How to Know If Your Car is Up to a Long Trip

Taking a car on a long trip might not seem like a big deal if you have a relatively new vehicle or you know that it’s in excellent condition. But it can be a lot more daunting if you’re driving an older vehicle, a newly purchased used vehicle, or are uncertain about the condition of critical components in the car. 

Fortunately, it's relatively simple to decide if your car is up for a long trip. You can take your vehicle to a mechanic and ask them to take a closer look at it, and most mechanics offer some kind of pre-trip service that checks critical systems in addition to essential maintenance. 

But you can also do a few checks at home that will help decide if your car is ready for a long trip or if you should get some maintenance first. 

Checking Your Tires for a Trip

Long trips are understandably hard on your tires, and they can be even harder on tires that aren’t designed for extended trips or a lot of highway driving. 

Start by checking to make sure the tread on your tires is still in good condition. You never know exactly what weather conditions you’re going to be driving in, and balding tire tread can cause issues even in perfect weather. Assuming you have enough tread left on your tires, it’s also a good idea to check and make sure they have appropriate air pressure. The right air pressure for your tires should be printed in the rubber on the tire’s sidewall. 

You should also consider whether your car might need an alignment. If you’ve noticed any changes in how your vehicle handles, or you know that you’ve had to steer your car a little differently than usual recently, it’s essential to get your car’s alignment checked. You may also want to get an alignment before your trip if it’s been more than six months since your last alignment. That’s because putting too many miles on your tires without rotating them can cause uneven wear on your tires and may even cause problems for your suspension system on your trip. 

Change Your Oil

Unless you’ve changed the oil in your car incredibly recently, it’s also a good idea to change the oil in your vehicle before taking a long trip. You can do the oil change yourself by buying a large container of the right weight oil, a new oil filter, and an oil pan to collect the used oil. 

Your local cat parts store should be able to tell you what weight of oil you need and even find the right oil filter for your car. 

Changing your oil will improve your car’s performance and help reduce your engine’s stress during a long road trip. 

Check (and Replace) Your Cabin Air Filter

Long trips can get a lot worse if you aren’t getting clean air from your cabin air filter. While you should change your cabin air filter regularly anyway, it can be a vital task right before you embark on a long road trip. 

Avoid weird car cabin air smell, get a new air filter before you leave. 

Test Your Brakes

When you’re preparing for a big trip, it can also be essential to make sure you’ve checked your brake system. You can do a quick brake check on your own the next time you’re out driving to make sure the brakes are still performing well. Your brake system should be quickly responsive, and it should be easy to decelerate. 

Even if your brakes are performing well, you might still want to get a brake check. Many mechanics will perform a brake check for relatively cheap, especially if there isn’t any required maintenance. 

If your brakes are shuddering, squealing, or making any other abnormal sounds, it’s crucial to get the brakes checked before you go on a long trip. If you can’t get brake maintenance and your brakes are making noise, your car probably isn’t up to a long road trip. 

Check Your Spare Tire and Tire Jack

It’s also important to make sure you have the tools you need to get back on the road if your tires are damaged on the road. Long road trips increase the odds of damage to your tires over day-to-day driving, though highway driving usually reduces the risk of a nail or a screw getting stuck in your tires. 

Check your spare to make sure it’s aired up and still in good condition. It’s imperative to check for signs of dry rot if your spare tire hasn't been used for a long time. 

You should also check to make sure your tire jack is in working order and that both the tire spare tire and the tire jack are accessible in your car before you leave. 

Make Sure You Have Spare Oil and Coolant

Long trips can also be demanding on your car in other ways. While you probably won’t need engine oil or coolant along the way, it’s a good idea to make sure you have at least one container of each in case of emergency. Pre-mix the coolant if possible, so you won’t need to worry about mixing it on the road. 

Keeping a little extra windshield wiper fluid is also important for a long trip. You don’t want to get caught in the middle of a storm without it. 

Having a funnel in your car in case of an emergency is also a good idea. Just make sure you clean out the funnel after using it, and be very careful not to mix different car fluids accidentally. They aren't designed to get mixed and won't work properly if they are contaminated. 

Make Sure You Have Emergency Supplies

You should also make sure you have a small kit of supplies in case of an emergency. Long road trips call for a small first aid kit at least, and you should also have a blanket or a coat for each person in the car and some bottled water. 

Make sure you have a set of jumper cables in case your battery dies on the road. It's also a good idea to have a portable set of small traffic cones or fold-out cones in case you have to stop at night when visibility is low. 

It’s also a good idea to make sure you know where your car’s tow hitch is and that you have a small set of tools, including a screwdriver and a set of pliers in your vehicle in case of emergencies.