Preparing My Car for a Road-Trip

I’ve done several road trips.  A few while growing up and several solo trips as an adult.  The piece of any road trip that I have the least control over is my car.  I, like a lot of other people, am not savvy when it comes to car repairs.  Because of this I do everything possible prior to my road trips to ensure a worry-free adventure.

My upcoming road trip to Alaska is no exception.  In fact this particular road trip takes my dogs and me through a foreign country and has the possibility of snow.  Either could pose more issues than a fair weather trip across the United States.  Being prepared is the best way I’ve found to alleviate my worry.

In an effort to share what I’ve learned, here are a few tips that I follow when preparing for a road trip, especially one that will take me thousands of miles away from home.

Service and Maintenance

Unless something unusual is expected to come out of the maintenance check-up, I reserve this for the week before I leave.My Car

  • Oil Change – Whether the mileage for the next change has been hit or not, change the oil right before any long road trip.  It won’t hurt to do it early and not doing it could be problematic.
  • Air Filter Inspection – Most oil changes include an inspection of the air filter.  If the air filter needs to be changed, now is the time.
  • Tire Inspection – A penny inspection of the tread can be done, but most service centers offer free tire inspections.  If the tires are in good shape, then check the air pressure (don’t forget the spare).   And, if it’s time get the tires rotated do it now.
  • Brake Inspection – Service stations usually offer free brake inspections.  Making sure the brakes are in good shape is not only smart, but can increase safety.
  • Clear Car – While not mandatory, starting a road trip with a clean interior and exterior is easy and might even make the road trip more enjoyable.

The night before the road-tip take care of last minute maintenance:

  • Tire Air Pressure – Check the air pressure in all tires again (including the spare).
  • Gas – Fill the gas tank.  It’s a good idea to attempt keeping the gas tank at no less than ½ a tank for the entire road trip.  At times this will be impossible, but it’s good practice.


There are some items that should be in a car at the start of every road trip.  In fact, most of the items I’ve listed below are in my car all of the time.

  • First-aid Kit – Many times a first-aid kit will go unused and that’s a good thing, but having one is a must.  If there is already one in the car, check to make sure it’s stocked well.
  • Flares or Reflectors – I carry both in my car.  I prefer the simplicity of triangular reflectors, but sometimes flares are more easily seen.
  • Jumper Cables – Even if they are not needed for my car (hopefully), I’ll have them to loan out to others.
  • Fix a Flat – This is great backup for anytime you get a low or flat tire and there is not a service station nearby.
  • Spare Headlight Bulbs – These are good to have on hand because a headlight can burn out at anytime.
  • Windshield Wiper Fluid – Carry some just in case.  If you run out and there isn’t a place to purchase any nearby there will be regret.  If going through an area where temps are below freezing, use the antifreeze windshield wiper fluid.
  • Tire Pressure Gauge –A lot of newer cars have computers that display the tire pressure.  But, it doesn’t take up much space and might be handy.
  • Flashlight – Issues can come up at night…enough said…right?
  • Personal Emergency Gear – I always have a jacket, hat, gloves, boots, and a blanket in the car.Personal Emergency Gear
  • Vehicle Manual – Mine is always in the glove box of my car.  Anything can happen and a vehicle manual has a lot of information.
  • Map/GPS –I exclusively use a GPS (or OnStar) for navigation, but it never hurts to carry a map of the area (I’ll be carrying The Milepost for my Alaska road trip).  There may be areas in which OnStar won’t work or GPS’ can sometimes be lacking details.  A trusty paper map can make or break a road trip.

Other gear that should be considered is water, paper towels, wet wipes, and facial tissue.

Older Vehicles

Older vehicles might need more love and care, I do not recommend going on a road trip unless you have confidence in your car.  If it won’t get you to the grocery story consistently, it’s probably not the right car to drive across the country.

12 thoughts on “Preparing My Car for a Road-Trip

  1. I also always carry out all things that you mention in your post. These are little thing but can safe our trip from any spoil. So I also suggest many people to check out their vehicle before going on any trip and take all the important things with them for an emergency.
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  8. I do not carry fix a flat with me. If you use it , most tire shops will either charge extra to patch your tire or will refuse to patch it. Instead, I carry a tire plug kit. I have used it on a road trip across the Denali Highway. The “emergency” repair lasted until the tire needed to be replaced. Just a thought. You can purchase a kit at any autoparts store for under ten bucks. I always check before a new trip that the glue stuff is still fresh. Here’s an idea of what one will look like.

    • Thanks for the info. I checked out the link…I’m guessing you’d also have to have an air compressor? I am aware that tire repair companies hate Fix-a-Flat. For me I figure it’s a quick fix worth making them a bit unhappy.

    • Oh, also, when traveling in more remote areas, I always bring a gas can. I haven’t needed it personally, but it has helped other travelers. I need all the good Karma I can get. We also always bring a source of fire either lighter or matches. It could save your life.