We have two long-distance road trips planned for 2021 and we have a few things we need to do to make sure our vehicles are prepared for the journey. One gets to sit quietly in the driveway, but that also comes with preparations and expectations. While the other gets to make a cross country, and international journey with the whole family. Today we are here to discuss How to Prepare Your Car for a Road Trip.
How to Get Your Car Ready For Your Next Road Trip
The easiest way to safeguard your road trip is to let a mechanic perform a full safety inspection on your car a week or so before your trip.
If you feel there may be something wrong with the car, be sure to schedule your inspection with plenty of time to have any repairs done before your vacation.
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A checklist to prepare your car for a long road trip:
There are a handful of things that you will want to have checked by a mechanic before heading out on any major road trip.
- Check your tires
- Test your lights
- Engine and brakes
- Check the A/C
- Wiper blades
- If your battery is old, hard to start the car or makes a click sound when you do start, you should have your battery tested or simply replace it.
- While it may seem like a no-brainer, as a non-car person I needed someone to tell this to me; not all car batteries are made the same. If your battery does die and you need a boost, know that not all cars are able to boost your vehicle. Ask your mechanic to run through the verbiage with you and what you should look for when seeking a boost from a stranger.
- Renew all your documents well in advanced
- While your local law enforcement may hand out warnings for expired plates, insurance cards and driver’s licences, your destination may not be as generous.
- Pack the essentials
- Make a list of what you need for the trip. Consider packing road maps for emergencies, hotel information, spare phone chargers for the car and plug into a socket, music, travel games, snacks and beverages. Have a look at your emergency roadside kit to make sure it’s up-to-date.
- Clean your car
- You have no idea how many crumbs and crayon bites are lying under your car seats. Before you live out of your car for 14 days, be sure to give your car a good scrub inside and out.
- Car seat installation
- Car seats are a tricking bugger. If you have any questions or concerns about the car seat fit for your growing children, or how they are installed in your vehicle, be sure to visit your local car seat clinic. When you go to get help with your car seat make sure you go to a certified car seat technician. Then you will know you are getting the best information available.
Roadside Survival Kit
No matter how much maintenance you and your mechanic do on a car before a trip, there’s no guarantee that you won’t have auto troubles out on the road. Having a roadside survival kit at the ready will make an unexpected breakdown a lot less stressful.
You’ll also want to make sure you have plenty of water, snacks and a blanket. If the car does run out of juice or brakes down on the side of the road, there is no guarantee how quickly roadside assistance will reach you. With the car off, there is no telling how cold, or hot, your surrounding area will become. Pack essentials for your environment and worse-case scenarios.
Research local laws on the route
When doing long-distance road travel, especially internationally, it is important to understand that each nation has different laws regarding car maintenance and roadside safety kits.
The province of Quebec requires all vehicles to have winter tires during the winter months. This only applies to vehicles registered to the Province of Quebec. On the other hand, all cars driving in France must by law carry a red warning triangle and yellow fluorescent jacket/vest.
Some insurance companies already have roadside assistance built into their policies, while others simply have the number to a dedicated service that can help 24/7 both domestically and internationally. Be sure to know and understand your options.
While we were in Germany, we purchased roadside assistance from a company called ADAC (translated to German General Automobile Club). We would see them along the roads, in parking garages, just about everywhere we turned – there was an ADAC vehicle just waiting to help someone out. We’ve had to call ADAC a few times due to locking our keys in the car, mostly just leaving the lights on and draining the car battery.
If worse comes to worse, learn how to ask for assistance in the native language. Once, I had to find a couple in the Airport parking lot and ask for a boost; Mine Auto ist kaput, helfen bitte (My car is broken, please help) was the best I could muster, but it got the point across. Thankfully, I had booster cables in the trunk with instructions (in English)
Vignettes and toll roads
There are a handful of European countries that require vignettes(road tax) before entering the country. There are often signs as you approach the border and have ample opportunity to purchase the stickers just before or just after the border. They can be good for a number of days, weeks or up to a year.
On the other hand, many more countries simply have toll roads. Your GPS should tell you which roads are toll and how to avoid them, but most of the time they are a giant time saver and the drive itself is much more pleasant. Some tolls take loose change and bills, while others will accept debit or credit at the toll as well. Be sure to research how much the tolls are and have ample change in the car.
Is my car too old for a road trip?
“Is my car too old for a road trip?” isn’t nearly as important as the question “How is it running?”. Jimmy, my 12-year-old Corolla, is running like a charm. We take it in for servicing every year and make sure to correct any sounds or problems that arise over the years. Thus far, after we finished paying off the car, Jimmy costs no more than $2000/year in repairs.
Should I think about renting a car for a road trip?
Gain Necessary Space
Just because your family car is great for taking you to work or the grocery store, doesn’t mean it was meant to cross the country. Between extra space for all of your luggage and legroom for the children, it may be prudent to rent a car even when your car is fully capable of doing the journey.
Rentals May Cost Less
There is also a little more to think about when renting a car than just legroom. The wear and tear cost of taking the family vehicle on vacation is eliminated when renting a car.
You will also have a little more time to repair your family vehicle when you aren’t scrambling to make repairs just weeks before your big vacation.
Do You Lease or Own?
While we have never leased a vehicle before, we know that mileage is a big factor in returning your vehicle after your term is over. This is the major reason why we don’t lease, too many vacations. If the cost of going over your mileage is more than the cost of renting a car, the math is simple. Rent a car and leave the family vehicle at home.
Have fun with the gang
If you would normally need to caravan along the vacation because both parties don’t have a large enough vehicle to accommodate everyone, renting a large vehicle that does is definitely more cost-effective.
My parents have 4 grandkids and they love to have them all over for sleepovers and day trips. The thing about 4 kids, however, is that they don’t fit very well in a standard vehicle. So when it was time to return one lease and purchase another, they went with a 7-seater. When they aren’t trucking the babies around, they lower the rear seats and have plenty of room for groceries and work supplies.
Rent a car that works best for the whole group, and maybe try out a new model. Renting a car that you have always wanted to drive but couldn’t afford to purchase, is a great way of getting it out of your system and having a little extra fun on your vacation.
What do I need to do to my car after a road trip?
- Oil change and Air filters
- Check your windshield, windows, and mirrors for any chips or cracks
- Small cracks that occur while driving down a dirt road, or speeding on the autobahn, can grow into something bigger that will cost more to fix down the road.
- Get the interior detailed
- If you thought kids were messy going to and from school, imagine all the grime that accumulates after a road trip. Take care of your vehicle and have the interior detailed. Your car, and your kids, will thank you.
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