It’s almost time for the traditional Labor Day weekend road trip to celebrate (or mourn) the end of summer. Whether you’re heading up north, out with your camper, or just for a day trip, it makes cents (literally) to take time to check your car, truck, and camper (find out more in our camper towing checklist here) over before you head out on your trip—so you’re not stranded on the side of the road calling for a tow or facing a huge repair bill that ruins your fun Labor Day weekend trip.
Schedule an oil change.
A car engine without oil, enough oil, or very dirty oil, is an engine with a death wish that’s not going to make it through many road trips. Schedule regular oil changes (and keep them!) and check your oil 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 so they can check for a leak or if another problem is causing your car to burn through oil.
Make sure you have working headlights and taillights.
Having working headlights, taillights, brake lights, and blinkers is incredibly important for your safety on the road. Don’t wait until a police officer pulls you over or you’re stranded with no working lights. Check your headlights, taillights, and blinkers in your driveway or on the street:
- Turn on your car and leave it in park.
- Turn on your lights (usually on your dash).
- Walk around your car and make sure every light works.
- Turn on your blinkers/turn signals (one at a time).
- Walk around the car to make sure that every blinker/turn signal works.
- Have another person assist you in checking your brake lights.
- Press your brake pedal while your car is still in park.
- Ask the other person to stand behind the car and tell you if each brake light works.
If you find that one of your car lights is not working, you can change the light yourself or schedule a quick appointment for your mechanic to change it (it’s important!).
Inspect your tires.
If you want to “hit the road” on your next Labor Day road trip, you’re going to need your tires to literally hit the road without a flat—and efficiently so you can get the best gas mileage. Here’s how you can make sure your tires are ready for your Labor Day road trip:
- Find the right PSI (pounds per square inch-tire pressure) for your tires 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 like the one in the picture. (We’ve also found this great video as a reference.)
- 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.
- Repeat for all your tires, including the spare tire.
- Check the tread of all your tires by putting a penny into the tread. If you can see all of Abraham Lincoln’s head, ask your mechanic for recommendations for new tires—and for what quality tires they have in stock so you can get new treads on before you leave on your trip.
Flat tires or tires low on air can be unsafe—especially for a long trip—and can cause more damage to your car and your gas mileage. The same goes for tires with low tread, which can make driving through wet weather more hazardous and can cause random flats that could interrupt your fun Labor Day weekend trip.
Make sure you have brakes when you need them.
Be aware of these signs that you need new brakes before your trip:
- Squealing sound when you step on your brakes,
- a grinding noise that goes away you press the brakes,
- a soft or pulsating brake pedal,
- when your car pulls to one side.
If your car is pulling to one side, there could also be other car problems which could cause more damage to your car. Schedule an appointment with your mechanic to get a diagnosis so you can head out on the road safely.
Check your fluids
Before you hit the road, make sure you—and your car—has all the fluids you need for a long road trip:
- Fill your windshield washer reservoir.
- Double check your windshield wipers to confirm they can do the job.
- If your transmission fluid has never been flushed, 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 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 vehicles that tow on a regular basis or drive with heavy loads).
Pack an emergency travel kit.
As much as you plan and check your car over before your road trip, prepare for the unexpected—just in case. Start by making sure you have your roadside assistance card or tow truck phone number (920-261-8111). 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.
- 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. For step-by-step instructions on how to use those cables, read our recent post.
- First aid kit. Your first aid kit should have gloves, bandages, scissors, hand cleaner, and antiseptic wipes.
- Blanket. No matter how warm the weather, you may need a blanket during an emergency. For the sake of space, find a small blanket that’s easy to store.
If you find any issues on your car that could slow or hamper your road trip, don’t hesitate to make an appointment for your car (even a last minute one). A few minutes in the shop now can save you a load of hassles and wasted time spent on the side of the road—time that could be spent having fun on your trip.