How to Prep Your Car for a Holiday Road Trip

Do these simple maintenance checks for safe and stress-free travel

Last updated: November 20, 2015 01:00 PM

With the holidays right around the corner, now is the time to get the family sleigh ready for travel and gift-delivery duty. By taking care of simple maintenance checks now, you can help ensure stress-free driving all winter long.

Start with holiday lights

Take a walk around your car to make sure all the lights are working properly, including high and low beams, flashers, directional signals, brake lights, and the license plate light.

Wipe away troubles

If you can’t remember the last time you replaced your wiper blades, now would be a good time to do it. Our tests have found that even the best-performing blades can be ready for retirement in as little as six months. Cracks, tears, streaking, and missed spots are all sure signs. Many auto parts stores will do the installation for free while you wait.

Don’t forget washer fluid

One long road trip on slushy, salt-covered roads can require a lot of washer fluid to keep the windshield clear, and a dark and stormy night is not the time to run out. Keep a gallon in the trunk, just in case. If it gets really cold where you’ll be traveling, switch to washer fluid with an antifreeze agent.

Keep the engine cool in the cold

Extreme cold is tough on mechanical components. Check the radiator and heater hoses for cracks and leaks. Hoses should be firm yet pliable when squeezed. Generally, the antifreeze mix should be flushed at least every two years to prevent corrosion buildup. If your vehicle is almost due, take care of it now.

Check the battery

At 0° F, your battery has only half of the cranking power it has at 80 degrees. And all batteries lose strength as they age, so don’t take any chances. Many auto-parts stores or repair shops will check yours for free. If it needs replacing, check our car battery Ratings and buying advice.

Keep up the pressure

Underinflated tires cause unsafe handling and braking. Keep a tire gauge in the glove compartment, and check the pressure in all your tires once a month and before any trip. Check your owner’s manual or driver’s doorjamb for the correct pressure.

Consider winter tires

If you’re likely to encounter a snow storm in your travels, think about investing in a set of high-rated all-season tires or better yet, four winter tires. Their tread patterns and rubber compounds are designed to grip on snow and ice. Check out our full tire Ratings and buying advice.

Be prepared

Finally, make sure to have a few basics along in case you do have trouble, including a cell phone and charger, flashlight, first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, warning light or flares, jumper cables, and the proper clothing including a hat and gloves.

For more tips, see our complete guide to winter driving.

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