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A Veteran Road-Tripping Dad Shares His Top Tips on Preparing Your Car for an Extended Journey
BY Dick Snyder | August 14th, 2023
Even though by The Cars’ hit song Let the Good Times Roll has nothing to do with road tripping, it should be on your playlist as you prepare your vehicle for an extended journey.
As an experienced road-tripping dad, I understand the importance of making sure my vehicle is ready for an extended road trip. Since I’m a huge fan of lists and reminders — “everyone got their phones?!” — here are a few tips that are absolutely road-trip tested.
If your vehicle has not been to the mechanic in at least the past six months, this is your first order of business. Tell them you’re hitting the road and you need a full checkup. That means all fluids, oil, hoses, belts, wheels, tires and suspension. If your tires are near the end of their life (roughly six or seven years, generally), then consider popping on a new set.
“Don’t leave this inspection to the last minute,” says Mike Roth, owner of Starling Automotive in Toronto. “You don’t want to have a surprise the day before you leave. Take your vehicle in a week ahead, and that shouldn’t be delayed if parts aren’t available right away.”
You could splurge on a full wash and detail from your friendly local car spa, or do it yourself — either way a fresh interior will make you and the family feel extra special as you head out on the open road. Visibility is important too — and a serious cleaning of all windows and mirrors will reduce glare and eye strain along the way. On that note: a new set of wipers does wonders for clarity when you really need it.
Top Up All Fluids
You’re probably low on windshield wiper fluid — who isn’t? While you’re topping that up, check your coolant and oil. (Or, see “Tune up,” above, and go visit your mechanic.)
“Check your fluids and your indicator or warning lights while you’re on the road too,” says Roth. “Just because your vehicle was in good standing when you left doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Do not ignore warning lights. Find a local garage and ask them to check things out — ignorance isn’t bliss!”
Jumper cables or a battery bank are essentials — consider having both on hand. And don’t forget to charge the battery bank before you leave. For keyless vehicles, you might want to replace the battery in your fob, because 90 per cent of the time it’ll give out on the second day of your trip. (That’s not a scientific statistic, by the way, just Murphy’s Law.) And make sure your vehicle’s battery is in top working order — your mechanic should check it as part of a comprehensive exam, but it’s still worth a reminder. Most batteries need replacing around the five- to seven-year mark.
Many new cars come with automatic roadside service for the first several years. Double-check that you’re covered, and know where to find the handy little card with the phone number. Or, consider enrolling in a third-party service such as those offered by the Canadian Automobile Association.
“Gone are the days when you could find a service station along the highway or even in every town,” Roth says. So it’s always good to be prepared, or have assistance at the ready.
Depending on the size of your crew, consider a rooftop or trailer-hitch mounted storage solution. These can double your trunk capacity and free up interior space for important things like food and pets (or another child). Trunk organizers keep what you need close at hand, while storing everything else in a neat, accessible and rattle-free manner.
Pack a lot of snacks — so you’re not tempted by every passing rest stop. If you do graze along the way, you might want to download and set up accounts for your favourite quick-food stops so you can order ahead and save time. (Don’t forget the A&W coupons website — no one should pay retail for a Teen Burger.) Bring a cooler or cooler bag so you can pack fresh vegetables and fruit, and keep drinks cold.
Remember to bring poo bags, a leash, water, bowl, treats, food, dog bed, dog toy, dog pillow … and the dog. Or, if you’re not bringing the dog, make sure the sitter/walker has your key and alarm code, phone number and a big stash of treats. (Repeat as necessary for cats, fish, birds, iguanas, etc.)
Make sure your first aid kit is stocked and nothing has expired. Consider an emergency kit with warning lights, reflective road triangles, etc. Keep a flashlight and/or headlamp with you in the cabin. And, not to get too paranoid, but an escape hammer (aka, a car safety tool) and fire extinguisher will prove to be good investments if (or when) you really need them.
A version of this story was originally published on April 12, 2022