Road Trip Checklist: 10 Things to Check Before Taking Off


You’re ready to go on a road trip—face it, we all are. The open road, adventure, friends, family, good times. When getting ready for the next big trip, a few things probably spring to mind: clothes, snacks, money. What probably doesn’t spring to mind immediately is the state of your car, and whether or not Old Reliable is ready to take you into the unknown. Here’s our comprehensive guide of things to inspect before a road trip, things that go easily overlooked but are paramount to a fun, and safe, adventure!

Double-check you have all the car parts you need for your vehicle’s performance, and once your vehicle is good to go, enjoy your road trip!

Check Your Battery

Is your battery connected properly and corrosion-free? You can easily disconnect the battery and clean the connectors with a wire brush. If you’re uncertain about this, leave it up to a professional. If you need to get your battery tested, or if it’s been a while since you’ve purchased a battery for your vehicle, it can be a good idea to simply purchase a new one and not deal with the hassle. Having a brand new battery in your car is a big load off the mind. It’s recommended that you get your battery checked yearly, especially if it’s more than two years old.

Inspect Hoses and Belts

Your belts and hoses are an important and overlooked aspect of keeping your vehicle’s electrical, cooling systems, and power steering functioning properly. Getting these inspected can determine whether or not any are frayed, cracked, or need to be replaced. Since belts need tight and precise installation, it’s important to have this done by a professional. All vehicles have different recommended changes so it’s also important to make certain that you know your make and model.

three young people sitting in front of car

Top Off Fluids and Replace Filters

Checking the fluid levels of your engine oil, power steering, transmission, and windshield washer are additionally important and overlooked aspects of a full vehicle inspection. You can top these off yourself fairly easily before you hit the road, but this aspect can also be taken care of with a comprehensive car check or oil change. Also, you should check your antifreeze levels and possibly get this changed out as well. Coolant can become acidic and useless over time, which can damage other parts of the vehicle such as your hoses or radiator. Also, make sure you check or exchange your engine air filter and cabin filters. These become clogged with debris over time and can affect your car’s performance and acceleration. 

Check Lights

Are your headlights, brake lights, interior lights working properly and ready to go? Having functioning turn signals and breaks are incredibly important aspects of travel and things can get dangerous if these bulbs burn out without your knowledge, which is dangerous and illegal. While you’re checking the lights it’s also a good idea to inspect your windshield wipers and make sure they’re efficient and new (it’s recommended you change your wipers every six months) for your car road trip. 

mini cooper head lights

Air Conditioning

Check your car’s horn and air conditioning while you’re at it. If the air conditioner feels like it’s not functioning like it used to, this would be a good moment to have it serviced by a mechanic, especially as summer approaches. Air conditioning troubles can be due to a clogged air filter, blown fuse, bad clutch, or a leak.

Check Brakes

Do your brakes feel spongy? Worse, are you hearing squealing noises? Your brake pads are probably worn, and in need of professional inspection. There’s also a chance that you need to top off your brake fluid, which will also get verified and refilled under a professional inspection. Worn brakes can be scary, and dangerous. Depending on your vehicle, you will need to replace them every 25,000 to 75,000 miles.

two girls sitting on top of car

Inspect Tires

Proper tire inflation does a lot of things for the life of your car, chief among them is how it affects your vehicle’s fuel economy. A tire blowout can be scary, especially on the freeway, and worn tires will make it difficult to stop in snow or rain. Buying new tires is one of the best things you can do for the life of your vehicle!

Check your tire pressure before your road trip, and preferably while your tires are cold, to ensure they’re inflated properly. You also may want to check the condition of your tire tread with the “penny method.” Insert a penny upside-down between the treads of each tire and if the penny sticks out too far, it might be time for a new replacement. If you notice any uneven wear on your tires it’s probably time for a tire rotation and wheel alignment. Your local tire shop can do these things for you, as well as help with a total inspection and new tire recommendations. 

Make Sure You Have Proper Emergency Equipment

Do you have tools, a spare tire, flashlight, road flare, and bottles of water? Do you think you’ll need an extra coolant or a fire extinguisher? Checking the path of your car road trip and stocking the important things will help or prevent issues you might have on the road. A backup cell phone charger is also a good thing to have.

first aid kit on table

Car Insurance

Good insurance coverage is paramount to a safe and satisfying road trip. We responsible drivers carry insurance for our vehicles, but is your insurance plan actually keeping you safe from what accidents might happen on the road? When heading out for your car road trip, finding the best coverage is more important than ever. Spending long hours on the road increases your exposure to risk, and you need auto insurance that prioritizes your safety. There is no “special road trip insurance” but it is imperative that you make sure your coverage is the best it can be, including uninsured motorist coverage, collision and comprehensive coverage, and roadside assistance.

Give Your Vehicle a Test Drive

Once all your issues are taken care of, give your vehicle a good old test drive to see how things feel. Hit those brakes, use those windshield wipers, test out your air conditioning. You’re going to be spending dozens of hours on the road, why not make sure that things feel good before you take the family out with you? This is a final detail that often goes overlooked, but it’s an important aspect that can prevent you from forgetting anything before your adventure.

Make sure you make your appointments and check all these things weeks in advance of your car road trip! Nothing is worse than finding these issues while you’re already on the road. If you believe your car isn’t up to snuff for the trip, or that the cost of all your tuneups would be more of a headache than simply getting a new vehicle, maybe it’s time to head out onto the open road in something more reliable.

About the Author: Kathryn Fowler

kathryn fowler from parts avatar
Kathryn Fowler is the Marketing Manager at PartsAvatar. She's been passionate about cars since childhood. She loves examining different components of cars to understand their operation. Kathryn started writing blogs on automobile parts to share her love for cars and educate automobile enthusiasts worldwide.

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