This “Simple Road Trip Readiness Checks To Save You Money” post is contributed by Kristin Brocoff. Over the past 15 years, Kristin Brocoff has served in various capacities with automotive aftermarket companies Equus Products, Innova Electronics and CarMD.com Corporation. This post contains affiliate links/ads. See disclosure policy.
Road trips can be costly enough after you factor in fuel, food, fun and don’t forget the souvenirs. The last thing you need is a surprise car repair or tow truck charge along the way. Here are some simple things you can do to make sure your vehicle is healthy before you head out on the road.
Simple Road Trip Readiness Checks
Check the tires (all five of them)
Properly worn and inflated tires can not only reduce the likelihood of a flat, but they can also optimize your fuel economy. Start by checking the tire pressure and tread of the vehicle’s four tires. If you’re not sure what the tire pressure should be, there is usually a recommended pounds per square inch (psi) on the inside door panel or tire wall.
Next, check the tire tread by using the good old penny technique. Don’t forget to check the spare tire too. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about someone having a blowout and finding out their spare was stolen, flat or not full-sized (ok, I’m guilty. It was me). While you’re at it, be sure your car is equipped with a jack and the right sized lug nut wrench to change the tire.
Use your senses
Even if you don’t have any car repair experience, you can use your eyes, ears, nose and gut instinct to identify potential car problems. Look under the hood for frayed hoses or swelling around clamps. Peek under the car for drips in the driveway.
Drive around the block with your XM or Pandora off and listen for any squeaks, rattles or other sounds. Your nose can also point you to potential problems. If you smell something like pancake syrup, it might be a coolant leak. If anything just doesn’t seem right to you, have it checked before you head out.
Heed warning lights
Never leave on a long road trip with a warning light on. Modern vehicles can have more than two dozen dashboard warning lights, all designed to tell you something important about the vehicle’s health (lamp out, low battery, tire pressure, air bags, etc.) When you first turn the ignition or push to start, these lights should all light up to let you know they’re working and don’t have any burned out bulbs. If any of them stay on, have the related system inspected.
Fix Check Engine light problems
Even if it seems like the vehicle is driving fine, ignoring the check engine light can cost you from reduced fuel economy to a catastrophic problem that leads to engine failure and a mid-road trip tow.
According to the CarMD Vehicle Health Index, the average cost to repair a check engine light is $387, but the good news is it’s often something like a loose or missing gas cap that you can fix yourself for a few dollars.
There are a few ways to find out why your car’s check engine light is on, such as visiting your local AutoZone, getting the problem code and matching the code to the reason why your engine light is on.
If anything looks, sounds or smells funny – or if your vehicle is past due for an oil change or tire rotation – it’s best to have it serviced at least a week before you hit the road. This way, if the repair shop finds something that needs repaired, you’ll have time to get the work done.
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Watch your weight
Before you strap on those kayaks, throw in that extra suitcase or offer to drive a few members of the football team, remember that excess vehicle weight can impact your car’s fuel economy. According to the EPA, each extra 100 lbs. can increase fuel consumption by about 1 percent. When you’re packing, make sure not to put too many heavy items on one side. It can cause increased tire wear and even affect your steering and safety.
Just in case
Once you’ve packed all the fun things you need for your road trip, do some preventative packing too. Check the weather and pack accordingly. That might mean throwing in a snow scraper, chains or extra blankets during winter or packing an umbrella and topping off the windshield wiper fluid in the spring.
Put together a little emergency kit with flares, flashlight and batteries, extra drinking water, nutrition bars, toilet paper and mobile phone programmed with insurance and roadside assistance phone numbers.
If you’re traveling with bikes on the back of your car or a rooftop carrier, don’t forget to lock them if you’re parked overnight. Speaking of keys, pack a spare car key. This will save you the hassle and cost of having a friend or relative overnight the extra key you left at home if you lose yours mid trip.
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About the Contributor: Kristin Brocoff
Over the past 15 years, Kristin Brocoff has served in various capacities with automotive aftermarket companies Equus Products, Innova Electronics and CarMD.com Corporation. She was driving a 1996 Chevy Blazer with 110,000 miles and an illuminated Check Engine light on the day she met CarMD’s founder and learned about the importance of paying attention to vehicle warning lights. Since then, she has been committed to working with a team of ASE-certified technicians to educate consumers about the importance of car maintenance and repairs. Kristin has appeared on countless TV and radio shows, and penned many articles and blog posts on consumer automotive topics. She resides in Nevada with her husband, two kids and Labrador retriever.