Is Your Car Road Trip Ready?

The summer road trip is a classic American vacation for many military families. Before hitting the open road, ask yourself: is my car road trip ready? Not sure. Review this checklist to ensure that your summer road trip will be a safe vacation without any side trips to a unfamiliar auto shop.

Schedule an oil change.

Checklist for Car Maintenance Before a Road Trip

Pack a roll of duct tape in your car emergency kit.

This may seem like the simplest way to ensure a safe road trip, but it is key. There are many different issues that can be aggravated if you don’t provide your vehicle with a change of oil. An engine needs proper lubrication to work well, especially in the summer heat. Secondary to the oil change, a tune-up would be great to add to your list, but first and foremost, give your car that new lubrication it needs.

Tip: If you’re planning on hauling extra weight behind you, like a teardrop trailer for camping, ask the mechanic about using a thicker oil. A car pulling more weight may need an oil that won’t thin out as quickly due to the extra work it will be doing during the road trip.

Create a car emergency kit.

In your trunk, place 2 quarts of the oil used in your oil change, coolant, expendable rags (good for wiping off oil or touching hot engines) and a roll of duct tape. Yes, duct tape is key! If there is a burst in a rubber hose or a spot under the hood where you would like a mechanic to check for a potential issue, duct tape can take care of it. Other tools to include would be a small screwdriver and a wrench. Also include a jug of water in your kit, to cool down your car system in a bind. Don’t forget to have flares and small safety cones in a car emergency kit.

Test your car jack. We always wait until the unfortunate time when we need to use the car jack to actually learn how to use it. A week before your trip, try yours out in the parking lot or driveway. Make sure you know how to use it quickly and easily, and that all of the parts are accessible.

Tip: If you’re not sure how to use your particular car jack, search YouTube for a video tutorial.

Get the radiator checked.

This is another add-on to your oil change but may be even more important. The radiator passes coolant through the engine, so on those hot summer road trip days, it’s much needed. Radiators can get clogged over time and since we don’t think about them until spring and summer when we plan summer vacations, they are neglected the rest of the year. Have your mechanic do a flow test on the car to make sure the right amount of fluids are passing through the hoses and tubes.

How to Get Your Car Road Trip Ready

Don’t forget to ask for a military discount.

Tip: To save money, ask your mechanic to “bundle” your oil change, tune-up and radiator check. See if they offer a military discount on top of the bundle. You could yield some significant savings.

Make a “must-use” mechanics list.

Be proactive and find reputable mechanics within each state that you will be passing through. If you will be staying on or near a main road, like I-95, search for mechanics that are located nearby. If you plan to stick with automotive repair chains, like Pep Boys, map out locations along your road trip journey.

Tip: Look for reviews of mechanics and automotive chains on review sites like Yelp or ask your favorite hometown mechanic for recommendations. You’ll be surprised how many great mechanics they can recommend for each part of your journey.

Tips to get your car road trip ready

Take time for car maintenance prior to hitting the open road.

How many miles will you travel this summer?


  1. Michelle Volkmann says

    We are planning a road trip to Boise this summer. Only a 12-hour drive. But I will definitely pack the duct tape. I don’t think I followed any of this advice when I drove from Iowa to California last summer. My sister and I were lucky we have any flat tires.

    • says

      Yes, you two were lucky! When we started road tripping, we didn’t follow these tips either. Then, we had a scare with our radiator and decided to start making a checklist for each road trip. These are the few things that we do to ensure that we don’t have any issues. Thanks for your comment, Michelle!

  2. Mildred Adolphus says

    We will be driving to Mississippi from Georgia, and back, about 1,000 round trip. Our other trips are planned to be by rail.

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