If you’re planning to take some time off and take a road trip during the Christmas holiday, it’s a good idea to start planning now. After all, being prepared for a road trip can make the difference between a vacation you’ll always remember and one you’ll want to forget.
What shape is your ride in?
If it’s been a while since your car’s systems have been checked, now’s the time. Be sure to have your car’s alternator, voltage regulator, belts, connecting cables, climate control systems and brakes examined by a mechanic. Replace any dried-out, cracked hoses.
If the wipers are streaking, replace them. Replace windshield washer fluid that’s been diluted with water; it can freeze below 32 degrees.
And check your battery’s age. Replacing it ahead of time means you won’t be left stranded. As the temperature drops, the need for more juice rises. Deciding when to replace it is simple.
For example, if you have a 36-month battery, you can expect three years of trouble-free charging. But as the 36-month mark approaches, think about replacing the battery a bit shy of that point instead of waiting until the last minute.
And check your records. If you can’t remember the last time your vehicle’s cooling system was flushed, it would be wise to have it changed before you tax the engine with a heavy load over long distances.
But be sure to read your vehicle’s owner’s manual. It will advise you on the proper coolant to use and when, or if, it needs replaced. Many newer vehicles specify a longer-life engine coolant, not the traditional green type.
Also, take a look at your tires; nothing else affects your vehicle’s handling more. Start by taking a penny and placing it upside down into several places in the tread. If you can see the top of Abe Lincoln’s head, the tire the tire needs replaced.
Also, check the state of the tread itself. If a tire is worn on both edges, it is under-inflated. If it’s worn in the center of the tread, it’s overinflated. If you spot cups or dips in the tread, have the suspension or steering systems checked. Finally, make sure each tire is properly inflated. The proper inflation is posted on the driver’s side front door jamb on newer cars and trucks. Also, make sure your vehicle’s spare tire is properly inflated and usable.
While you’re at it, have someone stand outside the car to confirm that all your lights and turn signals work.
The inside dirt on a clean car
If your car qualifies as a health hazard, you’ll want to tidy it up for the long journey ahead.
Start inside by removing accumulated junk and wipe down the dashboard with a mild cleaner. Vacuum upholstered areas, including the headliner, rear parcel shelf and under the seats.
Clean the seats with an upholstery cleaner or mild leather cleaner, followed by a leather conditioner. Finally, clean the glass by spraying window cleaner on your towel. That way, mist doesn’t fall on your clean dashboard. Follow with a second towel to avoid streaks on the glass.
Now comes the outside.
Rinse your car thoroughly with warm water to loosen dirt. Wash from the top of the vehicle down, using a car washing liquid and a natural sponge. Move the sponge lengthwise across the car.
Rinse thoroughly from the top, working your way down. Be sure to point the hose into the underside of the wheel well to remove dirt or debris. You might want to wash the door jambs as well, and clean the channel around the trunk and sunroof.
Next, it’s time to shine the shoes. Use a wheel cleaner to remove brake dust from the wheels. Be sure it’s designed for your type of wheel, be it chrome, aluminum or painted. Follow with a rinse.
Use a chamois or soft terry towel to thoroughly dry the car in a back and forth motion. Be sure to dry the door jambs, sunroof and trunk opening channel. To keep its shine, polish the car to remove fine scratches and add luster to the finish. Use a back-and-forth motion. Then, wax the car to protect the finish.
Finally, apply a silicone spray to your car’s weather stripping in the door jambs to prevent air and water leaks and use spray on a tire-shine product to give a finishing touch to your wheels.
Don’t have the time? A professional car detailer will make your ride sparkle.
What to take along
First, be sure that you pack an emergency road kit; they’re readily available at auto parts stores, but you can build your own. Be sure to include phillips and flat-head screwdrivers, pliers, socket wrenches, duct tape, electrical wire tape, electrical wire spray, WD-40, flashlight with extra batteries, coolant hose repair kit, a small fire extinguisher, tire gauge, road flares, spare fuses, foam tire sealant or a portable air compressor, jumper cables, rain gear, work gloves, and spare fluids.
Also, consider adding kitty litter (for added traction under a slipping tire), a flashlight, work gloves, a small shovel, a windshield scraper, jumper cables, a first-aid kit, towels, drinking water, nonperishable snacks and a blanket, in case you get stranded.
Once you’re sure that your car is ready, be sure that you pack items to help pass the time, such as a tablet or laptop. But you might want to augment it with other items, such as DVDs.
When it comes time to pack the car, place heavier items as close to the center of the vehicle as possible for optimal weight distribution and handling. Secure loose items so they don’t hit passengers during a panic stop. And remember, you just night need to access to the spare tire. Don’t make it impossible to access.
Finally, don’t overload your ride; this can lead to unsafe handling. The maximum load capacity, including people and cargo, is listed in the owner’s manual.
Other things to consider
For those at home, make sure that someone has a trip itinerary, so people can find you in an emergency.
And if you’re using a navigation system, it’s a good idea to enter destinations ahead of time.
Finally, it’s a good idea to carry a spare set of vehicle keys, and if you’re older, your doctor’s phone number and any prescriptions that might be needed.
With a little forethought, your Christmas vacation can be hassle free.