Heading Off on a Road Trip? Use This 7-Item Car Maintenance Checklist Before You Go

UPDATED: May 20, 2024
PUBLISHED: May 24, 2024
Young women doing road trip car maintenance

National Road Trip Day is May 24, 2024. This holiday honors people who love going on a driving adventure to get to their destination. According to a survey by The Vacationer, road trips are a very popular form of travel, with 75% of respondents saying they plan to take a road trip this summer. 

To have a successful journey here are some road trip car maintenance tips to get your vehicle ready and to keep it functioning effectively during the trip.

Your road trip car maintenance checklist

1. Get a pre-inspection 

If you plan to go on a long road trip, you should schedule a pre-inspection of your car, even if you have a new one. “You wouldn’t want to just assume that everything’s OK,” says Jai Santora, owner of Santora Automotives in North Oxford, Massachusetts. At her shop, she charges around $50 for this service. Check your local automotive stores for prices in your area.

During a pre-inspection the mechanic will assess your vehicle and any problems that may disrupt your trip, including brake issues, low fluids or worn tires explains Chaya Milchtein, author of the book Mechanic Shop Femme’s Guide to Car Ownership: Uncomplicating Cars for All of Us. Fixing issues before your trip will prevent your car from breaking down during your vacation. 

Schedule your pre-inspection for at least one week prior to your trip, suggests Santora. If you wait until the day before your trip and your car has issues, then that doesn’t provide enough time for the automotive shop to order parts or make necessary repairs. 

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2. Check your spare tire, wipers and fluids 

No road trip car maintenance checklist would be complete without making sure you have a spare tire. “This is often forgotten,” says Santora. She says some people leave their spare in their garage. Also, newer cars might not have a spare tire. “People aren’t aware” that they don’t have one, says Robin Reneau, owner of Rob the Blonde Mechanic in Conyers, Georgia. She also suggests checking the air pressure on the spare.

Another recommendation from Reneau is testing your wipers to make sure they are clearing the windshield. “If it’s streaking,” then it may need to be replaced, she says. It’s also important to top off fluids. Santora suggests checking belts and hoses. “A belt can just crack,” she says. 

3. Prepare your emergency kit and other items

Milchtein suggests creating your own kit instead of purchasing a premade one. “You really have to tailor your emergency kit to your driving situation,” she says. 

Add a flashlight and tire gauge to the kit. If you break down at night, you will need light. “It can be incredibly difficult to do a repair without a flashlight,” Santora says. Other items for your kit are road flares, reflectors, a blanket, a charged jump starter, tire inflator kit, snacks, water and first-aid items. 

4. Sign up for roadside assistance 

Beyond car maintenance for road trips you should also consider signing up with a roadside assistance program like AAA or OnStar before your trip. If your car breaks down, they will provide emergency services either as part of the program or for a small fee. Your car insurance may cover the cost to join the program or offer a discount.

5. Plan breaks 

Plan driving breaks to stretch your legs, drink some water and refocus yourself, Milchtein says. She explains that distance driving can be exhausting, which can affect your attention on the road. Reneau plans where her rest stops will be before the trip to ensure she is stopping at safe areas and has adequate breaks.

During the road trip

6. Check your car during the trip 

Milchtein says that during the trip you should check your engine oil along with your tire pressure regularly. She explains that if there are any red flags, it might be worth getting your car checked out before continuing on the trip. “Keep an eye on your gauges,” says Santora. “That gives you an indication of early signs of when something might be going wrong.” 

“A lot of people will ignore the tire pressure light,” Reneau says. She says it’s important to pay attention to your tire pressure signal because you might have a slow leak that isn’t noticeable on the tire. She adds that if you had your tires rotated and the sensors weren’t reset, the sensor may be on the wrong tire—so use a gauge to check all your tires. 

7. Your car breaks down, what should you do? 

Move your car to a safe place on the side of the road and then get out of your car. Your car could be flammable or you could get hit by another vehicle, so it’s important to move to a safe space away from it. 

“Make sure that you alert other drivers,” Santora says. She suggests putting on your hazard lights or using road flares or reflectors so drivers don’t hit you or your car. Once you are safe, you can then contact roadside assistance or emergency services if necessary.

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