Pre-Trip Car Checklist


Some may be more exotic, but there’s no vacation more classic than the great American road trip. In a car culture like America’s, setting out on the open road by yourself, with the family or with a few friends is a coming-of-age adventure. The destination may not even be the primary goal; all those memorable road-side stops, running jokes and heart-to-heart talks are what really make a road trip great. But the good times can quickly turn bad if you don’t put safety first.

Basic Car Maintenance

Part of planning for your road trip should include taking the car in for service to have the engine, battery, AC and tires checked. Also make sure you or an auto technician check the following:

  • Fluid levels, including brake fluid, water coolant, window washer fluid and the gas tank
  • Check lights, including headlights, fog lamps and brake lights
  • Carry a few spare fuses. You don’t want to be stranded somewhere because you don’t have a 35-cent fuse on board
  • Tire pressure
  • Spare tire
  • Make certain your jack and lug wrench that are compatible with your car and wheels

Basic Human Maintenance

Long hours in the car can be grueling, especially if you’re not accustomed to them. Taking good care of yourself and traveling companions is part of traveling safely. Don’t forget to bring:

  • Bottled water and juices and healthy snacks to munch on. Sure, heavy, salty processed food is typical road-trip fare, but snacks like that make you gassy, sleepy and bloated, none of which you want to be while stuck behind the wheel
  • Maps or a navigational system
  • A variety of fun, lively music
  • A driving schedule. If there’s another driver to share the load, switch off every three or four hours. If not, plan on taking plenty of breaks to stretch and revive yourself with a few jumping jacks or brisk walk around the block

Emergency Supplies

Some emergency items are location specific; if you’re driving on icy roads or snowstorms, camping blankets, high calorie emergency rations, sand and a shovel are recommended. But there are some items everyone should carry no matter where they’re traveling:

  • A first aid kit
  • Jumper cables
  • Roadside warning devices such as flares or cones
  • Flashlight and fresh batteries
  • Toilet paper
  • Duct tape (for everything from fixing a hose to fixing your glasses)
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • An adjustable wrench
  • One flathead and one Phillips screwdriver
  • An extra gallon of tap water in case the radiator overheats
  • Fix-a-flat (spare tires in a can)
  • Emergency contact numbers

Special Considerations

If the whole family is traveling together you may also want to include things like extra diapers and wipes, extra cans of formula and a few easy games to pass the time if you should get stuck on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck.

No matter how old you are, who you’re traveling with or how many long car trips you’ve racked up on the odometer, making sure your car is in top form before you leave will make everyone feel safer and more excited about spending long hours riding in the car. You’ll feel better too, knowing you did everything possible to keep yourself, your friends and your family on the road to great memories.

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