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The Must Check Car Checklist for Road Trips

My thanks to Cooper Tires for not only helping me learn why tires matter but also by sponsoring this post and providing my family with a set of new tires.


Having kids changes everything!

Doesn’t it? In my younger days, perhaps it was foolish, but I’d take off on road trips once a month driving from my college, Bryant University in Rhode Island, down to South Jersey to visit the boyfriend who would later become my husband. I never thought about what to do with my car before road trips. I filled the tank with gas and the console with quarters for the Garden State Parkway tolls and I’d hit the road for the 6 hour drive. Considering the age of my old used car and the mileage that was on it, I was very fortunate that I never had any car issues on road trips.


Fast forward 25 years later, the boyfriend became my husband and we have three boys. I STILL love taking road trips. If it was up to me we’d travel for New Jersey road trips and family vacations a few times a month. There are so many fascinating places we can go here in New Jersey. Taking the kids on a road trip saves so much money compared to traveling by plane. But preparing for a family road trip is different than when I was a single twenty-something. These days I am traveling with my boys on these trips. As their mom, it’s my responsibilty to make sure I do all I can do to keep them safe. Getting ready for a road trip isn’t just about what to pack and having activities in the car, it also means that my car needs to be ready. Beyond filling the gas tank there are things to do for your car before a road trip.


The Must Check Car Checklist for Road Trips


If you travel like we do, before your next family road trip use our Must Check Car Checklist for Road Trips. Once you’ve completed these 10 things to check on a car before road trips you can feel confident you’ll be on your way to a safe family adventure.


10 Things to Check on a Car Before Road Trips

  • Fill up. Because you never know what you might run into on the road, don’t let your tank get low. Whether you run into a road you don’t know and get lost or there is road construction, you don’t want to run out of gas. How many times have you been in bumper-to-bumper traffic just wasting gas as you idle? Before you leave your home, fill up. Time pit stops when the tank is down between a half and a quarter tank. Then, refuel when you stop. Once more refuel the car before the road trip back home. Even with road side assistance that might bring you fuel, this is a costly inconvenience you don’t want on your trip.


Car Before Road Trips


  • Lift the hood and check the car before a road trip. Make sure that the hoses and belts are in good condition. Like running out of gas, you do not want to be on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck with your kids by your side. I know for us a tow truck would not be able to accomodate our family of five. It would be awful to have to end a trip because of something that could have been prevented. Cracked hoses can cause vital fluids to leak from the engine and cause expensive repairs. Broken belts can leave your car sitting on the side of the road and you waiting for a ride wondering where you’re going to have the car towed to and how expensive it will be.


  • Test your wipers. If they are only do a so-so job, replace them. Even if sunny weather is predicted, things happen. Birds drop poop. Mud splashes up from the wheels from other cars. Dump trucks and 18 wheelers kick up stones. Random thunderstorms and rain do occur. You don’t want to be driving on the middle of Route 95 and all of a sudden not be able to see because something has landed on your windshield.


Check your windshield wipers is part of our The Must Check Car Checklist for Road Trips

How are your wipers? If you’ve been putting off replacing your wipers, make sure you do it before your next road trip.


  • Adjust your mirrors. I’ve noticed that sometimes even changing my shoes affects how far my foot can reach the pedal. If I’m having to adjust my seat, then I certainly need to adjust my side and rear view mirrors. Chances are too that if your kids and spouse are loading or unloading the car with all your gear a mirror might have been bumped just enough to shift it from your preferred position. Before you pull onto the street, take a minute and readjust those mirrors.


The Must Check Car Checklist for Road Trips

Before you pull onto the street, check your mirrors and readjust as needed.


  • Check the fluids in your car before a road trip. Make sure your oil is filled, and has been changed within the required amount of time. Top off your transmission fluid. Also check the antifreeze, brake and steering fluids. There’s more to checking the fluids than refilling the windshield wiper fluid. If you’re not sure what is what under the hood, check your owner’s manual, Google it, or look for a video on YouTube to help.


  • Have a first aid kit. Make sure you have a kit in case someone gets injured or sick. It doesn’t have to be anything special; just a few bandages and antiseptic wipes and ointment, over the counter pain/fever reducer and something for bug bites or stings. Don’t forget medicine for motion sickness and vomit bags just in case. When my boys got carsick for the first time (in a rental car no less) I was not prepared and let’s just say it wasn’t fun.


Tires without tread should be replaced before a road trip

You don’t want your tires to look like this. BEFORE last summer’s road trips Cooper Tires provided me with new tires that were safe and ready for all the trips we had planned.


  • Locate your tire changing tools in your car before a road trip. Make sure you have a jack that you know how to work and that you know where it needs to line up with your car. Many cars have a special spot that the jack needs to be for it to safely work with your car. If you find yourself with a flat tire, you do not want to have to wait for roadside assistance to come and change the tire. These kind of things always seem to happen at the worst times, say 2 am in the morning, and that’s not a time you want to be waiting for roadside assistance. Additionally, make sure the lug nut wrench you have fits your lug nuts. Do not take it for granted that all wrenches fit on all lug nuts. It is not always the case.


  • Identify where your spare tire is and that it’s in good quality. As I’ve learned with some newer car models, not all cars come with a spare tire. And if they do, they aren’t always located in the back trunk. Occasionally, as was the case with my minivan, the spare tire is UNDER the car. To remove it I needed to turn a crank to lower the shaft it was on. Once off, I needed to crank the shaft again to return it to its normal position. You’ll want to make sure that your spare tire is inflated with the correct amount of air. Ensure it is not dry rotted as even a tire that hasn’t been used a lot can rot from age and exposure to weather elements. You want that spare tire to be in good working order so it’s safe for the ride back home. Double check that the rims are the same or at least have the same holes as the ones currently on your car. The tire will be useless if the holes do not match up. You may even prefer a full size tire rather than a small donut. While it takes up more space in the trunk, it provides a better driving experience and is safer. Keep in mind with a regular spare tire you can not travel far with it, nor can you keep it at the same speed as you would a full-size tire.


Look at this tread! This is what your tires should look like before traveling on a road trip.

Look at this tread! This is what your tires should look like before traveling on a road trip.


  • Speaking of tires, make sure to check the tread on your tires. There are several ways to check the tread on your tires. Cooper Tires says, “If you are wondering if your tires are worn but don’t know how to check them yourself, the easiest way is to perform the penny test. The tread on your tires should be more than 2/32 of an inch deep. To check, insert a U.S. penny into the tread of your tires with Lincoln’s head facing down. If the top of Lincoln’s head is covered by tread, there is at least a minimum acceptable amount of tread. If the top of his head is visible at any point, your tires are worn out and need to be replaced.” They have more information on their site about how to know if you need new tires. When it came time to replace the tires on my minivan last summer I went with the Cooper CS5 Ultra Touring™ tires specifically designed for comfort, agile handling and an ultra-quiet ride. At least the tires are quiet. ;-) With a free 45-Day road test, I knew if there was an issue, my local Cooper Tire dealer would resolve it.


  • Measure the tire pressure in your tires on your car before a road trip. It’s about more than gas mileage. Underinflated tires can lead to tire failure or your tire to wear unevenly. Looks can be deceiving. Tires that look fine, they may be underinflated by as much as 50%. Cooper Tires has these steps to check your tire inflation pressure.


There are other tire issues to be aware of before your next road trip. Make sure your tires are not dry rotted. I can still remember when I first learned about dry rot. A mechanic was explaining to me how I needed new tires. I couldn’t figure out why. My boys were babies. We weren’t traveling that much. How could I possibly need new tires? Turns out the most common causes of dry rot include low inflation of the tires, storage near excessive heat and a lack of use. So even not going anywhere can lead to tire issues. Look for signs that could cause a tire blow out such as visible wire threads or any bubbles in the tire’s lining.


How did I become so knowledgeable about tires? Part of it is from learning the hard way. The other is due to my partnership with Cooper Tires. Their other blogger ambassadors and I have learned a lot about maintaing our tires and we were happy to be on a panel to discuss that topic and others this past fall at the Marketing to Women conference in New York. Take a look.


Now that you’ve completed our Car Checklist for Road Trips, we have plenty of places we suggest you visit with the kids.

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