It’s summer. OK, it’s technically spring still, but the temperatures are climbing towards 90 here in Denver. That means that it is high time for a road trip. Folks are taking to their cars in order to take off to the beach… or the mountains… or Las Vegas, if preferred. But a long road trip can be demanding on your engine, so it is best to prep your vehicle before you tack on thousands of miles. Here’s what you can do to prepare your vehicle for the big journey:
Check the Radiator
Your radiator keeps your engine cool, and that’s an especially important task while you’re soaring over miles of tarmac. Make sure that your radiator is in tip top shape before you hit the road. Do you have enough coolant in the radiator? Is the cap airtight? And the reservoir cap too? How do the radiator pipes look? Any leaks? When is the last time you had a coolant flush (You should get one every 40,000 miles or so!)? Does the temperature of your engine level out at a safe temperature? Is your temperature gage even working? OK, good. Your radiator is ready to go.
Change the Oil
If your vehicle is going to soar past the recommended oil change mileage, give it an oil change before you set sail. Sure, it’ll set you back a few dollars, but it is far less expensive to repair engine damage. Your vehicle’s oil is its lifeblood. Without enough oil, your engine can completely fail, and with contaminated oil, you can irrevocably damage your vehicle. Just change the oil before you go.
Check Your Tires & Brakes
You’ll need good, working brakes and at least four good tires to start your trek. Take a look at the pads on your brakes, and check the rotors. Are they up to snuff? When is the last time you changed the brake fluid (It’s recommended that a vehicle’s brake fluid is changed at least every 20,000 miles.). OK, then take a look at your tires. How is the tread? Do you see bald spots? Check the pressure on all of your tires.
Replace the Air Filter
If you have an old air filter, you could be choking your engine. Engines rely on clean air to combust their fuel. So replace your vehicle’s air filter when it is gunked up. Most air filters should be replaced every 30,000 to 45,000 miles.
Replace Those Wipers
Weather happens. Bugs get smashed. Birds poop. And with enough debris or precipitation, your view can be compromised. Make sure that your car is outfitted with a good pair of wiper blades. And be sure to fill up your wiper fluid reservoir is full. Is the wiper fluid pump operational? Good.
Take a Quick Scan of Your Lights
Recruit some help, and make sure that all of your lights are working. Throw on the hazard lights, the high-beams, your blinkers, and your brakes to make sure every light flicks on. Also, it’s a good idea to get a few backup bulbs. Take a look at your owner’s manual to find the right bulb sizes, and one or two of each size. You should also know how to replace the lights throughout your vehicle, in case a bulb does give out while you’re en route from point A to point B.
Check the Battery
Your battery is essential for a smooth ride. Without a battery, you’ll lose your headlights, brake lights, dashboard readings, and a litany of other powered components of your vehicle. You can test your battery with a multimeter (Most vehicle batteries produce more than 12 volts without the engine running, and between 13 and 15 volts with the engine running.)—just be cautious to avoid the danger of shocking yourself. You can also perform a far less scientific check by starting the engine and turning on the headlights. If they’re dim or flickering, you have a problem. Car batteries tend to last between two and five years.
Prep Your Trunk
If your odometer is whirring through numbers, it’s best to keep an emergency kit in the back of your car—in fact, it’s a good idea to have an emergency kit regardless of the duration of a trip. As the Boy Scouts put it, it is best to be prepared! So, grab a box and fill it with all of the following items:
- Jumper Cables: Imagine pulling into a 7-Eleven for snacks (an unavoidable stop on a road trip). After acquiring the greatest snacks known to man, you turn the key… and there’s no ignition. Your battery is dead. Did you leave the lights on again? Well it’s a good thing you packed jumper cables. Now you’ll just have to track down a friendly stranger to give you a jump.
- A Pressure Gage: Keep a gage in your car, and know how to use it. If your tires have a slow leak, you’ll notice a change on a long road trip. And when you have to pull over at the nearest gas station or mechanic for some compressed air, you can rest assured your tire pressure will be appropriate for the road.
- A First Aid Kit: Snakebites, stubbed toes, a bloody nose, you never know what can happen out there. Throw a first aid kit in the trunk just to be safe. You’ll use it eventually.
- Cones: If you’re stuck on the side of the road, especially in a highly trafficked area, you could be placing yourself in danger. Keep a few cones or reflective markers to cordon off your vehicle. Reflective signs are the best option, since you may be stuck on the side of the road at night, and if the cards are really stacked against you, your battery may be dead—which means no hazard lights.
- A Flashlight: Once again, it’s nighttime and you’re stuck on the side of the road, 2 miles away from the closest gas station (and of course, you ran out of gas). It’s time to strap on your walking shoes, swallow your pride, and get truckin’ to pick up a gallon of gas. It’s a good thing you have a flashlight to navigate the terrain and warn oncoming drivers of your presence.
- A Tow Strap or Chains: You didn’t expect a freak hailstorm in the plains of Kansas, and you didn’t expect spinning out and sliding into a ditch on the side of the highway. But now you’re here, and thankfully, you’ve packed tow straps to get you out of this pinch. Once again, you’ll have to rely on the kindness of strangers for a truck with enough horsepower to get you out of this pickle, but at least you’re prepared!
- A Multi-Tool: Whether you’re opening a can of beans, tightening a clamp, or tapping on your vehicle’s starter to get to the nearest car shop, a multi-tool can be valuable on the road.
- Duct Tape: It fixes everything. I suppose duct tape should be at the top of the list. You never know when you’ll need it or why, but you’ll always need duct tape on the road.
- Blankets: Sure, it’s summer, but temperatures skydive at night, especially here in high-altitude, low-atmosphere Colorado. An old blanket can be your best friend if you’re truly stranded for the night.
- A Fire Extinguisher: It’s rare, and it is a worst-case scenario, but cars do, occasionally, light on fire. Put a fire extinguisher in your trunk, and know how to safely use it.
- Your Spare Tire: Check to make sure that you have a spare tire (yes, sometimes those go missing), and make sure that that tire is properly inflated (you can find inflation instructions in your owner’s manual or on the side of the tire). Make sure you have an operating car jack and lug wrench too—you won’t be able to change a tire without them!
While you’re at it, be sure to throw plenty of snacks and drinks in the cab of your vehicle. I prefer Gatorade®, a few Red Bulls®, Red Vines®, beef jerky, honey-roasted peanuts, and bananas (to keep the grocery list mildly healthy).
If you’re ready to take a journey across the country, we’re here to help. Here at Avalon Motorsports of Denver, we provide vehicle maintenance and repairs for German-made automobiles. We work on Audi®, BMW®, Volkswagen®, Porsche®, and Mini® autos. Count on us to get your vehicle ready for the summer months, and your big summer road trip. Get in touch to schedule your appointment for service!