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Road Trip Checklist

Updated: Jun. 28, 2018

Prevent roadside disasters by following this road trip checklist

road-trip-checklistFamily Handyman
Road trips are more fun when the car doesn't break down. This quick maintenance checklist will alert you to potential problems before they turn into expensive tows.

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Road Trip Checklist: Quick maintenance checklist

Step 1: Check the condition of all belts

Broken belts are one of the most common reasons for roadside assistance calls. Replacement belts are easy to locate and replace near your home. But the belt for your car may be tough to find in rural areas. Twist the belt slightly to expose cracks or glazing. Replace any belt that is cracked, worn or delaminating.

Step 2: Check for fluid leaks

Small leaks often turn into gushers once you leave town, and that can be costly. The most common sources: the radiator, engine oil pan, transmission oil pan and hoses, power steering hoses, steering rack, and heater and radiator hoses. Use a flashlight to check for leaks. Note the color of the fluid and trace the fluid trails back to their source.

Step 3: Check and top off all fluids

With the engine off, check power steering fluid, brake fluid, coolant, windshield washer and engine oil. Most automatic transmissions must be checked with the engine hot and running and the gearshift in “park.” Check your owner’s manual to confirm. Look for the power steering fluid level to reach the COLD mark on the dipstick. If it’s low, check your owner’s manual and buy the right fluid for your vehicle.

Step 4: Check all exterior lights

They’re easy to check, and inexpensive to replace. Bulb numbers and replacement procedures are listed in your owner’s manual. Turn the key to the “accessories” position (there’s no need to start the engine). Operate the turn signals, brake lights and backup lights, and check for reflections in your rearview mirror. Perform the same checks on the front turn signal lights, headlights, high beams and running lights.

Step 5: Check the tire pressure

Low air pressure causes tires to use more gas, wear faster and run hotter. Hot tires are more prone to blowout during extended highway drives. Check them all (including the spare) before you leave town. Look for the correct air pressure on the decal located on either the driver’s door or the door pillar. If the decal is missing, check your owner’s manual. Always make sure the tires are cold when you check tire pressure.

It’s time for the beloved family road trip and everybody’s itching to get going. Better run through your road trip checklist of your car’s health first. Some discoveries can prevent “towable” experiences; others are safety issues. It would be best to run through this five-minute checklist a week ahead of departure so you’ll have time to get the car repaired if a mechanic is needed.

Required Tools for this Road Trip Checklist Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Rags
You’ll also need a trouble light, tire gauge and disposable rubber gloves.

Required Materials for this Road Trip Checklist Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • Coolant
  • Oil
  • Power steering fluid
  • Windshield washer fluid