Road Trip Planner
Reader Question: I am taking a road trip with my family, is there some kind of repair schedule I should ask my mechanic to perform before I hit the road? Im not much of a road trip planner.

Don't let Ho-Ho-Ho turn into Tow-Tow-Tow!

I get at least one customer a week who brings their car to my shop and says, "I'm going on an out-of-state road trip with the family, would you please look my car over and make sure it is road-worthy"? My reply is, "Sure, we can do that, when are you leaving?" You would be surprised at how often I hear, "Tomorrow."

Now I know that during the planning stages of an out-of-town road trip, some things could possibly be overlooked till the last minute, but you would think at least one thing would have come to mind: reliable transportation! Breaking down on a road trip with a carload of college buddies and a cooler of beer used to be fun, but for most of the normal driving public, breaking down on the side of the road can be a nightmare. So, if you are planning a road trip, place a good deal of emphasis on preparing your vehicle. Allowing your mechanic ample time to inspect and repair your vehicle properly should be your number one priority.

Some ideas for vehicle road-worthiness would be:

1. Take your car to your regular mechanic's shop two weeks prior to your trip. Hopefully you have a regular mechanic that you know and trust. This should NOT be a quick-lube type place, but a full service repair shop or new car dealership. I personally would not want to test the workmanship of a new mechanic on a road trip with my family. Two weeks prior? Definitely. Give your mechanic time to make necessary repairs, and some room for adjustments. If your mechanic finds problems and repairs parts on your vehicle, you will want a week or so "break in period" to test the fix(s) before you hit the road. In most cases, if anything goes wrong after major repairs, it will be in the first 100-200 miles. Give yourself enough time to feel confident that the repairs made will not be an issue as soon as you get outside your city limits.

2. Make sure that you have the following items in your car before you leave: Flashlight, pen, paper, and disposable camera. Just in case of an accident, take lots of pictures of the scene, the other car involved (including license plate), the other driver , and anyone else in their car, etc. Take pictures of the road condition i.e. was it wet, was there an obstacle in the road that could have caused the accident, was it at a intersection with a stop sign or traffic light, if at night was it lit and well marked? Get business cards or contact information from anyone that could be a witness, and if at all possible get them to give their statement to the police officer at the scene. It seems that a few days after an accident the memory of small details becomes cloudy and unclear to some people, and in worst cases the story of how, where, and who was involved in the accident can become fabricated.

3. Take along some extra supplies that your car might need while on the road. A new bottle of anti-freeze, engine oil, and transmission fluid could really come in handy if a roadside emergency were to occur. A can of Fix-A- Flat, jumper cables, small box of tools including screw drivers, pliers, a few spare radiator hose clamps that you can get from your mechanic, roll of electrical tape, and a hand towel to wipe your hands should all be packed in your car. Fix-A-Flat should only be used in case of an emergency and not to be used just to add a small amount of air to the tires. Fix-A-Flat and other products like it require that the tire be removed from the wheel, and the product be removed from inside the tire and a permanent repair be preformed. Caution: Some tire sealants are flammable and all are very messy and sticky, so you will appreciate the towel to wipe off your hands.

4. A few recommendations that will aid in driver comfort are: Install new wiper blades and fill up the washer bottle with windshield washer solvent to help keep the windshield clean (seems wiper blades are never thought about unless it is raining). Bring along sunglasses, a few of your favorite music cd's or cassettes, wear comfortable clothes and shoes, and bring a jacket and rain gear just incase you have to be outside your vehicle for an emergency situation. A cell phone is a very helpful tool to have on your travels, but make sure you will have reception in the region you are traveling in, and don't forget the battery charger. Some cell phone companies offer roadside assistance for its customers, call your cell phone service provider and see if this service is offered.

Have your auto mechanic perform all regular scheduled maintenance on your car before you head off on your travels, and make sure to tell him where you will be going. If I know that you are going to be traveling in a hilly, snowy location pulling a small trailer I would make sure to inspect items that would be more prone to cause trouble in that kind of situation. Traveling through a hot arid dessert would require a different inspection than a winter trip. For a list of automotive maintenance schedule items I feel are important to perform at certain mileage intervals.

road trip planner

Austin C. Davis
The Honest Mechanic

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