Get Road Trip Ready: How to Prepare Your Car for Summer Travel
You’ve got your route planned, booked your hotels, and made a checklist of things to see, but there are still a few more logistics you need to consider before you hit the road for your summer vacation. No matter the destination, you need to make sure your vehicle is ready to get you there—and back. To do that, the Experts at JustAnswer have some of the best ways to prepare your vehicle for your summer road trip. According to AAA, nearly 44M Americans hit the road to celebrate the 4th of July -- the second-highest July 4th travel volume on record. With this increase in road trips, JustAnswer is getting a record-breaking 6,000 questions a week for its car and RV experts this summer.
Q&A with a Certified Mechanic and Car Expert
Read on as Auto Mechanic and Car Expert Marc O’Dell discusses summer vehicle concerns and gives you his top tips to get road-trip-ready.
Q: What are some of the questions you are seeing this time of year?
A: We're getting lots of car questions coming in right now from all makes and models, everything from pickups to Porsches. Summer is the busiest time of year that I've seen working with JustAnswer.
We get a lot of questions about vehicles that won't start, rough running engines or low power concerns, radio installation, and how Bluetooth and navigation systems work. We also get questions for electrical problems, like lights not working, or warning messages coming on the dash and what to look for.
Q: What are the most common road trip mistakes?
A: The biggest mistakes I see are:
1) Forgetting to take along a decent selection of tools, a set of jumper cables, a cheap voltmeter/multimeter, and a scan tool or phone app to help find and fix concerns when out on the road. Most people get basic checks and fluids changed before heading out, but then don't have tools to do tests or repairs if something happens on the road, and they wind up calling for a tow and service appointment.
2) Believing you’ll be able to squeeze in an appointment with your mechanic before leaving on a trip. Often people think that repair shops will be able to get them right in for repairs. However, summertime is the busy season, and most shops are booked out for a couple of weeks minimum. Some issues could be scanned for quickly or repaired fast, but just getting in for the appointment seems to take a bit of time.
The Experts at JustAnswer also recommend a “once over” 10-step inspection of your car to ensure it is in good working order. When you have completed the check, you can then plan for the repairs before you hit the road.
Pre-Trip Car Inspection
1) Check the wiper blades. First, do a visual inspection of the blades. You may be able to immediately tell that they need to be replaced. If they appear fine, test them by spraying water on the windshield with a hose or spray bottle. Then, turn on your car and see how well they remove the water.
2) Check the turn signals and lights. With your car still on, test both turn signals, as well as your headlights, brake lights, hazards, and brights.
3) Check the brakes. Press the brake pedal to test for its responsiveness. If it feels weak or spongy when you press the pedal down, your brakes may need to be replaced.
4) Check the tires. Look for signs of wear on the sidewalls of the tires. Measure the tread depth to ensure it is still good. Insert a penny into the tread groove so that Lincoln’s head is upside down. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, it is time to replace your tire. You will also want to check the air in the tires.
5) Check your oil and transmission fluid. Pop the hood and secure it. Check the oil level. Find the oil dipstick near the oil cap. Pull it out and wipe it clean. Then, reinsert it and pull it out again. If the oil is between the minimum and maximum markings on the dipstick, the oil level is fine. If it's low, add oil to the engine via the oil cap. Now, find the transmission dipstick near the transmission fluid cap. Follow the same procedure you did with the oil. If the fluid measures too low on the dipstick, add more via the transmission fluid cap.
6) Check the other fluids. Locate the plastic reservoirs for the brake fluid, coolant, window washing fluid, etc., and look at their levels. Make a note of any fluids that need replenishing. If the brake fluid is low, your car may have a more serious problem that you will need to discuss with a mechanic.
7) Check the battery for corrosion. Corrosion can inhibit your car’s ability to connect to the battery. So, if you see any, it will need to be removed.
8) Check the air filter. A clean air filter improves your engine performance, which can result in better gas mileage. The air filter box is usually near the front of the engine. If you can easily remove the filter, pull it out to better see whether it is dirty. If it is, you may be able to clean the filter, but you might have to simply replace it.
9) Check the belts. Inspect the serpentine belt, power steering belt, and alternator belt for signs of damage. A little wear is to be expected. But, if you see significant damage on a belt, it will need to be replaced.
10) Check the spark plugs. Inspect the spark plugs to see whether the rubber insulation or wires show any damage. Spark plugs can last up to 60,000 miles. However, some only last up to 10,000 miles. Be aware of the type of plugs you have and inspect them accordingly.
Marc O’Dell is a Certified Auto Mechanic and Car Expert who answers hundreds of questions a week on JustAnswer. Marc, a 25-year mechanic, has worked for Ford and Chrysler as a technical hotline engineer, and as a trainer at the manufacturing level for Chrysler. Marc has been with JustAnswer for about 1.5 years and covers electrical repairs, module communication issues, and engine performance issues for all domestic and most foreign vehicles.
Do you have other road trip questions that weren’t answered above? Ask a car question on JustAnswer to get a personalized response from certified mechanics like Marc, 24/7.