Declare Independence From Car Worries: Your 4th of July Road Trip Checklist

“From sea to shining sea.” Miami to Seattle. San Diego to Bangor. Washington, D.C. to San Francisco…and anywhere in between. With more than 47,000 miles of highway spanning the United States in every conceivable direction, the possibilities for holiday travel throughout the country are endless, and the Fourth of July weekend is, inevitably, one of the biggest travel times of the year. Combine that with a population that’s currently feeling a unique 2020 type of stir-crazy due to COVID-19, ready to cut loose for some R&R, and we may possibly have one of the biggest driving weekends ever ahead of us.

As eager as you may be to pack up the family, the bags, the pets, and maybe even ice chests, tents, and fishing poles, the car you bring out on the open road might need a few important bits of care before you head out for the long weekend.

Clearly, there are some basics. Check the tire pressure of all your tires (including your spare) to make sure that nothing appears to be leaking, to avoid blowouts when you’re out on the highway between towns. Make sure your headlights are all in working order, so you’re not left in the dark when you need light, and to avoid being ticketed. Do you remember the last time you changed your oil? If it’s been more than three or four months, you’re better off pulling in for an oil change before you tack on much more mileage.

There’s one helpful thing to check that’s so basic that you can easily forget it, but you’ll regret neglecting it once you need it: windshield wipers! You don’t want to be caught in a rainy area of the country with worn-out blades that do nothing but smudge liquid on your windshield, rather than clear your line of sight. Be sure to check that your wiper fluid reservoir is adequately full (to clean away the splattered bugs that’ll inevitably pollute your glass within a few hours), and to test out your wiper blades before hitting the road, especially if you live in a hot climate that’s prone to quickly drying out rubber wiper blades.

Many automotive repair shops will offer you a thorough, multi-point inspection of your car to assess the need for any additional repairs or proactive service. Typically, this will include a check of battery systems, which will usually tell you if your battery is near the end of its life and needs replacing. However, you may also do well to be sure that your car’s alternator (which uses mechanical work from the engine to keep the battery charged) is also functioning correctly. Whether caused by an old, worn-out battery or a bad alternator, you don’t want to find your car unable to start halfway between home and your destination.

Whether you’re swimming on the coasts, exploring the forests, strolling the plains, or overlooking a desert, there’s an inherent comfort to natural, fresh air. For that, an A/C inspection comes in handy. You don’t want to be slogging through the Mojave desert with an air conditioner that needs a recharge, or malfunctioning altogether. If the weather isn’t conducive to cracking a window, then keeping a clean cabin air filter in your car can help to keep the air you and your passengers breathe a little fresher. Typically, this is a simple swap that doesn’t take too much effort to access and change, so long as you buy the right replacement filter. Watch out for cattle country, though. For that, make sure your cabin’s air recirculation is also working correctly!

There are a few other matters that you should be up to speed on before you head out on your journey. You’ll want to make sure all of your fluids (brake, transmission, coolant, etc.) are all at appropriate levels, and are fresh enough to function properly. Additionally, be sure to have your car’s hoses inspected, to ensure that the fluids you get refreshed and topped off stay there. It’ll also be helpful to know that your brake pads are still up to par; depending on the type of pads that were last installed, you may be due to change them anywhere between 25,000 and 70,000 miles of usage. If they’re worn out, neglecting to replace them could lead to warped rotors, which can come at an unpleasant expense and increase your risk of collision.

To be extra sure that your powertrain is in top condition for a long trip, an inspection of your car should include a look at your engine’s belts (timing, drive, serpentine) or chains. While chains are generally considered less prone to breakage than belts, it’s important to ensure that your drive or serpentine belts to ensure that peripheral systems of your car operate reliably, such as various pumps and your A/C compressor. Most critically, you’ll need to evaluate whether or not your car’s timing belt or chain due for replacement, to avoid severe and costly engine failure.

For the most part, keeping your car ready for a long-distance road trip is a matter of staying up to date on your scheduled maintenance, and keeping track of when various parts and components were last serviced or replaced. Unpleasant surprises are far less likely to reach you as long as you know what to expect over time.

Any of the above tasks are also a good thing to have in mind for immediately after you return from a long trip. Perhaps the hundreds, or even thousands of miles that.

Here at Autonet Mobile, we’re devoting ourselves to keeping you in sync with your car’s care and maintenance, working not just to keep your car running optimally at present, but to give you insights into your car’s future, so that you can plan ahead and avoid headaches further down the road.

With freedom from car trouble in mind, we wish you a safe and happy Fourth of July!

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