Don’t just pack your suitcases and holiday dishes for your Christmas road trip; add these to-do’s to your holiday task list so you can get to your holiday destination safely and without an emergency tow.
Oil level & change
Before you head out on the road, check the level of your oil to make sure your engine has adequate lubrication for your trip. If your car needs an oil change, don’t procrastinate. Schedule an appointment so you can head out on the road with fresh oil (which lubricates better than dirty oil).
How to check your oil: Turn off your engine and grab a paper towel. Open the hood of your car and locate your dipstick. Pull your dipstick out. Wipe the oil off the dipstick. Put the dipstick back in and pull it out. Make sure your oil level is between the two lines on the dipstick (and not above the max line). If your oil level is low, add oil. Make sure you added enough by checking the oil again when you are done. If your oil level is low every time you check it, tell your mechanic at your next appointment. A low oil level can indicate an oil leak or another issue.
Headlights & taillights check
It happens to everyone: you’re driving around without a headlight or brake light and don’t even know it. Even if you don’t intend to drive through the dark during your holiday getaway, working headlights and taillights are crucial for safe travel (especially in a snowstorm!).
How to check your headlights & taillights: Put your car in park (if it’s not already). Turn on your car and your headlights, and check to make sure you two working (and bright) headlights. Repeat with your taillights and blinkers to make sure they work when you need them.
Tire tread & pressure check
Good tires and adequate tire pressure are essential for safe travel (especially on our slippery Wisconsin winter roads!) and good gas mileage. Check you tire tread with a penny into the tread of your tire. If you can completely see Abraham Lincoln’s head, you need new tires. Make sure you try this trick in a few different places on the tire. Tires can wear differently, leaving some tires with uneven tread depth.
How to check your tire pressure: Find out what the correct Pounds per Square Inch (PSI) for your car is. The proper PSI (pounds per square inch-tire pressure) is in your car’s owner manual or on a decal on the bottom of your door frame on the driver’s side.
Get a tire pressure gauge. Remove the cap from the tire stem. (The tire stem is a small rubber piece sticking up from your tire.) Insert the tire pressure gauge into the tire stem. You will feel the gauge fit in there correctly. (If you have a gauge with a knob for deflation, you will know if you are using the right end if you DON’T hear air escaping.) The end of your tire pressure gauge will register a number electronically or the white numbers will rise at the other end of the tire pressure gauge.
Brakes may not be the most exciting part of your car, but it’s certainly one of the most important. When wet, it’s normal for your car brakes to make an occasional squeal. If the noise continues even when the weather isn’t wet, your brake pads are ready for replacement. The squealing sound is actually a warning indicator built in by the manufacturer just to let you know that it’s time to get them replaced. If you don’t get your brakes looked it, and possibly replaced, your brake pedal is going to go to the floor and you’re going to keep going when you don’t want to.
Other signs of bad car or truck brakes include: a grinding noise that goes away you press the brakes, a soft or pulsating brake pedal, or when your car pulls to one side. If your car is doing the latter, there are other car problems, such as an alignment issue. Schedule an appointment with your mechanic to get a diagnosis so you can get to your Christmas celebration safely.
Check your fluids
Nothing’s worse than not having windshield washer when you need it. Fill your windshield washer reservoir before you head out for the holidays. Check your windshield wipers to confirm they can clean your windshield.
If your transmission fluid hasn’t been flushed (ever), schedule an appointment with your mechanic. Your car uses transmission fluid to shift gears, so a dirty transmission fluid can cause a very expensive transmission failure—and a huge headache when you’re stranded while trying to get to your holiday fun. To keep your transmission shifting, and you on the road, make an appointment to have your transmission fluid flushed every 30-60,000 miles (or as low as 15,000 miles for workhorse vehicles).
Emergency winter car kit
You never know what’s going to happen when you head to your Christmas celebration. Prepare for the unexpected with an emergency travel kit. Double check to make sure you have the number of a tow truck in your cell phone, and on a card just in case you have a low cell battery.
What should be in your emergency winter kit:
- Flashlight (with new batteries)
- Jack and lug wrench (if not already in your vehicle)
- Jumper cables
- First aid kit
- Cell phone charger