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What To Check On Your Car Before A Road Trip


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Paolina Keiser



Embarking on a road trip is an exciting adventure that allows you to explore new places and create lasting memories. Whether you’re planning a cross-country journey or a weekend getaway, it’s important to ensure that your car is in top condition before hitting the open road. Taking the time to perform a thorough check of your vehicle will not only help prevent breakdowns and accidents but also give you peace of mind throughout your trip.


Before you set off on your road trip, there are several key areas of your car that you should inspect to ensure optimal performance and safety. From checking fluid levels to inspecting tires and brakes, taking care of these essential maintenance tasks can help you avoid potential issues and keep your trip running smoothly.


In this article, we’ll guide you through a comprehensive checklist of what to check on your car before a road trip. By following these steps and performing regular maintenance on your vehicle, you’ll be well-prepared to have a fantastic and worry-free adventure on the open road.


So, let’s dive in and make sure your car is road-trip ready!


Fluid Levels

Checking the fluid levels in your car is crucial to ensure smooth and efficient operation. Here are the essential fluids you should check before your road trip:

  1. Engine Oil: Start by locating the engine oil dipstick under the hood. Pull it out, wipe it clean, reinsert it, and then pull it out again to check the oil level. If it’s below the recommended level, top it up. Also, pay attention to the oil’s color and consistency. If it appears dark or gritty, it may be time for an oil change.
  2. Coolant/Antifreeze: The coolant is responsible for regulating your engine’s temperature. Ensure that the coolant level in the reservoir is between the minimum and maximum marks. If it’s low, add a mixture of coolant and water as recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer.
  3. Brake Fluid: Locate the brake fluid reservoir and check the level. If it’s below the recommended level, add the appropriate brake fluid. Low brake fluid can affect your braking performance, so it’s crucial to address any deficiencies.
  4. Power Steering Fluid: Check the power steering fluid level as indicated on the reservoir. If it’s low, add the recommended fluid. Insufficient power steering fluid can make steering more difficult, so it’s essential to maintain the proper level.
  5. Transmission Fluid: If your car has an automatic transmission, check the transmission fluid level using the dipstick. Refer to your vehicle’s manual for specific instructions on how to check and add transmission fluid if necessary.
  6. Windshield Washer Fluid: Ensure that your windshield washer fluid reservoir is filled with a suitable solution. It’s important to have a clear view of the road, especially when driving in dusty or rainy conditions.

Regularly checking and maintaining these fluid levels will contribute to the overall performance and longevity of your vehicle. If any of the fluids appear dirty or show signs of contamination, it may be necessary to have them flushed or changed before your road trip. Remember to use the correct type of fluid as specified in your vehicle’s manual.


By properly maintaining the fluid levels in your car, you’ll have a safer and more enjoyable road trip experience.



Your tires play a crucial role in the safety and performance of your vehicle, especially during a long road trip. Here’s what you should check when it comes to your tires:

  1. Tread Depth: Measure the tread depth of your tires using a tread depth gauge or a coin. The legal minimum tread depth is typically around 2/32 of an inch, but for better traction and safety, it’s recommended to have at least 4/32 of an inch. If your tire tread is worn out, it’s time to replace your tires.
  2. Tire Pressure: Use a tire pressure gauge to check the air pressure in all four tires, including the spare tire. The recommended tire pressure can be found in your vehicle’s manual or on a sticker on the driver’s door jamb. If the tire pressure is too low or too high, adjust it accordingly. Properly inflated tires not only ensure better handling and fuel efficiency but also reduce the risk of a blowout.
  3. Tire Damage: Inspect your tires for any signs of damage, such as cuts, bulges, or punctures. If you notice any significant damage, it’s advisable to replace the tire to prevent a potential blowout. Also, look for any nails or sharp objects embedded in the tires and remove them if possible.
  4. Tire Rotation: If it’s been a while since your last tire rotation, it’s a good idea to have it done before your road trip. Tire rotation helps ensure even wear and extends the lifespan of your tires.
  5. Spare Tire: Don’t forget to check the condition and inflation of your spare tire. It’s your backup in case of a flat or punctured tire on the road. Make sure it’s ready to be used by having it properly inflated and in good condition.

Additionally, consider packing a tire repair kit and a portable air compressor in case of emergencies. These tools can come in handy if you experience a minor tire puncture or need to adjust tire pressure along the way.


Remember, your tires are the only point of contact between your vehicle and the road. Taking the time to check and maintain them before your road trip will contribute to a safer and smoother journey.



The condition of your brakes is paramount to ensuring the safety of your road trip. Here are the key aspects to check regarding your brakes:

  1. Brake Pads: Inspect the brake pads to see if they are worn out. If the brake pads have less than 1/4 inch of thickness remaining, it’s advisable to replace them. Worn-out brake pads can compromise your vehicle’s stopping power and increase the braking distance.
  2. Brake Fluid: As mentioned earlier, check the brake fluid level in the reservoir. If it’s low, top it up with the proper brake fluid. It’s also crucial to ensure the brake fluid is clear and free of any contaminants. If it appears discolored or has a milky appearance, it may indicate moisture or other impurities and should be addressed.
  3. Brake Rotors: Examine the brake rotors for signs of wear or damage. If they are grooved, warped, or have deep scoring, it’s a good idea to have them resurfaced or replaced. Smooth and properly functioning brake rotors are essential for effective braking performance.
  4. Brake Lines and Calipers: Visually inspect the brake lines and calipers for any signs of leaks, cracks, or damage. Pay attention to any abnormalities in the brake pedal feel or unusual noises when applying the brakes. Any issues should be promptly addressed by a qualified mechanic.
  5. Emergency Brake: Test the functionality of your emergency brake or parking brake. Ensure that it engages and disengages smoothly and holds the vehicle securely in place when activated.

If you notice any unusual noises, vibrations, or reduced braking performance, it’s essential to have your brakes professionally inspected and serviced before embarking on your road trip. Maintaining well-functioning brakes will help provide you with the confidence and peace of mind you need while on the road.


Remember, your safety and the safety of your passengers depend on properly maintained brakes. Don’t overlook this crucial aspect of your road trip preparation.



Having a reliable battery is essential for starting your car and powering its electrical systems. Before setting off on your road trip, take the time to inspect your battery:

  1. Battery Age: Determine the age of your battery. Most car batteries have a lifespan of about 3-5 years. If your battery is approaching this timeframe or is older, it’s wise to have it tested to ensure it is still in good condition.
  2. Battery Connections: Inspect the battery terminals and cables for any signs of corrosion or loose connections. If you notice any buildup of corrosion, clean the terminals using a mixture of baking soda and water. Tighten any loose connections to ensure a secure connection.
  3. Battery Voltage: Test the voltage of your battery using a digital multimeter. A fully charged battery should measure around 12.6 volts or higher. If the voltage is significantly lower, it may indicate a weak or discharged battery that needs to be recharged or replaced.
  4. Battery Fluid: If you have a conventional battery with removable caps, check the fluid level in each cell. Ensure the fluid covers the plates but is not overflowing. If necessary, add distilled water to bring the level up to the proper mark.
  5. Battery Warning Signs: Pay attention to any warning signs that your battery may be failing, such as slow cranking, dimming headlights, or a persistent check engine light. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s advisable to have your battery tested by a professional.

If your battery is showing signs of weakness or is nearing the end of its lifespan, it’s recommended to replace it before your road trip. The last thing you want is to be stranded with a dead battery in the middle of your journey.


Additionally, consider having a set of jumper cables or a portable jump starter in your car. These can be lifesavers if you find yourself with a dead battery and need a jump-start from another vehicle.


A fully functional and well-maintained battery is key to a successful and worry-free road trip. Take the time to check and address any battery-related issues before you hit the road.



Properly functioning lights are crucial for maintaining visibility and ensuring the safety of yourself and other drivers on the road. Here’s what you should check regarding your car’s lights:

  1. Headlights: Check both your high beams and low beams to ensure they illuminate the road ahead properly. Replace any bulbs that are dim or burnt out. Additionally, clean the headlights and adjust them if necessary to ensure they are properly aligned.
  2. Brake Lights: Have someone stand behind your car while you step on the brake pedal to check if all the brake lights are working. If a brake light is out, replace the bulb to ensure that drivers behind you can see when you are braking.
  3. Turn Signals: Activate your turn signals and check that all the indicator lights on both sides of your car are functioning correctly. Replace any bulbs that are not working to ensure clear and accurate signaling to other drivers.
  4. Taillights and Rear Lights: Check that all of your vehicle’s taillights and rear lights are in working order. These lights are essential for making your car visible to other drivers, especially during nighttime driving.
  5. License Plate Lights: Ensure that the lights illuminating your license plate are functioning correctly. These lights are often overlooked but are still important for maintaining legality and visibility.
  6. Hazard Lights: Test your hazard lights (also known as emergency flashers) to ensure that all bulbs are working properly. These lights are crucial for signaling that you are in a hazardous or emergency situation.

Regularly checking and maintaining your car’s lights will enhance your visibility on the road and reduce the risk of accidents. It’s a simple yet effective way to ensure your safety and the safety of others during your road trip.


In addition to checking the lights themselves, make sure to clean the lenses to remove any dirt or debris that may affect the brightness and clarity of the lights. Clean and properly functioning lights will contribute to a safer and more enjoyable journey.


Belts and Hoses

Belts and hoses play a vital role in the proper functioning of your vehicle’s engine and other systems. It’s important to inspect them for signs of wear and damage before embarking on a road trip. Here’s what you should check:

  1. Serpentine Belt: Inspect the serpentine belt, also known as the drive belt, for any signs of cracking, fraying, or glazing on the surface. A worn or damaged belt can cause issues such as loss of power steering, overheating, or a dead battery. If you notice any significant damage, it’s advisable to replace the belt.
  2. Timing Belt: If your vehicle is equipped with a timing belt, refer to your owner’s manual for the recommended replacement interval. Timing belts are critical for the proper synchronization of your engine’s valves. Failure to replace a worn or damaged timing belt could lead to severe engine damage and costly repairs.
  3. Radiator Hoses: Inspect the radiator hoses for any bulges, cracks, or leaks. These hoses carry coolant throughout your engine’s cooling system and help regulate its temperature. If you notice any issues with the radiator hoses, have them replaced to prevent overheating and potential engine damage.
  4. Heater Hoses: Check the heater hoses for any signs of wear or leaks. These hoses transport hot coolant to the vehicle’s heater core, supplying heat to the interior cabin. Faulty heater hoses can lead to a lack of heat inside the car or coolant leaks, which should be addressed before your trip.
  5. Power Steering Hoses: Examine the power steering hoses for any leaks or damage. Power steering fluid is essential for effortless steering control, and leaks in the hoses can lead to power steering failure. If you detect any issues with the power steering hoses, have them inspected and replaced if necessary.
  6. AC (Air Conditioning) Hoses: If your car is equipped with air conditioning, check the AC hoses for any signs of leaking refrigerant or damage. Leaking AC hoses can result in a loss of cooling ability. If you notice any issues, have them addressed by a qualified technician.

Inspecting and maintaining belts and hoses can help prevent unexpected breakdowns and ensure the proper functioning of your vehicle’s essential systems. If you notice any abnormalities or are unsure about their condition, it’s recommended to have them inspected and replaced by a professional before your road trip.


By proactively checking and addressing any issues with belts and hoses, you’ll have greater peace of mind and a smoother journey ahead.



Filters play a crucial role in keeping your car’s engine and cabin clean and free from contaminants. Here are the filters you should check and potentially replace before your road trip:

  1. Engine Air Filter: The engine air filter prevents dirt, dust, and debris from entering the engine. Check the condition of the air filter and replace it if it’s dirty or clogged. A clean air filter helps maintain proper air intake, fuel efficiency, and engine performance.
  2. Cabin Air Filter: The cabin air filter ensures the air inside the car’s cabin is clean and free from pollutants. If you experience reduced airflow or notice foul odors inside the vehicle, it may be time to replace the cabin air filter. Fresh, clean air in the cabin enhances passenger comfort and can help prevent allergies and respiratory issues.
  3. Fuel Filter: The fuel filter helps keep contaminants and impurities out of the fuel system. If your vehicle has a serviceable fuel filter, it’s recommended to have it replaced as per the manufacturer’s guidelines. A clean fuel filter promotes optimal fuel efficiency and prevents potential damage to the fuel injectors and fuel pump.
  4. Oil Filter: During an oil change, the oil filter should typically be replaced as well. The oil filter captures contaminants and debris from the engine oil, ensuring that clean oil circulates through the engine. A clean oil filter contributes to proper lubrication and extends the life of your engine.

Regularly inspecting and replacing your vehicle’s filters will help maintain optimal performance, prolong the life of your engine, and ensure a clean and comfortable cabin environment during your road trip.


Remember to consult your vehicle’s manual for specific recommendations on when and how to replace each filter. If you’re unsure about the condition or replacement interval of a particular filter, it’s best to consult a trusted mechanic.


By taking care of your car’s filters, you’ll contribute to the overall health and longevity of your vehicle, making for a smoother and more enjoyable road trip experience.


Cooling System

The cooling system in your car is responsible for regulating the engine’s temperature and preventing overheating. It’s crucial to ensure that your cooling system is in excellent condition before embarking on a road trip. Here’s what you should check:

  1. Coolant/Antifreeze Level: Check the coolant level in the reservoir and make sure it’s between the minimum and maximum marks. If it’s low, add a mixture of coolant and distilled water as specified by your vehicle’s manufacturer.
  2. Coolant/Antifreeze Strength: Verify the concentration of coolant/antifreeze using a hydrometer or coolant tester. The ideal mixture depends on your climate. Ensure that the strength is appropriate to prevent freezing in colder temperatures and boiling in hotter conditions.
  3. Radiator: Inspect the radiator for any signs of leaks, damage, or clogged fins. A damaged or clogged radiator can hinder proper heat dissipation and lead to overheating. If you notice any issues, have the radiator inspected and repaired by a professional.
  4. Radiator Cap: Check the condition of the radiator cap and ensure it seals properly. A faulty cap can cause coolant leaks and result in cooling system inefficiency.
  5. Hoses and clamps: Inspect all the hoses and clamps connected to the cooling system. Look for any signs of leaks, cracks, or loose connections. Replace any damaged hoses or clamps to prevent coolant leaks, which could lead to engine overheating.
  6. Water Pump: Ensure that the water pump is functioning correctly. Look for any leaks around the water pump and listen for any unusual noises. A malfunctioning water pump can lead to coolant circulation issues and engine overheating.

Proper maintenance of your cooling system is essential for the overall health and performance of your engine. It helps prevent engine overheating and ensures that your car can operate at optimal temperature levels, especially during long drives.


If you detect any abnormalities or are unsure about the condition of your cooling system, it’s recommended to have it inspected by a professional before your road trip. They can perform a thorough evaluation and address any potential issues to keep your engine cool and running smoothly throughout your journey.


By taking the time to check and maintain your car’s cooling system, you’ll minimize the risk of engine overheating and enjoy a trouble-free road trip.


Wipers and Windshield

Clear visibility on the road is essential for a safe and enjoyable road trip. To ensure that you have a clear view of the road ahead, it’s important to check your wipers and windshield before setting off. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Windshield Wipers: Inspect the condition of your windshield wipers. Look for any signs of deterioration such as fraying, cracking, or missing rubber. If your wipers leave streaks or don’t effectively clear the windshield, it’s time to replace them. Good quality wiper blades are crucial for maintaining clear visibility during rain or snow.
  2. Windshield Washer Fluid: Ensure that your windshield washer fluid reservoir is filled with a suitable cleaning solution. Check that the washer nozzles are not clogged and properly spray the fluid onto the windshield. If the fluid level is low or the nozzles are blocked, clean or unclog them for optimal performance.
  3. Windshield Condition: Inspect your windshield for any cracks, chips, or pitting. Small chips and cracks can quickly spread and impair your visibility. If you notice any damage, have it repaired by a professional to prevent further deterioration and the need for a windshield replacement.
  4. Rear Wiper (if applicable): Don’t forget to check the condition of the rear wiper blade, especially if your vehicle is equipped with rear windshield wipers. The rear wiper plays a crucial role in maintaining visibility, especially during adverse weather conditions.

Having properly functioning wipers and a clean windshield is essential for your safety and the safety of others on the road. If the wipers are not clearing the windshield effectively or if you’re having difficulty seeing through the glass, it’s crucial to address these issues before your road trip.


Consider carrying an extra set of wiper blades and a small bottle of windshield washer fluid in case of emergencies or to top up along the way. In addition, keep a microfiber cloth or paper towels in the car to clean the windshield when needed.


By ensuring that your wipers are in good condition and your windshield is clear and unobstructed, you’ll have optimal visibility and be better prepared to navigate safely through any weather conditions you may encounter during your road trip.


Emergency Kit

When going on a road trip, it’s important to be prepared for unexpected situations or emergencies that may arise along the way. Putting together an emergency kit will provide you with peace of mind and ensure that you can handle unforeseen circumstances. Here are some essential items to include in your road trip emergency kit:

  • First Aid Kit: A well-stocked first aid kit should include items such as bandages, sterile dressings, adhesive tape, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, and any necessary prescription medications.
  • Emergency Flares or Reflective Triangles: These items can help alert other drivers of your presence in case of an accident or breakdown, especially during nighttime or low visibility conditions.
  • Tire Jack and Lug Wrench: A flat tire can happen at any time, so having the necessary tools to change a tire is essential. Make sure you have a functioning tire jack and lug wrench specific to your vehicle.
  • Jumper Cables: Dead batteries can be a common occurrence, so having a set of jumper cables will allow you to jump-start your car with the help of another vehicle.
  • Flashlight and Extra Batteries: A reliable flashlight will come in handy during nighttime emergencies or when you need to inspect your vehicle in low light conditions. Be sure to pack spare batteries as well.
  • Blankets or Extra Clothing: In case of inclement weather or if you find yourself stranded in a remote area, having blankets or extra clothing will help keep you warm and comfortable.
  • Non-Perishable Food and Water: Pack some non-perishable snacks and bottles of water in case you get stranded for an extended period. It’s always better to be prepared with sustenance, especially if help may take some time to arrive.
  • Tool Kit: Include a basic tool kit that contains essential tools such as screwdrivers, pliers, an adjustable wrench, and duct tape. These tools may come in handy for minor repairs or adjustments on the road.
  • Emergency Contact Information: Keep a list of important phone numbers, including emergency contact numbers, roadside assistance, and your insurance company. It’s also a good idea to have a printed map or a GPS device in case your phone loses signal or runs out of battery.

Remember to periodically check and replenish the supplies in your emergency kit, ensuring that everything is in good working condition. It’s also a good practice to familiarize yourself with how to use each item in your emergency kit before your road trip.


Having a well-prepared emergency kit will give you confidence and peace of mind, knowing that you are ready to handle unexpected situations that may arise while on your road trip.



Preparing your car for a road trip is essential to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey. By taking the time to check key areas of your vehicle before hitting the open road, you can minimize the risk of breakdowns and unexpected issues that can put a damper on your adventure.


From checking fluid levels to inspecting tires, brakes, and lights, each component plays a crucial role in the overall performance and safety of your car. Regular maintenance and attention to detail will not only give you peace of mind but also contribute to the longevity and reliability of your vehicle.


Including essentials such as belts, hoses, filters, the cooling system, wipers, and an emergency kit in your pre-trip checklist ensures that you are equipped to handle unforeseen situations and emergencies that may arise along the way.


Remember to refer to your vehicle’s manual for specific instructions and recommended maintenance intervals. If you’re uncertain about any aspect of car maintenance or need professional assistance, don’t hesitate to consult a qualified mechanic or technician.


As you embark on your road trip, prioritize your safety and the safety of your passengers. Enjoy the scenic views, explore new destinations, and create wonderful memories, knowing that you have taken the necessary steps to ensure that your vehicle is road-trip ready.


So, pack your bags, buckle up, and hit the road with confidence, knowing that your well-maintained and prepared car will be your trusted companion on the exciting journey ahead!