Road trips can play havoc on a vehicle, inside and out, which is why it's best to go into them with a car in tip-top shape. Here are 10 tips to make sure your vehicle is ready for that big adventure.
Check under the hood
Check tires and tire pressure
Vacuum your car
Give your windows a polish
Service your windshield wipers
Inspect your cabin air filters
Refresh headlight for lens clarity
Wash and wax your finish
Top up on gasoline
Test all lighting systems
Even if you haven’t serviced your car in a while and everything appears to be working alright, don’t refrain from inspecting the basics under the hood. Start by checking that belts are taut and without cracks, and fluid levels (brakes, transmission, radiator, engine oil and windshield washer) are where they should be; top them up if necessary, and if it’s been a while, consider bringing it in for an oil change. Same goes for the air filter. Check the connection terminals around the battery for any acid deposits and inspect the battery itself or get it tested at Canadian Tire. Don’t chance it if the battery is really old—just replace it.
Underinflated tires not only wear faster and increase the risk of blowouts, they add rolling resistance and cut fuel mileage, contributing to greater amounts of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. In a cross-country survey, the Rubber Association of Canada found that 70 percent of randomly tested vehicles had at least one tire with an inflation problem. A pre-road trip check is a great time to inspect sidewalls for cracks, cuts and punctures, and treads for excessive wear.
Vacuum the cabin first to eliminate the particles that can become airborne dust, and to pick up dirt, bugs, gravel, spilled potato chips, popcorn and pet hair. You can drag the household vacuum cleaner to the driveway or curb, or you can use a portable vacuum unit designed specifically for vehicles. There are also a variety of Earth-friendly cleaning products out there to penetrate into fibres to loosen embedded dirt.
It pays to see where you’re going, but if your windows are coated in smudges and dirt, that will be a hard thing to do. Today, there are a wide range of sprays and wipes just for glass that can help you net a crystal-clear window. In case your vehicle has tinted windows, just make sure to avoid ammonia-based solvents when cleaning them off on the inside. Check your windshield as well to see if there are any concerning cracks or chips in the glass; if so, have them repaired well before your road trip begins.
Rain can put a damper on a road trip, but it shouldn’t stop you from pressing on—just make sure your wipers are ready to work if need be. Common knowledge dictates that once your windshield wipers start leaving streaks behind them, the rubber lining has started to crack and will need to be replaced. With a huge variety of both aftermarket and original manufacturer wiper blades, they are easy to find and just as easy to replace. Owners of hatchbacks, station wagons, SUVs and crossovers should check the condition of the rear wiper blade as well, since the rubber degrades at a similar pace, albeit not as fast as the wipers in front.
Road tripping requires spending a considerable amount of time in the car, which means the cabin air filter will be working overtime in keeping everything breathable and free of any pollen or dust. Inspect the filter, looking for significant amounts of dust and debris; be sure to replace it if in poor condition. Exact location of the cabin air filters varies vehicle to vehicle, so check your owner’s manual beforehand.
Clear, clean headlights are especially critical for safe nighttime driving, but over time plastic lenses can turn yellow and become scratched, interfering with light projection. Headlight lens restorers allow owners to reverse discoloration and reduce scratches, returning the lens to like-new condition. Once the lenses have been restored, you can use a headlight protectant as a barrier between the plastic and harmful ultraviolet rays, to prolong the clarity and brilliance of the lenses. If necessary, consider replacing the bulbs, too, since these can dim over time.
Peering through dirty windows and wiping road muck off your car is never a good thing, especially before setting off on a trip, because let’s face it; your car will get a lot dirtier by the time you get back. A thorough wash of the body, wheel wells, and the wheels themselves is a great start. For that extra protection, apply a paste or liquid-based wax in a circular motion, then polish to a shine with a microfiber cloth or a buffer pad attached to a hand-held electric polisher, to keep it shiny all the way through your road trip! (Never wash or wax your vehicle in direct sunlight.)
Sounds like a no-brainer, but in the midst of packing everything, checking the car inside and out, and making sure everyone onboard is okay and properly fastened, topping up your fuel tank could quickly become an afterthought. Be sure to visit a gas station first if you haven’t already; it also makes for a good stop to pick up any snacks that have been otherwise forgotten at home.
Bulbs come and go, so it’s good practice to occasionally perform a test of your car’s lighting systems, especially before a road trip. While outside the car, have someone sit inside and switch on and off the daytime running lights; both low- and high-beam headlamps; signal lights; rear/brake lights; reverse lights; and, if equipped, the fog lights. Note that driving with inadequate lighting on your vehicle is not only unsafe, but could also land you in trouble with the law as well.