It may be snowing where you hang your hat, but here in Kansas City we’re expecting highs of 90 this weekend. Spring is here, with summer looming just over the next rise. And that means road trips. The family vacation is a staple of the American household, and many of us still prefer to do it in the most American way- driving. If you’re planning a long road trip this summer, you’ll want to prepare more than a long list of answers to, “Are we there yet?” You’ll want to ready your vehicle for the journey- to make sure you’ll get there at all.
Road trips are not particularly stressful on cars. After all, they were built to drive, and long highway stretches on cruise are easier than the jerky stop-and-go of the city. But vehicles on road trips are typically carrying more weight than usual (kids and cargo, rather than just one or the other), and run for longer than usual between stops (if you’re as utilitarian about bathroom breaks as possible). So we’ve put together a few pre-adventure tips for making sure your ride is ready for the rigors of the great American road trip.
You’ve heard it before, especially with today’s gas prices, that keeping your tires inflated to the proper PSI can save you 1-2 mpg on the highway. It’s actually true. Open your driver’s door and check out the sticker on the car for the proper pressure rating. Full tires are also safer, which is the top priority when you’re carrying your lifetime soul mate and the whole of your progeny.
Will you roll over the 3,000 mile mark before you get back? A long day for an engine can be a little easier after a fresh helping of the slick stuff. It only takes a few minutes if you do it yourself, and though old oil probably won’t cause your engine to blow up like a hot dog in a microwave, it will shorten its life.
Even if you’re not feeling a pull in your steering wheel, it’s not a bad idea to get an alignment before a state-tallying road trip. A perfectly aligned car will get better gas mileage and reduce tire wear. Most garages offer a type of über-special “lifetime alignment club,” for the price of two alignments, and while these are usually just hooks to try to sell you a new battery or set of tires every time you go in, they still have to do an alignment whenever you want it for as long as you own the vehicle. Personally, I get my car aligned every time I drive to Indiana to see my parents. If you already have a Lifetime Alignment Executive Emperor’s Presidential First Class Country Club membership, the week before a road trip is when you want to take advantage of it.
While you’re there, you may want to have them take a look at your suspension. A road-tripping vehicle is carrying more weight than usual, in the form of all that stuff your passengers just couldn’t leave behind, and any existing but hitherto unnoticed issues your suspension already has will be amplified on a road trip.
Speaking of all that stuff, you might need a little extra room to put it all. Shameless Plug Zone ahead! StreetsideAuto.com has more than a few exterior cargo boxes and bags available for quick delivery from brands we trust like Thule and Yakima. And if you’re taking the bikes, you can look into rooftop or hitch mounted bike racks, too.
Nobody, spouse and kids included, likes to sit in a smelly car for any number of days. It’s time to take a Hefty out to your trusty car and shovel all the Long John Silver’s bags and Coke Zero cans out of the wheel wells. It will boost precious and ever dwindling morale, and it will motivate you to keep it cleaner throughout the trip.
Once you’ve gotten these chores out of the way, it’s time to have fun. Plot your route, pack the family, and tear out of your driveway. The Great American Road Trip awaits.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.