The road trippers guide to vehicle preparation

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At least in my experience, road trips tend to be more enjoyable without car troubles. While there's always the potential a mishap could turn into a “great adventure story”, my preference is generally more geared towards getting where I'm going and enjoying the ride.

Whether we’re driving up to Cedar Point for a weekend, cross county to visit family, or on a National Park adventure, we always try to make sure we are overly prepared for what the road may throw at us.

Below is a check-list of things we do before hitting the road, to help us stay safe and prepared on our trip. [⬇️ download the printable checklist below ⬇️ ] 

Map out your trip

While this first one isn’t specifically vehicle related, for many reasons I feel it’s one of the most important steps in preparing for your road trip.

  • Know approximately how many miles you will be driving
  • Know where gas stations/ service centers are - for routine maintenance/emergencies along the way, especially in remote areas. (It doesn’t hurt to know where the hospitals are either.)
  • Have a map - Know your routes in case you lose GPS signal (this happens more often than you would think) We like to get paper maps to have as a backup, especially when in more remote National Park areas or driving scenic routes.
  • ALWAYS share your plan with friends/ family. In an emergency situation, it's never good to realize you're the only person(s) who knows where you are. If you veer from your original plan, make sure you update your contact person.

Address any known or suspected issues

Do you occasionally hear a slight grinding noise, or clunk when you make a turn? Does the transmission shift hard? Before you leave is the best time to get any mystery noises checked out by a trusted professional. Don’t assume that just because it's always been fine that it will continue to be fine.

Write down the current mileage

Take note of the mileage before you leave, so you can keep track of maintenance intervals during your trip.

Brake system

  • Rotors - inspect for any cracks, lips/grooves, warping, heat spots, and corrosive rust.
  • Pads - check wear indicator, listen for squealing/ clicking.
  • Brake fluid - visually inspect if the reservoir fluid level is at the full line. If you must open the cap, clean it well first, and don’t leave it off for long.
  • Debris and moisture contamination can damage the system.


  • Check expiration date
  • Check the charge: greater than 12.6 Volts - you’re good to go | less than 12.6 Volts - get it tested


  • Tread depth- Tires should have a minimum tread depth of 2/32 inch, if they are close to being worn out, it’s best to replace them before hitting the road. (Be sure to do the penny test in a few places on each tire as they can wear unevenly.)

  • Rotate every 5,000-8,000 miles - Getting your tires rotated before the trip is a good habit, not just for the lifespan of your tires, but it can also pay off it you get a flat, since the lugnuts were recently removed, they're less likely to be rusted or stuck on if you have to change a tire on the side of the road.
  • Air Pressure - check at least every 1,000 miles - It’s good practice on a road trip to at least visually check everytime you fill up.
  • Check the spare tire before hitting the road.
  • Check air pressure of spare tire (if applicable).
  • Bring a jack and lug wrench in case you need to change it.
  • Check for dry rot - how old are your tires? Be sure to check the manufacturer's date.

  • Take mental note of what type of spare tire it is
    • Full-size spare.
    • Temporary full-size spare - thinner, light-weight version of a full size tire, meant to get you to the next service station.
    • Temporary mini spare - Also known as a “Donut”. Do not exceed 50mph, only meant to help get you to a safe place to stop. ABS may be affected during use, since one tire will be smaller than the others.
    • No Spare- I have run flat tires.
  • Inflation kit - some manufactures only provide an inflation kit, these won't work in every situation, so do your research and see if you would feel more comfortable purchasing a spare for your trip.


  • Test to see how bright lights are at night.
  • Replace any old or burnt out bulbs.
  • Pack a spare(s) in the car, especially if going somewhere remote.
  • A ticket isn’t ideal, but hitting a moose on a mountain road in the middle of the night will put a huge damper on your road trip.


  • Make sure there is no excessive belt noise/squealing.
  • Check belts for deterioration (cracks, fraying, missing teeth etc).
  • Check tightness - there should be very little slack in the belt.
  • Pack a spare - never hurts to have spare. While auto stores generally have most belts in-stock, occasionally it can take a few days to order one.


  • Check for deterioration and soft spots on hoses.
  • Check for leaking hoses.
  • Ensure all hose clamps are tight.
  • Replace any questionable hoses/have leaks inspected.

Check all fluids

  • Wiper fluid
  • Transmission fluid
  • Oil level
  • Coolant
  • Power steering
  • Brake fluid

Air filters

  • Engine air filter - inspect / replace if dirty.
  • Cabin air filter- filters the air inside of the car. Remove / inspect / replace as needed.

Registration and tags

Make sure they are up to date for the entirety of your trip.

Clean the car inside and out

Always start with a clean and organized car to help keep you sane and safe.

Pack emergency supplies

Again while not specifically vehicle related, having these things in your vehicle can help you survive an emergency situation.

  • Water
  • Non-perishable food
  • Lighter/ matches
  • Flashlight
  • Blankets/ warm clothes
  • Jump box / cables

The open road is a great place to be! Let's help each other get the most out of our adventures, be sure to share your tips, tricks and words of advice in the comment section below.