|

Road trip prep: 10 things to check before you hit the road

Consumer Reports News: June 29, 2011 11:08 AM

It’s the busy summer travel season and with gas prices dropping around the country, it’s a great time to head out on a road trip. Whether you’re driving a short distance or across the country, here are some tips to ensure that your car and your family are prepared for your next adventure.

  1. Schedule a checkup. Perform basic maintenance on your vehicle before you head out such as checking wipers and fluid levels. Also, schedule any necessary service such as oil changes or tune ups. A vehicle in top shape will have a better chance of staying reliable and efficient. See our guide to car maintenance.
  2. Stay charged. Check your battery to make sure it’s strong and has clean terminals: A little baking soda and water will do the job. A road trip is no fun if your car won’t start. Learn more about battery care, and see our car battery ratings.
  3. Read the rubber. Inspect your tires for any tears or bulges in the side wall. The tires should have a good amount of tread left. The easiest way to measure this, if you don't have a gauge, is to hold a quarter upside down in the tread. If the top of George Washington’ head is visible, you need new tires to ensure traction in all weather conditions. Make sure the tire pressures are set to the figures that are printed on the placard on the driver’s door jam, or what’s listed in your car’s owner’s manual. If you need to replace your tires, our car and truck tire Ratings will help you choose the best model.
  4. Give it a break. Have your service station inspect your car’s brake pads to make sure they aren’t worn or need replacing.
  5. Be prepared. Bring supplies in the event of an accident or medical issue. Stock your car with an emergency kit—especially a flashlight, blanket, first-aid kit, and some basic tools. Also, bring water and extra snacks, just in case.
  6. Pack smart. Check your vehicle’s load capacity to make sure you aren’t putting too much weight in the car. On most new cars, the total weight you can carry is printed on the door placard inside the driver’s door jam. This load rating includes all the passengers and cargo. Be aware that fuel economy is reduced with extra cargo. Roof-top cargo boxes should only be filled with light bulky items. Heavy loads on the roof can make the vehicle more difficult to handle in emergency situations and increase the risk of a roll over. If not in use, remove the roof rack as if can significantly worsen your fuel economy.
  7. Track it. A portable GPS navigation system will help you get where you’re going, making it easy to find gas stations or restaurants along the way. Traffic-enabled devices can warn of roadway congestion, and all units can assist in finding an alternate route. Also, a navigator can help direct emergency services to your location, should something happen. (Read: “Best GPS navigators for summer road trips” and “Video: Don't let a GPS navigator steer you wrong.”)
  8. Kid prep. If you’re driving with kids, make sure you pack enough snacks, water, games, videos, and music to keep them comfortable and occupied during your journey. See our 10 tips for a stress-free road trip with kids for more advice.
  9. Be patient. During busy travel times expect to hit traffic. It may make sense to drive late at night or early in the morning to avoid the rush and ensure you get to your destination on time and with minimal stress. Make sure you count on stops for refreshment and restroom breaks, and time your fuel stops to ensure you don’t run low. A GPS device with traffic information and an exit guide can help you navigate around congestion and help find desired pit stop locations.
  10. Be safe. Make sure you are driving safely and follow the rules of the road. See our list of Simple things you can do to drive more safely.

See our related special sections for more tips.
Summer travel guide
Kids & car safety
Guide to fuel economy
Guide to car maintenance
Car seat buying advice & ratings

Liza Barth

   

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters! Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Car Maintenance News

Connect

and safety with
subscribers and fans

Follow us on:

Cars

Cars New Car Price Report
Find out what the dealers don't want you to know! Get dealer pricing information on a new car with the New Car Price Report.

Order Your Report

Mobile

Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more