far from home, make sure your motor oil can go the distance. Add the estimated miles you will be traveling on your trip to the miles the oil has already accumulated.
Check The Antifreeze & Coolant
Your engine will get hot during a long trip, especially if you are driving through deserts or over mountain passes. Checking your antifreeze and coolant will help ensure that you don’t overheat and roll to a stop along a remote highway.
Begin by locating the coolant reservoir under the hood near the front or side of the engine. It’s usually transparent with a line near the bottom labelled “cold” and a line near the top labelled “hot.” With the engine cold, remove the reservoir cap and check if the level has dipped below the “cold” line. If so, the mixture is too low.
To avoid serious injury, make sure the engine is cool before opening the reservoir cap. If the engine is still hot, pressurized liquid can spray out of the radiator.
Low coolant is usually the result of a leak. As your vehicle’s hoses, gaskets and seals age, they can become brittle and leak. A leak needs to be found and fixed as soon as possible.
If you don’t know which type of antifreeze and engine coolant to use, check your owner’s manual or use the AMSOIL Product Guide.
If you see sludge in the fluid, you should have the system flushed and upgrade to a quality antifreeze and coolant.
Ensure The Transmission Fluid Is In Good Shape (Try AMSOIL OE for the budget minded)
Transmission fluid is often overlooked. In fact, many modern vehicles are equipped with “filled-for-life” transmissions, implying the fluid never needs to be checked or changed. But that’s dangerously misleading.
In truth, it’s a good idea to change fluids in a filled-for-life or sealed transmission or differential at least once during the lifetime of your vehicle, and more often if you tow or haul. Therefore, if you will have a camper in tow, it’s an especially good idea to check your transmission fluid before leaving the driveway.
Power Steering Fluid
Checking power steering fluid is a simple task that anyone can do. Yet, it’s often overlooked until the signs of low fluid emerge, such as whining or squealing pump noise and hard steering at low speeds.
Power steering fluid is essential to lubricate and cool the pump. Therefore, driving with low fluid could burn up the pump, causing difficult steering and even a loss of control.
To check your fluid, start by finding the power steering fluid reservoir. Its location differs from vehicle to vehicle, but it’s usually a small, clear container with a black cap. Many vehicles have marks on the outside of the reservoir to indicate “MAX” or “MIN.” Other vehicles use a dipstick to check power steering fluid. In either case, make sure the fluid is at the optimal level.
If it’s been a while (like, never) and the fluid appears dark and dirty, go ahead and change it.
Service The Brakes
If you notice even a slight amount of sponginess, grinding or delayed brake reaction, it’s time to change your pads, bleed the system and maybe even install new rotors. Schedule brake service with a mechanic if you’re uncomfortable doing the work yourself.
In addition, brake fluid can go bad. Brake fluid absorbs moisture, which reduces its performance.
A vehicle using fresh brake fluid should deliver solid brake-pedal feel, like you’re pressing down on a brick. Think of the last time you drove a new car. The brakes likely inspired confidence and felt rock-solid. That’s because the entire system was brand new and moisture had yet to infiltrate the fluid.
It’s a good idea to change your brake fluid at least every two years, or when you change brake pads, and be mindful of the amount of time you expose the product to the environment.
Don’t cheap out on your brakes – use a quality fluid. For example, AMSOIL DOT 3 & DOT 4 Synthetic Brake Fluid is packaged with nitrogen, which prevents moisture contamination natural to the packaging process. Additionally, it is engineered with high boiling points to exceed the minimum standards, which translates into solid, confident braking.
Check The Belts, Hoses & Fuses
While you’re under the hood, check all the hoses around the radiator for cracks or damage. Check the serpentine belt, too. I just had a pulley go out on me.
An inexpensive fuse tester identifies bad fuses so you can easily tell which need replacing. It never hurts to throw some extras in your glovebox, either.
Test The Battery
When’s the last time you changed your battery? Batteries typically last two to five years, and they often give little-to-no warning before they lose their juice. Many auto parts stores offer free battery testing, so you can gauge whether you’re due for a replacement before you hit the road. I always carry a volt meter in my tool bag. May help you trace out a simple problem.
Make Sure You Can See (& Others Can See You)
Check your headlights, brake lights and turn signals. Throw some spare bulbs in with your stash of fuses in case you need one along the way. When’s the last time you inspected your tiol-lights?
Fill up your windshield washer fluid reservoir and change the wiper blades if they work like crap. Good visibility is a key safety feature, not to mention an imperative for catching any sights along the way. Fresh blades are worth the cost.
Pack A Roadside Emergency Kit
Sometimes all the preparation in the world is still not enough. In case you break down, make sure you have some tools and safety equipment along. Pack a flashlight, tow rope, portable battery charger, bungee cords, screw drivers, wrenches and roadside emergency reflectors.
Boost Your Fuel Economy
Gas prices always seem to increase just in time for your summer road trip. One thing you can do to maximize fuel economy is clean your fuel system with a quality fuel additive.
Don’t forget the mass air flow sensor. I cleaned one the other day on my Buick and gained back 2 MPG and the 1000 RPM idle went down to the normal level!
For example, AMSOIL P.i.® Performance Improver cleans injector deposits, valves and the combustion chamber. It works in just one tank of gasoline.
Summer Road Trip Adventure Ahead
With your vehicle in prime condition, you’ll be ready to pursue your summer road trip adventures with confidence.