Gabrielle Archuleta illustration for 360 magazine car road trip article

Going the Distance: Tips for Handling Car Troubles on Road Trips

Road trips are a rite of passage, whether you’re loading up with your whole family or you’re traveling cross country with friends. But your scenic road trip will come to a screeching halt if car troubles pop up.

You can’t avoid every car problem, but you can take steps to prep your car before you leave to minimize the risk of problems. Knowing how to handle common car problems during your trip can help you get back on the road faster.

Check out these road trip driving tips to help you avoid car problems.

Get a Tune Up

Never leave for a road trip without getting a tune up. If you skip this important step, you’ll quickly find out what happens when you don’t take care of your car.

When you skip tune ups, your vehicle is more likely to have common car problems, such as engine stalling, loss of power, and rough idling. It can also decrease your fuel efficiency, which increases the cost of your road trip. 

During a tune up, your mechanic checks over the engine to clean it and repair any issues. Many items, such as spark plugs, filters, and hoses, might need to be replaced during the tune up to prevent more serious problems and to keep your car running smoothly. The mechanic also checks and tops off the necessary fluids.

Mention any issues you’ve noticed when you get your tune up, such as the car having trouble starting or any noises or odors you’ve noticed. Your mechanic can investigate those issues and fix them before they become major expenses.

Check the Basics

If you’ve had a recent tune up, it’s a good idea to do a little checking up yourself before hitting the road. Check the headlights, brake lights, and turning signals to ensure all of the bulbs are working. Replace any burnt out light bulbs before your trip to keep you and your passengers safe.

Schedule an oil change if you’re due for one. Consider how many miles you’ll drive on your trip if you’re close to needing an oil change, and schedule it early before the trip if you’ll come close to the recommended mileage before you get home. Use the dipstick to ensure your car has plenty of oil and to make sure it’s not black or gritty, which indicates the need for a change.

Check the coolant level and top it off if it’s low. When the coolant is low, your vehicle is more likely to overheat.

It’s also a good idea to top off your windshield fluid to ensure you can clean the windows if they get dirty. Inspect your windshield wipers and replace them if they look worn.

Prepare for a Flat Tire

Flat tires are common, but you can reduce your risks of having one and plan ahead in case you have a flat. Ensure you have a spare tire in your vehicle as well as a jack and a lug wrench to change a flat if needed. If you’ve never changed a flat tire, look up videos and check out the equipment in your vehicle to prepare yourself.

Before your trip, inspect your tires to ensure they’re in good condition as worn tires can result in a flat or blowout. Rotating tires every 5,000 miles helps them last longer and wear more evenly. If you haven’t rotated your tires recently, consider having it done before your trip.

Check the tire pressure in your tires to ensure they’re at the proper inflation according to your owner’s manual or the sticker on the door jamb. Not only is a properly inflated tire safer for long distance driving, it also improves your gas mileage. When your tires are inflated correctly, your gas mileage gets an average boost of 0.6% and as much as 3%.

Plan for Gas Stops

While not a mechanical failure, running out of gas is another common car problem that can happen on a road trip. If you run out of gas, you could be stranded on the side of the road for quite some time waiting for help. 

When planning your route, look for good places to stop for gas, especially if you’re traveling in a remote area with long distances between towns. If you don’t plan accordingly, you might find yourself on empty with no gas station for miles. 

Avoid letting your tank get too low before refilling, even in more populated areas. You never know when you’ll get stuck in rush hour traffic, construction, or other delays that keep you on the road longer than expected. 

Research the Terrain

If you’re heading out into the wilderness, pay attention to the terrain in which you’ll be driving. Rough roads can increase the chances of tire damage. They can also affect the alignment of your car and put extra strain on your vehicle’s struts.

If you’re not used to driving on rough terrain, slow down significantly to ensure you can keep the vehicle under control. Slower driving can also reduce the risk of damage to the vehicle. If the road is in a remote area, it could be difficult to call for help if your vehicle gets damaged or you go off of the road.

Pack Emergency Supplies

You can’t do much if your car troubles involve major mechanical failures, but you can be prepared for minor issues with a few tools and supplies. Keep jumper cables in your car in case your battery dies while you’re traveling. Keep car chargers for your phone to keep it charged in case you need to call for help.

Pack a fire extinguisher in case a small fire breaks out in your vehicle. Reflective triangles and a reflective vest help make you and your vehicle more visible at night if you’re stuck on the side of the road.

For a winter road trip, pack blankets and warm items in case you have car troubles that keep you stranded. Cat litter can work for giving you traction if you get stuck.

Avoid Road Trip Car Troubles

With the proper prep and supplies, you can avoid major road trip car troubles to keep things running smoothly. Embark with your car in tiptop condition and keep an eye on things during long distance driving to spot problems early.

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