The weather’s cooling and bears are heading for their comfy hibernation caves. But not us; we’re gearing up for the busiest travel days of the year: Thanksgiving weekend. And that means it’s time to get your car ready for colder weather and more miles on the odometer.
Whether you’re headed south for the sun or through the back roads to grandma’s house, there are a few things you can do before you pack up the car to keep your focus on the journey ahead. A little preparation now can save you lots of time and money later, keep you off the side of the road and help you avoid unknown auto shops.
Get up to date on regular maintenance
Whether your trip is 100 miles down the road or 1,000, it will pay to get your car up to speed on all of its regular maintenance. That means taking care of any fluids that may have been neglected while you were out enjoying the summer sun. Check, change and/or top off your oil, coolant, brake and transmission fluid as needed. In the case of your oil or automatic transmission, make sure you get a high-quality filter, too. It may seem like overkill to take care of all of your fluids at once, but it’s worth it in the long run.
Take a look at the car’s brakes, too. Are your rotors warped or cracked? Do they have deep grooves or are the pads worn close to their minimum clearance? Your vehicle will be experiencing harsh conditions for much longer than your daily commute to and from work, so once again it’ll pay to nip any potential problems in the bud now.
These next two are easy-to-do items that can make a big difference on a long drive. First, make sure all your lights are working properly. A burnt-out bulb is a great way to get a visit from the local police department while you’re on a trip. New bulbs only cost a few dollars and are easy to install yourself or are often free when getting your vehicle serviced.
The same goes for windshield wipers. If your blades are more than six months old, odds are it’s time to swap them out for new ones. Bad windshield wipers can make driving in the rain in a foreign land a nightmare.
Protect the interior
You can’t discount the impact weather and a long road trip can have on your vehicle either. If you’re going to spend a lot of time ducking in and out of the elements, you might want to grab some all-weather floor mats. They’re easy to clean and do a great job of keeping the muck in one place.
It might seem counter intuitive to clean the inside of your car before you hit the road, but give it a chance. Pulling out any and all unnecessary items from the trunk and backseat will help with your vehicle’s fuel economy and make room for all the suitcases (and leftovers to munch on during the return trip). Making sure your windows are clean will also improve your visibility and reduce the likelihood of steamy glass. Remember, greater visibility reduces your chance of bumping someone in traffic, and nothing ruins a vacation quicker than an accident.
Don’t drive on the wrong tires
Go ahead and have your tires rotated and inspected, too. The last thing you need is to head off into the sunset on bald or dry rotted tires, especially if rain is forecasted. Err on the side of caution and replace any tires that look suspect. Again, it may seem expensive at the time, but we guarantee it’ll be cheaper than having to get someone to tow your car to some no-name garage in the middle of the night for new rubber. Once you’ve made sure everything looks good, take a look at your tire pressure. With everything up to spec, you’ll get better gas mileage and your vehicle will handle and stop better.
Are you headed to snowy locales? We’d recommend looking into snow tires. It depends on how long you’ll be braving the elements, but for long distances in the snow, putting winter tires on your wheels instead of chains might be a lot more comfortable for you and your family.
Winter tires are made with special low temperature resilient rubber compounds and have deep treads that grip unplowed snow and ice. Even the best all-season tires have compounds that get more brittle as the temperature drops, and when that happens, the tires tend to grip less. The winter tire compound remains pliable when temperatures are low, retaining grip and keeping the car’s safety systems, like all-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes, functioning properly.
Maintain the coolant system
Extreme temperatures and harsh conditions can knock out the coolant system easily if it’s not up to snuff, causing a big headache during your trip. If any part of the system comes up with a shaky bill of health, swap the parts for new ones. That means having your car’s radiator pressure tested and the hoses examined for cracks or bulges. A technician can easily test a radiator without the hassle of having to remove them from the vehicle.
Even if everything comes up good to go under the hood, replacing your engine’s coolant is cheap insurance against extreme temperatures. Over time, antifreeze can actually generate a weak electrical current, which can then cause oxidation and eventually failure inside of your coolant system. You’ll want at least a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water to provide protection against below-zero temperatures. Keeping everything fresh inside will put less stress on your vehicle’s hardware, making sure the only thing you have to worry about this Thanksgiving is the food coma you'll experience after the meal.