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What To Check On A Car Before A Long Trip


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Jeana Silverstein



Planning a long trip can be an exciting adventure, whether it’s a road trip to a scenic destination or a cross-country journey to explore new places. However, before hitting the road, it’s essential to ensure that your car is in top shape to avoid any unexpected breakdowns and interruptions along the way. Taking the time to check your car thoroughly before a long trip can help prevent potential issues and ensure a smoother and safer travel experience.


In this article, we will guide you through the essential checks to perform on your car before embarking on a long trip. These checks will help identify any potential problems and give you peace of mind, knowing that your vehicle is ready for the road ahead.


From inspecting the tires and fluids to checking the battery and lights, we’ll cover all the important aspects that should be looked at. Additionally, we’ll discuss the importance of having an emergency kit and essential tools on hand, just in case. So, let’s dive into the details and make sure your car is prepared for your upcoming adventure!



Checking the condition of your tires is crucial before a long trip. Start by inspecting the tire tread depth. Inadequate tread depth can significantly impact traction and handling, especially on wet or slippery roads. Use a tread depth gauge or the penny test to measure the tread depth. Place a penny upside down into the tread grooves, and if you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, it’s time to replace the tires.


It’s also important to check the tire pressure. Properly inflated tires ensure optimal fuel efficiency and handling. Refer to your car’s manual or the inside of the driver’s door for the recommended tire pressure. Use a tire pressure gauge to check each tire and inflate or deflate them as needed.


Inspect the tires for any signs of damage, such as cuts, bulges, or punctures. These can compromise tire integrity and lead to blowouts or flats during your trip. If you notice any significant damage, it’s best to get the tire replaced before hitting the road.


Lastly, don’t forget to check the spare tire as well. Ensure it’s properly inflated and in good condition. Familiarize yourself with the location of the jack and other necessary tools to change a tire, in case you need to do so during your journey.


By adequately maintaining your tires, you not only reduce the risk of tire-related issues but also enhance safety and improve fuel efficiency over long distances. Don’t overlook this essential check before your trip.



Checking the various fluids in your car is essential for its overall performance and reliability during a long trip. Here are the key fluids to inspect:

  • Engine Oil: Make sure that the oil level is within the recommended range. Also, check the oil’s color and consistency. If it appears dark or dirty, consider getting an oil change before your trip.
  • Coolant/Antifreeze: Ensure that the coolant level is adequate and that it is mixed with the recommended antifreeze ratio. This is especially important if you’ll be traveling through areas with extreme temperatures.
  • Brake Fluid: Check the brake fluid level and ensure that it is between the minimum and maximum markers on the reservoir. If the fluid appears dirty or discolored, it may need to be flushed and replaced.
  • Transmission Fluid: Consult your car’s manual to determine the procedure for inspecting the transmission fluid level. In some vehicles, you may need to have it checked by a professional.
  • Power Steering Fluid: Make sure the power steering fluid level is at the appropriate mark. If you notice any leaks or if the fluid appears dark or contaminated, it may be time for a fluid flush and replacement.
  • Windshield Washer Fluid: Ensure that the windshield washer fluid reservoir is filled. This will ensure clear visibility during your trip, especially if you encounter dusty or rainy conditions.

Regularly checking these fluids and making sure they are at the correct levels will help keep your car running smoothly and prevent any potential issues that could arise during your journey. If any of the fluids appear low or in poor condition, have them topped up or replaced before embarking on your trip.



Ensuring that your brakes are in proper working condition is of utmost importance before a long trip. Here are a few key areas to check when it comes to your car’s brakes:

  • Brake Pads: Inspect the brake pads for wear. Worn brake pads can negatively impact your car’s braking performance and increase stopping distance. If the brake pads are worn down to the indicators or have a thickness of less than 3mm, it’s recommended to have them replaced.
  • Brake Discs/Rotors: Check the brake discs for any visible signs of damage, such as deep scoring or warping. Excessive wear or damage may require getting the brake discs resurfaced or replaced.
  • Brake Fluid: As mentioned in the previous section, check the brake fluid level and ensure its condition. Contaminated or low brake fluid can lead to a decrease in brake performance. If needed, have the brake fluid flushed and replaced.
  • Brake Lines: Examine the brake lines for any signs of leaks or damages. Damaged brake lines can lead to a loss of brake pressure, compromising your ability to stop the vehicle effectively. If you notice any issues, it’s crucial to have them repaired before your trip.

If you notice any unusual noises, vibrations, or changes in brake performance, it’s advisable to have a professional mechanic inspect your brakes thoroughly. Maintaining proper brake functionality ensures your safety and that of your passengers on the road.



The battery is the heart of your car’s electrical system, and it’s essential to ensure it is in good condition before a long trip. Here are a few steps to take when checking your car’s battery:

  • Battery Age: Determine the age of your battery. Most car batteries have a lifespan of around 3-5 years. If your battery is nearing the end of its lifespan, it may be wise to replace it before your trip to avoid any unexpected battery failure on the road.
  • Battery Connections: Inspect the battery terminals for any signs of corrosion or loose connections. Corrosion can hinder the flow of electricity and affect battery performance. If you notice corrosion, clean the terminals with a battery cleaning brush and a mixture of baking soda and water.
  • Battery Voltage: Use a voltmeter to check the battery voltage. A fully charged battery should read around 12.6 volts. If the voltage is significantly lower, it may indicate a weak or discharged battery that may need to be charged or replaced.
  • Battery Fluid: For batteries with removable caps, check the fluid level in each cell. If the fluid level is low, add distilled water to bring it up to the recommended level. However, many modern batteries are maintenance-free and do not require checking or refilling the fluid.

Carrying a set of jumper cables or a portable jump starter is a good practice in case your battery dies during your trip. However, it’s best to start your journey with a fully charged and healthy battery to avoid any potential issues.


If you have concerns about your battery’s health or are unsure about its condition, it’s recommended to have it tested by a professional mechanic before your trip. This will help ensure that your battery is up to the task and provide you with a worry-free journey.



Properly functioning lights are crucial for your safety and visibility on the road, especially during long trips that may involve driving at night or in adverse weather conditions. Before embarking on your journey, take the time to check all the lights on your car:

  • Headlights: Test both the high beam and low beam headlights to ensure they are working correctly. If the headlights appear dim or one of the bulbs is out, replace them before your trip.
  • Brake Lights: Ask someone to help you check the brake lights while you press the brake pedal. If any of the brake lights are not functioning, replace the bulbs immediately.
  • Turn Signals: Activate both the left and right turn signals and ensure that all the corresponding lights are working properly. Replace any burnt-out bulbs.
  • Tail Lights: Check the tail lights to ensure they are functioning correctly, as they play a crucial role in signaling your presence to other drivers, especially in low visibility conditions.
  • Reverse Lights: Test the reverse lights by engaging the reverse gear and checking if the lights come on. Replace any faulty bulbs.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to clean the exterior of the light lenses to remove any dirt or grime that may reduce the clarity of the lights. Clear and bright lights not only improve your visibility but also make your car more visible to others on the road, enhancing safety for everyone.


If you discover any issues with your lights that you are unable to resolve, it’s advisable to have a professional mechanic or automotive technician inspect and repair them before your trip. Remember, ensuring that all your lights are in working order is crucial for a safe and enjoyable journey.


Belts and Hoses

Belts and hoses play a critical role in the proper functioning of your car’s engine and other systems. It’s important to inspect them before a long trip to ensure they are in good condition and free from any signs of wear or damage. Here’s what you should check:

  • Drive Belts: Check the condition and tension of the drive belts, which include the serpentine belt, timing belt, and accessory belts. Look for signs of cracking, fraying, or excessive wear. If you notice any issues, it’s best to have them replaced. Loose or worn-out belts can lead to engine overheating or failure.
  • Radiator Hoses: Inspect the radiator hoses for leaks, bulges, or soft spots. These hoses carry coolant to and from the engine and radiator, and any damage can result in coolant leaks and engine overheating. Replace any hoses that show signs of wear or damage.
  • Heater Hoses: Similarly, check the heater hoses for any signs of deterioration or leaks. These hoses supply hot coolant to the heater core inside the car’s cabin, and any issues can result in insufficient heat or coolant loss.
  • Power Steering Hoses: If your car has power steering, inspect the power steering hoses for leaks or damage. Damaged hoses can lead to power steering fluid loss, affecting the performance of the steering system.
  • Air Conditioning Hoses: If you plan to use your car’s air conditioning system during your trip, it’s essential to check the air conditioning hoses for any signs of leaks or damage. Replace any faulty hoses to ensure efficient cooling.

Inspecting and replacing worn or damaged belts and hoses is a vital preventive measure that can help avoid unexpected failures and breakdowns. By taking the time to check these components before your trip, you can enjoy a smoother and more trouble-free journey.


Wipers and Windshield

Clear visibility is essential for safe driving, especially during inclement weather or when encountering debris on the road. Before embarking on a long trip, make sure to inspect your wipers and windshield:

  • Windshield Wipers: Check the condition of your wiper blades. Look for any signs of wear, such as fraying or cracking. If the blades are not making proper contact with the windshield or leaving streaks, it’s time to replace them. Good wiper blades ensure clear visibility and the ability to effectively remove water, snow, or debris from the windshield.
  • Windshield Washer Fluid: Ensure that the windshield washer fluid reservoir is filled with a suitable washer fluid. Check the nozzles to make sure they are not clogged. Having enough washer fluid and functioning nozzles will allow you to clean the windshield as needed during your trip.
  • Windshield Condition: Inspect the windshield for any chips, cracks, or damage. Small chips can quickly turn into larger cracks when exposed to vibrations or temperature changes during a long trip. If you notice any significant damage, it’s advisable to have it repaired or replaced before hitting the road.

Don’t underestimate the importance of clear visibility while driving. Properly functioning wipers and a clean, undamaged windshield will greatly enhance your safety and ability to react to changing road conditions.


Lastly, consider carrying a backup set of wiper blades and extra windshield washer fluid in case of emergencies or if you anticipate encountering challenging weather conditions during your trip. Being prepared will ensure that you can maintain optimal visibility throughout your journey.


Air Conditioning and Heating System

When embarking on a long trip, it’s essential to have a comfortable driving environment regardless of the weather outside. Checking your car’s air conditioning and heating system will ensure that you can maintain a pleasant temperature throughout your journey. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Air Conditioning System: Test the air conditioning system to ensure that it is cooling the air effectively. If the air feels warm or the system is not blowing cold air, it may indicate a refrigerant leak or a malfunctioning component. In such cases, it is recommended to have the system inspected and repaired by a professional.
  • Heating System: Test the heating system to ensure that it is providing adequate warmth. If the heater is not producing enough heat, there may be issues with the coolant flow or the heater core. Again, it’s best to have a professional inspect and repair any problems with the heating system.
  • Cabin Air Filter: Check and replace the cabin air filter if necessary. A dirty or clogged cabin air filter can reduce the efficiency of the air conditioning and heating system and affect the quality of air inside the car’s cabin.

Having a properly functioning air conditioning and heating system will not only keep you comfortable during the trip but also help prevent driver fatigue caused by extreme temperatures.


Don’t forget to adjust the temperature settings and fan speed according to your preferences before hitting the road. It’s also a good idea to have a few extra layers of clothing or a blanket handy, especially if you’ll be traveling through colder regions or at night.


By ensuring the optimal functioning of your car’s air conditioning and heating system, you can enjoy a comfortable and pleasant journey, regardless of the weather outside.


Spare Tire and Jack

Having a functional spare tire and a reliable jack is imperative for any long trip, as it prepares you for unexpected flat tires or punctures along the way. Here’s what you should do to ensure your spare tire and jack are ready:

  • Spare Tire Inspection: Check the condition of your spare tire. Look for any signs of damage, such as cuts or bulges. Ensure that the tire is properly inflated and has sufficient tread depth for safe use. If your spare tire is not in good condition, consider replacing it before your trip.
  • Jack and Lug Wrench: Locate your car’s jack and lug wrench, which are necessary for changing a tire. Ensure that they are in working condition and easily accessible. Familiarize yourself with the process of safely jacking up your car and removing a tire.
  • Tire Changing Tools: Check if you have all the necessary tools, such as a tire iron or socket wrench, to remove and tighten the lug nuts. Having the appropriate tools will make the tire changing process easier and more efficient.
  • Tire Changing Knowledge: Brush up on your knowledge of how to change a tire. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, consult your car’s manual or watch instructional videos online. It’s a valuable skill that can save you time and money in case of a tire emergency.

Before setting off on your trip, it’s a good idea to do a quick test run of changing a tire in a safe and controlled environment. This will help ensure that you are familiar with the process and can do it effectively if the need arises on the road.


Remember to also carry a flashlight and reflective warning triangles or flares for added safety when changing a tire, especially if it happens at night or in low visibility conditions.


By inspecting and preparing your spare tire and jack, you’ll be ready to handle any unexpected tire troubles during your long trip and minimize the impact on your travel plans.


Emergency Kit and Tools

Before embarking on a long trip, it’s crucial to have an emergency kit and essential tools on hand in case of unforeseen circumstances or emergencies on the road. Here’s what you should include in your emergency kit:

  • First Aid Kit: Ensure that you have a well-stocked first aid kit that includes bandages, antiseptic ointment, pain relievers, and any necessary prescription medications.
  • Emergency Contact Information: Keep a list of emergency contact numbers, including those of roadside assistance, your insurance provider, and close family or friends.
  • Reflective Vest and Warning Triangles: In the event of a breakdown or an accident, a reflective vest will make you more visible to other drivers, and warning triangles can help alert oncoming traffic to your presence.
  • Basic Toolkit: Include a basic toolkit that consists of a set of screwdrivers, pliers, an adjustable wrench, and a tire pressure gauge. These tools will come in handy for minor repairs or adjustments.
  • Jumper Cables or Portable Jump Starter: Carry a set of jumper cables or a portable jump starter in case your car battery dies and you need a jumpstart. These can be lifesavers in remote areas with limited assistance.
  • Flashlight: A durable and reliable flashlight with extra batteries will be invaluable in case of nighttime breakdowns or emergencies.
  • Blankets or Extra Clothing: Pack blankets or extra warm clothing to keep yourself and your passengers comfortable in case of unexpected cold weather or if you need to stay warm while waiting for assistance.
  • Non-Perishable Snacks and Water: It’s always a good idea to have some non-perishable snacks and bottled water on hand in case of unexpected delays or extended periods on the road.
  • Portable Phone Charger: A portable phone charger or power bank will ensure that your phone remains charged and functional in case of emergencies or when you need to make important calls for assistance.

Having an emergency kit and essential tools can provide peace of mind and ensure that you are prepared to tackle unexpected situations during your trip. Regularly check your emergency kit to replenish any expired or depleted items.


Remember, prevention is key, but being prepared for the unexpected can make all the difference when faced with challenging situations on the road.



Preparing your car before a long trip is an essential step in ensuring a safe and enjoyable journey. By taking the time to check various components and perform necessary maintenance, you can significantly reduce the risk of unexpected breakdowns and disruptions along the way.


From inspecting the tires and fluids to checking the battery, lights, belts, hoses, and emergency kit, each aspect plays a crucial role in the overall performance and reliability of your vehicle.


By regularly maintaining and addressing any issues with these components, you enhance the safety of yourself, your passengers, and other road users. Additionally, proper maintenance can help improve fuel efficiency and prevent costly repairs down the line.


Preparation is key to a successful trip. Remember to familiarize yourself with how to change a tire, have all the necessary tools on hand, and pack an emergency kit with essential items.


Lastly, enjoy the journey! With a well-prepared car and a peace of mind, you can fully immerse yourself in the experience of exploring new places, creating memories, and enjoying the freedom of the open road.


Safe travels!