Now that the cold weather has disappeared, it’s time to get back on the road! But before heading out on your next weekend drive or cross-country trek, it’s important to make sure that your car is ready.
Of course you want to visit your mechanic, but there’s more to having a great trip than just making sure that everything’s tuned up. Depending on where you’re going, road trips can mean mud, rain, sun or even slush, and you need to be prepared for all eventualities.
Spring clean your car
Speaking of gunk, if you live in a snow belt like I do, one of the first things you need to do is give your car a good washing. All of the springtime residue that accumulates in the undercarriage isn’t good for it, which means that it won’t be good for your wallet, either. I use this time of year to also clean out whatever winter gear I’m still carrying, from snow shovels to snow scrapers to the bags of salt I carry for traction.
Check out the view
Now’s the time to change your winter wipers for summer ones, and to put a product like Rain-X on your windshield to help increase visibility in spring and summer storms. Check your windshield for chips or cracks, and if one looks like it’s going to spread, get it taken care of while the weather’s good. You’ll probably have a small deductible, but it’s better than driving with bad visibility.
Top off fluids
You can have your mechanic or dealership do this, or you can do it yourself. Make sure that your oil is full, and if it’s been more than 5,000 miles, get an oil change. Check your coolant level as well; for safety’s sake, I always keep an extra bottle of coolant in the car just in case it starts overheating.
Check your brakes
If you’ve been ignoring that squealing or grinding noise, or your car pulls to one side every time you need to stop, get to a mechanic immediately. While it’s exhilarating to spend a summer day driving through winding mountain roads—you don’t need the excitement of coming down without stopping. Same goes for spongy or soft brakes; this is a red flag!
Batteries, belts and hoses
Winter can really drain a battery, so make sure that yours is ready to go. Dim lights can be a sign that there’s something wrong, and so can power windows that take a longer time to open or close. Do a sight check of belts and hoses and if they look worn, get them replaced. It’s a small investment now that will save you huge problems later.
You know the drill—stick a penny in the tread of your tire and if it doesn’t reach Lincoln’s head, it’s time for a replacement. While you won’t be driving on ice, it can be just as dangerous to drive through spring and summer storms without the proper tread. Before heading out on any trip, you should always check your tire pressure as well—you can do it at home or stop by any convenience store to fill up with their (usually) free air.
Stock your car for the season
I’m a big believer in being ready for any eventuality, so if I’m going on a long road trip, or somewhere that I don’t think has good cell service—Belize, for example—I stock my car for the trip. I keep a plug-in tire inflator, Fix-a-Flat, maps (for when the GPS fails me), extra fluids (for the car), food and fluids (for me), and I let people know when I’m leaving and when I’m expected to arrive at my next destination. It may seem over the top, but if you’ve ever been stuck along the Alaska Highway (been there, done that), it’s nice to know that you can get yourself out of a jam, or at least be comfortable while you wait for help
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