It can be frustrating when your car breaks down close to home. But, imagine if it happened on an isolated country road, hundreds of miles from home, in the snow and cold, in an area with spotty cell phone coverage. It could be awhile before you get help. However, if you follow some basic tips to prepare your vehicle before you leave on your road trip, you’ll minimize the chances of a breakdown. And, if a breakdown does happen, you’ll be prepared to either fix the problem or be comfortable while waiting for help to arrive.
Do Basic Maintenance Before You Leave
If you haven’t had the engine oil and oil filter changed recently, get it done.
Check your vehicle’s other fluids, including windshield washer fluid, brake fluid, coolant, transmission fluid and power steering fluid.
Replace your windshield wiper blades, if necessary. Visibility in all kinds of weather is so important when you’re on the road.
Check all your lights, including head lights, turn signals, license plate light, and interior lights to make sure they are all in working order. It would be annoying and possibly expensive to get pulled over by the police for a burnt out light.
Make sure your tires have plenty of tread and inflate them to the recommended air pressure. You can find the recommended pressure in your owner’s manual, which should be in your glove box, along with your registration and insurance information.
Make sure your brakes are working properly. If not, get them fixed.
If your air filter is dirty, change it out. A dirty air filter can affect your vehicle’s performance by allowing less air to get into the engine when needed.
Remove any items from the car that you don’t need for your trip. Maybe you’ve got gym clothes, sports equipment, or other miscellaneous things hidden in your trunk. Be sure to take them out to make room for your luggage and emergency repair items.
Be sure to pack your vehicle evenly and only bring the things you need. With less weight, evenly distributed, your car will get better gas mileage, saving you money.
Avoid using a roof-top carrier for luggage. This reduces your fuel economy and can affect how your vehicle handles on the road.
Pack an Emergency Repair Kit
You should have an emergency repair kit in your vehicle already. If you don’t, then here are a few items you should pack in your kit:
- jumper cables
- tire iron
- duct tape
- quart of engine oil
- plastic funnel
- tire sealant
- air pump
- bungee cords
- a variety of basic tools, like pliers, wrenches and screwdrivers
- your vehicle’s owner’s manual
- road atlas
You should also have a spare tire. Check to be sure it’s fully inflated before you leave home.
Even if you aren’t sure how to repair your car, these tools can come in handy if someone else comes along who can help.
Pack an Emergency Comfort Kit
If you’re stranded on the side of the road or waiting at a repair shop, you and your kids will less stressed if you have some things to keep you comfortable and entertained. Here are some ideas of items to bring along:
- umbrella or ponchos
- activity sheets with pencil or coloring books with crayons
- first-aid kit with bandages, gauze, tape, and antiseptic wipes
- travel toilet paper roll or facial tissue to use if “nature calls” before you can reach a restroom
Join a Roadside Assistance Program
If you don’t already have roadside assistance, consider joining a program, such as the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA). We are AAA members and appreciate the peace of mind it gives us when we’re on the road. While Hubby is great at making repairs, I am not. So, when he’s not along for the ride, it’s great to know I can call for help, day or night. Over the past 30 years, AAA has changed a flat tire, got my keys out of a locked car, and towed my vehicle to a repair shop. AAA also offers some fantastic discounts on hotel rooms, car rentals, attraction tickets, and more. The service and discounts we’ve received has more than covered the cost over the years.
Finally, whether you are on a big road trip or driving around town, be sure to fill your gas tank before it goes below a quarter of a tank. This keeps you from running out of gas before finding a fuel station and also allows you to reach a repair shop if your car is damaged, but still driveable. Also, keep at least one cell phone charged up at all times so that you can summon help when needed.
Chances are, nothing will happen and your road trip will be tons of fun. But, what peace of mind knowing that you’re ready for the worst, if it does happen.
Check out our other road trip post, 11 Tips to Survive Your Next Family Road Trip.
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