Car repairs you should consider before your next road trip

Whether you plan to road trip across the continent or across a mountain pass, you’ll need your car in top working order. Breaking down any time is a real pain in the neck and can cost you a pretty penny. However, a breakdown at the wrong time or in the wrong place can actually be extremely dangerous. Before your next road trip, take your car to the mechanic and get a full inspection done. Or, if you know there are certain things that need fixing, attend to them. It won’t only save you a headache and hassle, but could also save your car.

Having recently dropped more money into car repairs than I did on my car in the first place, I know it can feel like a big undertaking. Repairs aren’t always cheap. However, if you’re like me and rely on your car for nearly everything you love to do, it’ll be well worth the money. So, here are five major considerations before you take your next road trip. Some are expensive, some are affordable, but all are essential to a safe trip.


Fixing the tires on a car
Fixing the tires on a car

Tires are such a simple consideration that mean so much to your car’s performance. Sure, you probably have a spare in your car in case one blows. But if a tire blows at high speed, you might be looking at repairing a lot more than just a tire.

It is critically important that your tires are filled to the proper air pressure if you’re embarking on a long road trip. If they are uneven it can cause wear on your car as well as increase the chances of a blowout.

Use your tire air pressure gauge or have your mechanic even out your tires for you. Your tires will have their maximum pressure in ppi written along the outside edge somewhere around the rim. But remember, if you’re going to be loading your car down with extra people and gear, your tire pressure will increase under the weight.

The second tire test you should run is the penny test. Take a standard US penny and place it into your treads with Lincoln’s head facing down. If his entire head remains outside of the tread, it means that your tires are too worn and you should replace them as soon as possible. A worn down tire is more likely to blow out or lose traction when you need it.


Repairing the breaks in a car
Repairing the breaks in a car

Needless to say, your brakes are one of the most important safety features on your car. Were they to fail, you could be looking at repairing a lot more than just your brakes. If your trip will take you into the mountains, they’ll also be doing a lot of extra work. Unlike your tires, it is much harder for you to assess the condition of your own brakes. This is one better left to the pros.

When you’re talking about brake repairs, there are pads and rotors. Your pads are what create the actual friction as you brake and they will wear out over time. They need replacing every year or two and aren’t too expensive. Your rotors are more expensive and if they wear out can cause your car to wobble severely while braking.

If you’re like me and spend a lot of time going up and down mountains, you can have your mechanic install machined or drilled rotors that won’t wear out over time the way a stock set would. It’ll cost you an extra $50 to $60 but will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.


Using a funnel to refill the motor oil in an automobile as part of an oil change. – Author: Dvortygirl – CC BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 2.5, CC BY-SA 2.0, CC BY-SA 1.0
Using a funnel to refill the motor oil in an automobile as part of an oil change. – Author: Dvortygirl – CC BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 2.5, CC BY-SA 2.0, CC BY-SA 1.0

Engine oil is one of the most basic ways you can keep your car purring nicely. It’s cheap and easy to maintain. Without proper oil maintenance, you could be cutting your car’s lifetime in half or worse.

Standard wisdom says you should have your car’s oil changed once every three months or 3,000 miles. If you’re going on any extended road trips, that’s advice you should not ignore. Some cars will do better with poor oil maintenance than others, but every car will benefit from your attention in this regard.

You should also keep a couple of quarts of the appropriate engine oil on hand and check your oil level periodically. You can save a lot of money by buying your engine oil before you need it at a store like Fred Meyer or Walmart, rather than buying it at the gas station when you notice you’re running low. Gas stations never offer the best prices.


Antifreeze put into car radiator – Author: EvelynGiggles – CC BY 2.0
Antifreeze put into car radiator – Author: EvelynGiggles – CC BY 2.0

Although less often attended to than engine oil, coolant can be just as important. This is particularly true if you’re on a long road trip or driving in particularly hot conditions. Nothing will spell disaster for your car sooner than overheating on the way up a mountain pass.

Every car is a little different. Chances are that you’ll be able to read your coolant level on the tank in your engine. If you are unsure how to check your car’s coolant level, then refer to your owner’s manual.

If you do take your car to a mechanic before embarking on your trip, it would be a good idea to have them flush and change your coolant. Although it needs to be done a lot less frequently than oil changes, changing your coolant will make a huge difference in the quality of life your car experiences in the months and years to come.


Logo of the American Automobile Association
Logo of the American Automobile Association

And although it’s not a type of car repair, there is probably nothing more valuable to have on the road than an AAA membership. You can prepare for everything and make all the prudent repairs possible, but things can still go wrong. When they do, AAA is the easiest and fastest way out of a bind.

If you’re not familiar with the service, AAA is an emergency roadside repair service that operates all over the United States and Canada. You pay an annual membership and receive emergency coverage in exchange.

If your tire blows out or your car breaks down, give them a call and they’ll come to pick you up. They’ll tow you to the nearest mechanic, usually free of charge. They’ll bring you gas if you run out and charge you pump price. Heck, if you lock your keys in your car, they’ll even send a locksmith to break in for free.

Tow truck tows a car after a collision with a truck. – Author: Ruben de Rijcke – Ruben de Rijcke
Tow truck tows a car after a collision with a truck. – Author: Ruben de Rijcke – Ruben de Rijcke

I’m not proud to admit that I have used that service more than once.

This article is all about being prepared so that your car doesn’t let you down when you need it the most. And while all the repairs included in this list can take you a long way, accidents do happen. Inevitably, you will eventually face a situation where you need a hand. Purchasing an AAA membership is the best way to prepare for almost anything on the road.

Make sure that you’re embarking on your next road trip ready for anything. After all, that’s the main ingredient to any good adventure. Whatever it is, your car will be ready to get you there and back safely.

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ian-carroll is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival