5 ways to ensure a trouble-free road trip

Taking a road trip, and especially one that takes you to a holiday destination is one of the great pleasures of life, but that pleasure can turn into a nightmare within seconds if you don’t ensure that your car will make it through the trip. Don’t rely on warranties that tell you a car “should” not break down- they can, and do break down at the most inopportune moments, and a warranty is of no use to you if it happens three hundred miles from the nearest sign of civilization.

Fortunately though, there are proactive steps you can take to greatly reduce the possibility of this happening to you, and although there are no guarantees, chances are slim that anything serious will go wrong if you do the following five things to your car before you leave on your trip. Here they are-

Book a multi-point inspection.

Many repair shops offer safety inspections that range from checking a few basics, to checking more than a hundred items and systems. Most drivers never see the underside of their vehicles, which is where many safety critical components are located.

Moreover, many items like drive shafts, steering and suspension components, brake system components, and the exhaust system can only be inspected when the car is on a hoist, or vehicle lift. Sadly, many of these items are deliberately overlooked or ignored during scheduled servicing, which means that the average driver has no idea what may be going on with the very systems he depends on to keep him alive.

However, if you had been taking reasonably good care of your car, a multi-point inspection shouldn’t produce many nasty surprises, but whatever issues and defective items are discovered must be repaired, replaced, or corrected immediately, or at least before you leave on your trip.

Review your maintenance schedule.

Any long trip is a severe test of your car’s reliability, so check your service schedule to see if any major servicing is due any time soon. Don’t postpone items like oil changes, timing belt replacements, fuel filter replacements, engine coolant replacements, emissions tests and the like because they are due two days after you get back from your trip.

The better option is to attend to these things NOW, before you leave, to ensure that your car is in the best possible condition it can be during the entire trip. The last thing you want or need is for the check engine light to come on halfway to your destination, or equally bad, suffer a timing belt failure in the middle of nowhere.

Have the battery checked professionally.

Apart from ensuring that everything else on your car is in perfect condition, don’t trust a mechanic who tells you that “The battery should be OK”. Make sure of it by having the battery tested and checked by a specialist battery dealer, and make sure he checks everything. You need to be sure that the battery will survive the trip, and there is a good chance it might not ifit is more than three years old.

Have the battery specialist perform a draw test to confirm that it can supply sufficient current, but also have him test the specific gravity of the electrolyte, since this is the best indicator of a battery’s overall condition, and especially since it indicates differences in the state of charge between individual cells.

Under performing batteries can cause a whole slew of problems, and in some cases a poorly performing battery can even cause irreparable damage to a vehicle’s electrical system. Don’t leave on your trip until you have had the battery checked, or replaced if it is less than perfect in any way.

Run a full diagnostic check.

You can never rely on the fact that since there are no illuminated warning lights on your dashboard, everything on your car is in perfect condition. The truth is that there could be many things wrong, or on the verge of going seriously wrong without any warning lights being on.

A full OBD diagnostic check performed by a technician that can interpret the data is the only way to be sure that there are no incipient problems, which could include marginally low fuel pressure, marginally low/high oxygen levels in the exhaust gas, erratic fuel injection pulses, variable ignition timing, an alternator that slightly under-, or over charges, and many others.

Almost all of these issues go unnoticed by the average driver, and since the management systems of modern cars operate within a wide spectrum of parameters, the diagnostic system will not necessarily trigger a warning light if some signals or pulses are only marginally out of spec. Have full diagnostic performed before you leave, so you can be certain that there is no trouble brewing in your cars’ electronics.

Have the tires checked professionally.

Just like the undersides of their cars, most drivers never see the inner sidewalls of their tires. So have the wheels removed from the car at a specialist tire dealer, and confirm that there are no bulges, cuts, abrasions, or other damage to parts of the tires that you never see.

Now would also be good time to have the wheels, including the spare, balanced, rotated, and inflated correctly.