8 Ways to Prep Your Car for Road Trips

Road trippin' is a quintessential part of RIMBY life. We love to wax on the freedom of navigating your mountain ship on to the next adventure, but we don't usually talk about the other side of the coin: waiting for a tow truck on the side of a lonely Utah highway. Nothing puts a damper on your epic weekend like car troubles, so make sure to run through this checklist under the hood before you hit the road. Also, don’t forget to make an epic playlist for the ride (add Mississippi Queen by Mountain - trust me). 

1. Check Tire Pressure

Take two minutes before your trip to help prevent a flat and save gas (=$$). To check and fill your tires, you will need a tire pressure gauge (pictured), and an air compressor (gas stations and car washes often have these for quarters, or free). Check your current pressure with the gauge, find out what the tire’s pressure should be (you can find this information on the drivers-side door; the max PSI for you tire is also printed along the rim of the tire, pictured), and inflate appropriately. Mine is 35 P.S.I (which means, pounds per square inch…I think). DO NOT over-inflate, as this could cause a blowout. Yikes.


 2. Check Your Oil

Oil is basically the lifeblood of your car, and without it your engine could literally weld itself together. No (super) bueno. Be sure to get it changed every few hundred miles according to your manufacturer, but between changes or before a big trip it's smart to follow these steps:

Step 1: Locate your dipsticky (also known as a dipstick). It's usually a brightly colored plastic bit sticking out on one side of the engine block (normally the passenger side, and always adjacent to the cap for filling your oil reservoir). If you're struggling, consult your car manual.

Step 2: Pull the dipstick out of its tube, wipe off any oil on the stick with an old rag and identify the full/empty or high/low marks on the end. These may be marked by holes or lines depending on your car.

Step 3: Gently slide it back in all the way, then pull it back out. Now look to see where the oil hits on the high/low scale, and top off if necessary. In the picture below, my oil level looks pretty good. If it's all good, awesome! You just checked your own oil! You can now spew to your friends about how you are officially a "car person." If it's low, keep reading.

Step 4: If your dipstick reveals a low oil level, you'll need to top it off. Refer to your car's manual to find out what type of oil your vehicle takes (i.e. 5W-30,10-40, full synthetic, etc). The difference between HIGH and LOW on the dipstick is usually about 1 quart of oil. While you can purchase a quart from most gas stations, we recommend going to a legitimate auto parts store to get the good stuff. 

3. Check Your Transmission Fluid

The transmission is essentially what propels the car forward. Sounds important, right? It is. Your transmission transmits (duh) power from the engine to the wheels, and shifts your vehicle into the appropriate gear. Before hitting the road, make sure your transmission fluid levels are where they should be. Actually finding your transmission fluid reservoir and checking the levels can be a little more complicated than checking your oil or coolant, so I suggest, again, consulting your owner’s manual. Sometimes they want you to run the car first, sometimes they want it cool, sometimes it’s completely hidden and almost inaccessible (my car). Most reservoirs will have high/low marks visible. If you need, you can get transmission fluid from your local auto parts store, or have them check it out and top it off when you go in for that oil change you forgot about. Am I right?

4. Check Your Coolant Levels

Proof this list works, before sitting down to write this I had no clue how low my coolant was. I mean LOW. Like, low low. Don’t judge me. Instead, check yours. This stuff cools the engine so you don’t pop a gasket, blow a hose, or a thousand other ways to end up cursing at an overheated engine on the side of the highway outside St. George. Luckily, topping off your coolant is simple with a little know-how.

Step 1: The coolant reservoir is typically very easy to find, translucent, and marked by a symbol that looks like a comb in a pile of bacon. Or a thermometer in fluid... whatever.

Step 2: Once you've found the reservoir, look for the light colored translucent box marked with a “MIN/MAX” or “HIGH/LOW” line. If it looks a little low, move to the next step.

Step 3: Consult your owner's manual to determine what type of coolant your engine takes (IAT, HOAT, OAT). You can also identify different coolants by color (green, pink, orange, and red). Best place to go for coolant is an auto parts store, they can help you out if you're not sure which type your car takes. Steer clear of "universal" coolant cocktails (usually sold at gas stations) which may harm engine components or void your vehicle's warranty.

Step 4: **VERY VERY VERY IMPORTANT** Before you go unscrewing the cap to the reservoir, make sure your engine is cool. This means the car has been completely off for at least a couple hours. Coolant is pressurized while the car is running, and unscrewing the reservoir rapidly releases this pressure, spraying superheated coolant all over the engine and you. Definitely no (super) bueno.

Step 5: Once you're certain the engine has cooled off, use an old rag to unscrew the cap on this reservoir (it's common for a little coolant to bubble and leak out of threads as you unscrew), carefully pour more in, and don’t forget to recap securely.

5. All of the Lights

Make sure your headlights, tail lights, blinkers, break lights and such are all working. How much would that stink if you were pulled over by a cop your first night on the road? Simple check, typically simple fix. Consult your owner’s manual for specifics (it’s amazing how useful this thing was after I dug it out of my glove compartment). 

6. Pack a Safety Kit

Jumper cables, snow chains (I-70 folk, I’m looking at you), a Mountain Standard blanket, water, snacks, a flashlight (you don’t want to run down your phone battery), blah, blah, blah stashed away in your vehicle. Your mom (and mine) would be proud. 

7. Wipe Your Wipers

It won’t hurt to give your windows and mirrors a quick wipe down, and it's a weirdly satisfying way to pass the time while you fill up at the gas station. Make sure your wipers are working properly and that there is washer fluid in the reservoir.

8. Clean Your Air Filter

This easily replaceable piece is also easy to clean (for the short term). Locate said filter (pictured), pull this baby out and tap out all that extra dirt and dust. Don’t inhale, and don’t do it inside (I have no idea why your car would be inside). Your engine and lungs will thank you. If you can't find it, too bad. Just kidding, the owner's manual is (once again) your friend.

That was kind of fun, right? Now that you’ve checked the basics (and feel like a total car guru), you’re ready to adventure on! Enjoy the open road, and let me know how it goes!

Stay tuned for more of Field Agent Beth Kolakowski's adventures as she heads out on one of our RIMBY Scholarships next month. Keep up with her in the meantime on her blog and instagram.

Original content from www.after5adventures.com


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