How to make sure your car is road trip ready

This post is presented in partnership with Bemac Collision Group.

The destination is chosen, the route is traced on your map (or your map app) and you’ve packed extra everything, just in case. You’re ready to go on your best road trip yet—or are you?

While you may have everything packed, it is important to make sure that your car is just as prepared as you are. A professional car service centre can handle all of your maintenance needs, so that when you do hit the road, you will be more than prepared.

Check your tires

car tire

Flickr photo by shrk.

Setting rubber to the road is one of the best parts of a road trip. You crank up the tunes and start thinking about how much fun your vacation is going to be. But you don’t want that rubber to be bare, punctured or worn down.

It is recommended that when your tires’ tread depth reaches 4/32″, you should seriously consider replacing them. If your tread isn’t that worn down, keep inspecting your tires for any other problems and, if needed, refill them with air to the recommended levels.

Remember: The worse the weather gets, the worse the driving conditions will be. You may want to replace your tires sooner rather than later. The number one thing you want to be on a road trip is safe.

If you are not sure what to look for or are worried about the conditions of your tires, take your car to a professional.

Change your oil

Oil is one of the most important things for your car’s engine. Oil lubricates your engine as you use it, keeping it running smoothly and reducing the chance of overheating. In the fall and winter, when the temperatures are lower, it is especially important to monitor your oil, especially its viscosity.

Viscosity refers to the thickness of the oil. If your oil is too thin, it won’t protect your engine against the effects of the cold. If it’s too thick, it will cause your engine to work harder to pump it, and that could lead to you being unable to start your car at all. Check your car’s owner manual to find out which oil you should use for your particular engine—it will recommend the right viscosity.

You can also run into problems if your oil gets too low when you’re driving, or if you are using dirty or old oil. Engine oil eventually begins to break down and become less effective. That is why professional mechanics recommend oil changes approximately every 5,000 kilometres.

According to AutoMD, mismanaged oil is one of the most common causes of car problems. It can also end up being one of the most expensive, especially if you run out of oil on the road and don’t know any good auto body shops in the area.

Getting an oil change before you leave on your road trip means you don’t have to worry as much about a worst-case scenario.

Check your brakes

race car

Flickr photo by www.twin-loc.fr.

As much as people love those action-packed driving scenes in movies where the brakes don’t work, you definitely do not want that happening in real life. Before you get too excited about starting your road trip, test your brakes and get them looked at if you have any doubts.

Pumping the brakes will give you some indication as to their condition. Do you hear a squeak? Do your brakes take longer than normal to respond? These can be signs that you should visit your mechanic.

Whether this means fresh brake pads or all-new brakes, you will rest easier knowing that when you get behind the wheel, your brakes can handle all of your fall and winter driving needs.

Check your engine

Your engine is a complicated machine that requires all of the parts to work together. If one of them is damaged, the last thing you want to do is drive for any great distance.

First, you should inspect the hoses and belts connected to your radiator. Hoses help pump coolant from the engine block, and the belts are there to help keep the engine even cooler. Be on the lookout for cracks; if they aren’t repaired, they could break, causing your radiator to overheat and your car to stall.

Inspecting your battery is an important step that many people don’t think of before going on a road trip. If the temperature is excessively chilly, it can decrease the chemical reaction in the battery. That, in turn, leads to sluggish starts, because the battery’s power is reduced. Batteries with low charge are also apt to freeze if the temperature dips. To help combat this problem, make sure your battery has a full charge and is regularly cleaned.

If you suspect you have any engine problems, the most important step is to visit a professional, who will be able to identify the problems.

Double-check your heater

Once the big systems get the a-okay, double check the most important feature for fall and winter: your heater.

If you are planning a road trip from Ottawa, chances are you’re going to get a little chilly. When you want to warm up, you’ll want your heater to work.

As well as leaving you cold, a broken heater could also affect your visibility, since the windshield may ice up if your defroster doesn’t work. This is a serious hazard.

Have a professional look for any leaks, and top up your coolant and antifreeze, so you and your car will stay warm throughout your road trip.

Replace your windshield wipers

windshield wipers

Flickr photo by State Farm.

Car maintenance doesn’t just include what’s happening on the inside of your vehicle; you also need to look at what’s happening outside. If you encounter some stormy weather, you’ll want windshield wipers that work well.

If you can’t remember the last time you replaced your wipers, or you’ve been noticing that they just don’t seem to be up to the job anymore, replace them before you leave.

Get a wash and wax to protect your paint

Whether you need some touch-ups on the inside or on the outside, a fresh cleaning job can make you feel as good as your car will look.

Take the opportunity to get those nicks and scratches touched up with fresh paint. Once you have your car looking like new again, take an extra step to protect it against the fall and winter driving hazard no one wants to think about: road salt.

If you’ve ever driven in the winter in Ontario, you are familiar with the messy process of driving on a road that has been thoroughly salted. While salt helps with the ice problem, it can leave your car looking filthy.

A good coat of wax will provide your paint with an extra layer of protection against these winter hazards, as well as give it extra shine.

Tip: Keep your windshield wiper fluid topped up so you can frequently clean your windshield and reduce splatter-related visibility problems.

Find a professional auto body shop that offers full-service detailing to get the best possible protection for your paint.

Deal with fall and winter road trip hazards

Icy and snowy road in Middleville, Ontario.

Flickr photo of Middleville by Robin_Ottawa.

You’ll experience a few things on a fall or winter road trip that you wouldn’t normally encounter when driving in the summer, such as ice and black ice.

Ice is par for the course when the weather gets bad. It forms when there is water on the road and the temperature dips below freezing. Ice can still be around even when the temperature rises during the day, since the road will take longer than the air to warm up. This means that tire traction is reduced.

While ice is bad, black ice is worse. It is a thin layer of water that freezes on the road but doesn’t look like ice. Instead, it looks like the road is wet, and many drivers don’t realize their mistake until they are already sliding.

The best way to combat these driving hazards is to have good winter tires and to take it slow. Driving at a slower speed and increasing your braking time will help minimize the risks that ice and black ice pose.

Stock up on the necessities

booster cables, jumper cables

Flickr photo by Pat Pilon.

Once you have all of your car maintenance done, you’ll be prepared to start your best road trip yet. However, a little extra preparation never hurts. Before you leave on your trip, stock up on some car essentials.

  • Fluids: Make sure you have extra oil, coolant and windshield washer fluid.
  • An emergency kit: Expect the best but prepare for the worst. Make sure your emergency car kit is well stocked with everything you need to handle all kinds of situations, including a shovel, sand for traction on ice, booster cables, a flashlight (with batteries), a first-aid kit, a blanket and tire-repair supplies.
  • Necessities: Have some water and non-perishable snacks in the car in case of an emergency.

Car maintenance is an important part of travelling, not just in the summer, but in all seasons. Getting everything done professionally before you go can free your mind to think about what you are going to do when you get there.

This post is provided in partnership with Bemac Collision Group.

For over 50 years, Bemac Collision and Service has helped Ottawa drivers with all their car repair and car care needs. They have five locations across the Ottawa-Gatineau region. For more details, visit www.bemac.ca.

Flickr photos used under a Creative Commons licence.

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