Thanks to increasingly luxurious vehicles, more and more travelers are opting to hit the road when it’s time to cover a lot of miles for a vacation or visit. While amenities like satellite radio and distractions for passengers are nice, it’s more important to make sure your car is prepared for a prolonged trip. Here’s how to make sure you (and your vehicle) can go the distance.
1. GRAB AN EMERGENCY KIT.
The only thing worse than breaking down is breaking down on a busy stretch of highway without the necessary equipment to make sure you and your passengers remain safe. A kit in your trunk should have flares (so passing traffic can spot you), oil, a flashlight, rags, extra spark plugs, a safety hammer, a seatbelt cutter and anything else recommended by your maintenance representative.
2. GET A FLUID INSPECTION.
Brake fluid, transmission fluid, antifreeze, power steering—all of it contributes to a car maintaining its locomotion. Have levels checked, replaced, or topped off before you leave, and have a serviceman check hose connections. For especially long trips, ask if you might benefit from a higher-grade oil that could be better for fuel economy.
3. CHECK YOUR TIRES AND BRAKES.
As you’ve probably heard, tires are the only connection your car has with the road: Braking, acceleration, and overall safety depends on them being in top condition. Check them for proper air pressure, punctures, and tread wear, and remember that the pressure numbers on the tires themselves are usually a max, not the ideal pressure. Check inside the door or the manual for that. For brakes, make sure you address any “soft” pedals and get a full inspection.
4. READ YOUR OWNER’S MANUAL.
It’s not exactly beach reading, but it will tell you how the car handles different situations—icy roads, steep hills—and how best to maneuver the vehicle when you encounter obstacles.
5. DON’T OVERLOAD IT.
If you have a lot of luggage or sports equipment, make sure you’re not overloading your vehicle. A load rating should be inside the driver’s door frame. And don’t overdo it on the rooftop storage rack: Being top-heavy can cause a vehicle to handle less easily during emergencies.
6. MAKE IT PET-FRIENDLY.
If you plan on having a furry passenger, make sure his or her carrying crate is secured in place and won’t slide or rattle in the event of a quick stop or accident. It’s also a good idea to have bottled water on hand for your animals, as unfamiliar, municipal water sources from other areas could cause stomach upset.
7. GO FOR A TEST DRIVE.
Don’t hit the highway often? It’s a good idea to take your vehicle out on an expressway if you’re not used to how it performs at higher speeds or during lane changes. Any unusual noises or vibrations you observe should be inspected by a mechanic.
8. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, HAVE A PLAN B.
Even if you take every precaution possible, there’s no guarantee you won’t run into—or over—an unexpected problem on the road. If your car winds up stalled or damaged, make sure you have the number of a rental car service and towing company or roadside assistance handy and also a proper car crash safety tool. Better yet, plan ahead by downloading a roadside assistance mobile app before you hop in the car.