Category Archives: holiday travel

Last Minute Holiday Driving Checklist

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

woman driving to family holidayHeaded out to visit your family and friends for the holiday season? You’re not alone. AAA estimates that more than 90 million Americans travel more than 50 miles during the holidays. Before you hit those crowded highways, use this checklist to make your travel merry and keep you from being stranded on the side of the road in our Wisconsin winter weather.

Week before your trip

___Schedule an oil change and get any other routine maintenance done.

___Replace your battery (if you experience any of these signs of a worn out battery).

___Pack an emergency roadside kit (with these emergency items).

___Put your tow truck number in your cell phone.

___Double check that your spare tire kit is complete.

___Check your tire pressure (here’s how to check your tire pressure).

___Test your tire tread depth (if it’s low, contact your mechanic for new tires before your trip!).

___Replace any worn windshield wiper blades.

Days before your trip

___Map out your route.

___Watch weather reports.

___Pack snacks.

___Load up on entertainment for your passengers.

___Fill up your windshield reservoir.

___Check your oil.

___Take along tunes that keep you alert.

___Pack everything you need for a fun family holiday (gifts, suitcases, warm winter gear, etc.)

Once you are ready for the road, have a safe and happy holiday trip!

6 Car To Do’s Before You Hit the Road for Christmas

two girls heading out to Christmas after checking carDon’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.

Brake inspection

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)
  • Blanket
  • Jack and lug wrench (if not already in your vehicle)
  • Jumper cables
  • Boots
  • Shovel
  • First aid kit
  • Cell phone charger

7 Last Minute Car Preps Before Your Thanksgiving Trip  

cars on highway headed out for ThanksgivingThe list of preparing for holiday travel can get very long: packing, making any dishes you volunteered to bring, laundry…the list can go on and on.  The most overlooked items on your list are the preparations that get you your holiday travel destination: getting your car ready for the trip.  Before you head out on the road with the thousands of other Wisconsinites, make sure you’ve checked off all the items on the checklist that gets your car travel-ready (or made a last minute appointment with your mechanic before you hit the road).

Check (and listen to) your brakes

Your brakes are important for your safety whether you are traveling down the street or across the country.  Before you head out for Thanksgiving, have a mechanic check your brakes or pay special attention for these signs of failing brakes before your trip.

Check your tire pressure

Nothing can ruin your Thanksgiving travel like a flat tire from low tire pressure.  Use a tire pressure gauge to check your tire pressure, or have your mechanic check to make sure you have correct tire pressure when you get an oil change.

Check your tire tread

Have a mechanic check the tread wear indicators, or check them yourself with this simple test: when you put a penny in the tread of your tires, you shouldn’t be able to see all of Lincoln’s head. If you can, it’s time for new tires that can get you to your Thanksgiving destination and back home.

Check your battery (and battery connections)

Cold temperatures are hard on batteries (especially sub-freezing temps, depending on where you’re headed for Thanksgivng). Colder temperatures turn your car fluids to the consistency of molasses; this means your battery has to work extra hard to start your engine.  To make sure your battery starts every time on your trip, inspect your battery connections, clean off any corrosion or rust, and watch for any signs your battery needs to be replaced. 

Make sure you have headlights, brake lights & blinkers

Depending on how soon you need to get there—and how much you like your friends or family and the length of your visit—you’re probably going to need headlights and taillights.  You always need brake lights and blinkers.  Check every light on your vehicle before you hit the road, and make an emergency trip to the auto parts store or to your mechanic if any of your lights isn’t, well, lighting.

Replace your windshield wipers and washer

Windshield wipers are one of the cheapest and most valuable parts of your car—especially when it’s raining or snowing.  Fill up your windshield washer, check your windshield wipers, and replace any parts that aren’t doing their job.

Check your oil

Oil is vital to the health of your engine on your Thanksgiving road trip, and for every trip you intend to make in your car for the near future.  Check you oil level, and get it changed if you haven’t done so recently.  The good news is you still have time to make an appointment before you head out on your Thanksgiving road trip.

8 To-Do’s to Ready Your Car for Holiday Travel

cars on highwayAre you about to “hit the road” to visit friends or family and don’t want to ruin your road trip by bringing the literal meaning of the popular saying to life? Obviously, you don’t want to end up on the side of the road—or calling for a tow. While there’s no signed guarantee that your car can make the trip without problem, there are eight simple steps you can do to prep your car for your holiday road trip, and ensure you make it to your destination.

Change your oil.

A car engine without oil, enough oil, or very dirty oil, is an engine with a death wish and a limited life span. That’s why it’s so important to make regular appointments to get your oil changed, and to check it periodically between appointments—especially when you’re about to take a long trip. 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 and wipe off the end. Put the dipstick back in and pull it out. Your dipstick has little lines on it; make sure your oil level is between the two lines (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 you find your oil level is consistently low, mention it to your mechanic at your next appointment or when you schedule your appointment. A low oil level can indicate an oil leak or another issue.

Double check your headlights and taillights.

Everyone assumes they’d notice if a headlight or taillight is out, but the reality of the matter is that’s just not true. Even if you don’t intend to drive through the dark during your stay, you’re going to need your headlights or taillights at some point. Do a thorough test of your headlights, taillights, and blinkers to make sure they work when you need them.

Check your tires.

car tiresYou can’t check tire pressure by looking at them; some tires may be down 5 pounds of air pressure and you can’t tell! The best way to check your tire pressure is by using a tire pressure gauge periodically, or by asking your mechanic to check your tire pressure. Don’t forget to check your spare tire, in addition to all four tires. Here’s how you check your tire pressure:

  1. Get a tire pressure gauge. (We’ve also found this great video as a reference.)
  2. Remove the cap from the tire stem. (The tire stem is a small rubber piece sticking up from your tire.)
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.

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.

Make sure your tires can make the trip.

Not sure if you have enough tire tread for a long road trip? Use the old coin trick. Put 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.

If your car tread is worn, your tires can’t hold air, the tread wear bar indicators show, or you have another sign that your tires are done, start tire shopping now—so you can make sure you’re ready to leave on time to get there for a holiday dinner.

Be confident in your brakes.

worn brake pades & rotorsYou don’t want to find out your brake pedal goes down to the floor when you need to make an emergency stop during your holiday trip. When wet, it’s normal for your car brakes to make an occasional squeaking sound. If the squeak doesn’t go away, your brake pads are wearing down and are letting you know it by squealing. 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, brake failure is inevitable.

There are other signs you need new brakes before your trip: 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 last symptom, pulling to one side, there are other car problems, such as a vehicle that needs an alignment, which could be the cause. Schedule an appointment with your mechanic to get a diagnosis so you can get to your destination safely.

Check your fluids

winshield washer fluidOnce you’ve checked your oil, now it’s time to make sure your other fluids are full and ready for the trip. Fill your windshield washer reservoir, and double check your windshield wipers to confirm they can do the job. 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. 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).

Pack an emergency travel kit.

Once you, or your mechanic, are done with your holiday travel prep checklist for your car, prepare for the unexpected with an emergency travel kit. Start by making sure you have your roadside assistance card or tow truck phone number. Program these numbers into your cell phone, and carry your card, and copies of your cards, at all times.

  • Flashlight. Test the flashlight from time to time, and make sure the batteries are still strong.
  • Blanket. Pack a warm, thick blanket that can keep you and your family warm when you are stranded.
  • Jack and lug wrench. Most cars come with a jack and lug wrench for changing a tire, but some of the smaller, more compact car models do not.
  • Jumper cables. Make sure you know how to use those jumper cables (for step-by-step instructions, read here).
  • Boots. Pack an old, waterproof pair of boots that you can use in case you get stuck.
  • Shovel. A foldable or small shovel is handy for digging your car out of a full day of snow, or cleaning out around when your tires when you go off the road.
  • First aid kit. Make sure a pair of plastic gloves is included so you don’t come in contact with other people’s body fluids.

Plan ahead and schedule accordingly.

The amount of prep work you can do on your car to ready for your holiday drive depends on how comfortable you are with car maintenance; if you don’t feel you have the knowledge or the time, make an appointment with a mechanic that can get (and keep) you on the road over the holidays.