Road Trip view at sunset

8 Car Checks to Make Before a Road Trip

So you’re planning on hitting the road for a big adventure. Road trips can be an absolute blast, and half the fun is in dreaming them up. You imagine rocking out to your favorite tunes, laughing at funny road signs, and taking in unforgettable sights like the world’s largest ball of yarn.

But once you get underway, some of the glamor can wear off if you didn’t really spend enough time thinking about the practical side of things.

For a road trip to be truly successful and memorable (in a good way), you have to put a lot of energy into the preparation, most importantly, the preparation of your vehicle.

The last thing you want to deal with once you’re underway is a car issue that leaves you stranded in some town you’ve never heard of. But if you complete these essential vehicle checks before you take off, it’ll be smooth sailing all the way.


A penny being used to check a tire's treads

First and foremost, you should closely inspect the condition of your tires well before your departure date. Finding yourself with a flat or even worse, experiencing a blowout can definitely ruin the best laid plans.

It’s important to evaluate how much wear your tires have. Check the tread to make sure there is still enough to make driving safe. You can use the penny trick to do this.

Place a Lincoln penny upside down inside the tread groove. If Lincoln’s head is covered by rubber, you’re in the clear. But if almost his whole head is showing, it means that the tire is too worn down. If that’s the case, you should make an appointment with one of the tire dealers in Cincinnati.

If you’re kind of a stickler for accuracy, you can also purchase a tire tread gauge for a more exact measurement or have a professional at your local tire store check for you.

You should have no less than 1/16 of an inch of tread, and you’ll need more if you’re going to be driving through areas that are likely to have wet, slushy, or snowy roads.

You should also examine the whole tire to look for any cracks or blisters. Blemishes like those can cause blowouts.

If all of the tires seem to be in good shape, the next step is to check pressure. You want to make sure that every tire has a good pressure reading. If any are under, top off with an air compressor to reach the correct level.

Make sure you drive around a bit after filling. If any of your tires has a significant drop in pressure again, you might have a slow leak. That can be caused by a nail or similar object that’s lodged in the rubber, and it will eventually lead to your tire’s demise.

If you do find that the pressure drops consistently, head to your local tire store to either have it repaired or replaced.

And lastly, make sure that you have a solid spare. Perform the same inspection to make sure that your backup is ready to go if needed. Again, if it doesn’t seem up to snuff, you’d be wise to purchase a new one before you leave.


Oil keeps your car happy and makes it run smoothly. Without it, you won’t be going anywhere. So it’s critical that you check it ahead of time.

It’s a smart move to get your oil and filter changed before you take off so you know that your car has what it needs to perform during the journey.

If you’re well-versed in the art of the oil change and regularly perform them yourself, then go for it. But if you’re short on time or don’t have the experience, stop by your local service station to have it taken care of by a professional. It will be money well spent.


You know your car pretty well from driving it regularly, so think about how your brakes have been performing. Is it taking longer than usual to stop? Do you hear any grinding noises when you apply the brakes?

Either of those things can be indications that it’s time to get your brakes looked at. Aside from the warning light that should pop up on your dash when your brakes need a checkup, you can do some investigating yourself.

If you look between the spokes of your wheel, you should be able to see the rotor. In between the caliper and rotor, you’ll spot the brake pad. Assess how much thickness is left; you should have at least a quarter of an inch.

In addition, you can check out the rotor to make sure it’s in good working condition. It should look pretty smooth; grooves or pits are not a good sign.

If it seems like there may be a problem, play it safe, and have your mechanic give the brakes a once over. It’s better to get them fixed in advance than to end up in an accident.

Windshield and Windows

When your driving, especially in unfamiliar areas, it’s important to have good visibility. Over time the inside and outside of your windshield and windows can get grimy and unclear.

Clean all of them thoroughly inside and out; you can even buy handy glass-cleaning wipes that prevent streaks. Once they’re spit spot, apply some Rain-X to the windshield so you’ll be able to see even if you run into inclement weather.

And speaking of precipitation, take a moment to test out those wipers. Are they clearing the windshield well? If they’re missing spots or dragging at all, swap them out for a fresh pair.

Lights and Signals

Rear yellow turn signal

Sometimes it’s hard to know if all of your lights are working until you see those blue and reds coming up behind you. To avoid being pulled over or getting into an accident, check your lights to make sure all of them are functioning properly.

Turn on your vehicle and lights to see if your head and tail lamps are all set. Apply the brakes and use your blinkers while in park. Have someone outside the vehicle check those lights for you. Replace any blown bulbs to avoid a hassle during your trip.

Key Functions

You’ll also want to do a run through of all the necessities inside the car. Put the windows up and down and test out the climate control settings to see if heat and A/C are working. You’ll definitely want to be able to adjust the temperature of your vehicle as needed.

And perhaps most importantly, double check the audio system. What is a road trip without good tunes? Whether you prefer CDs, MP3s, or Satellite radio, make sure you’re ready to rock.

Emergency Kit

Survival kit with communication, food, and tools

You probably already keep some emergency supplies in your car, but before venturing out on the open road, it’s a good idea to restock.

A first aid kit with all of the necessities is important to stow away. You should also pack basics like a flashlight, some blankets, and a tool kit just in case.

Another good thing to have on hand is a charged-up air compressor in case you do lose pressure in one of your tires along the way. You can get one that has jumper cables attached, and then you’ll be ready for anything.

And of course, it’s always good to have an extra phone charger. If there is an emergency but your phone’s battery is dead, you’ll be kicking yourself. Throw a backup charger in the glovie to be safe.


You may know where you’re going, but without the proper tools, you might never get there. If your car has a built-in navigation system, check to make sure that it’s working properly. You may also want to enter some key destinations ahead of time to make things easier.

If you’re using your GPS, do the same thing so you’re ready to go. Though it seems a little antiquated these days, bringing along a map is also a good move to be sure you can find your way no matter what.

Now that it seems like all systems are go, you can move on to figuring our how on Earth to fit all your luggage in the car. Enjoy, drive safe, and make good memories!

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