Categorized | Traveling

Getting the Car Ready for Vacation

I have previously written three posts related to automobile related topics. One post discussed how to track your car’s cost per mile. Another post discussed what should be in your roadside emergency kit. And yet another post gave 11 tips for a road trip.

Why all the posts on automobile related topics? Because the only thing that can ruin your vacation more than a sick child is a sick car. Most car problems are preventable but require — *gasp* – preventive maintenance! Here is a list of things you should check prior to any long trips (I went over three of them in the road trip tips):


Keep in mind, some of these things may require having some sort of mechanical aptitude. If you don’t trust your abilities, a lot of mechanics will do inspections free of charge with the hope that you will use them to do the repair work. This is similar to why home repair companies give free estimates.


Clean your car on the inside and out. Wax the exterior to provide a protective coating. If you have clutter, consider some “de-cluttering” systems that organize your car via seat hangers or trunk cabinets.


Check your headlights, taillights, turn signals, license plate lights, interior lights, etc. The last thing you want to do is get pulled over and pay a hefty fine on your trip! Carry extra fuses in case a light goes out due to a blown fuse. I’ve had that happen before and it was nice to pull over to a rest stop, check my fuses, realize one was blown, and replace it right there. Downtime? 10 minutes!


Inspect the terminals. Run a load test to make sure your battery is still holding a sufficient charge. A lot of car shops will do this for you, like NTB. Some batteries allow you to unscrew the cap on the battery to check fluid levels. Make sure the water level is where it should be and, if not, add distilled water. Make sure to wear safety goggles as batteries contain sulfuric acid.


Check all of your fluids. Change your engine oil and filter, if needed. I have had quite a few family members overlook this one simple fact: If you have 3,500 miles on your current oil, and have a 1,500 mile road trip coming up… change your oil NOW. Even though most cars can run more than the “recommended” 3,000-5,000 miles/oil change, it is better to be safe than sorry, in my opinion. Also check the transmission fluid and filter. Lubricate the chassis where applicable. This is often done at the same time as an oil change. Some chassis are sealed, and in those cases, this will not be needed.

Windshield Wipers

I hate driving through the rain with shoddy wipers. It is not only annoying, though; It is unsafe. So if your blade is getting worn out, get a spare set and throw it in your trunk. Or replace them right then and there. Top off your wiper fluid. And one thing that I swear by is RainEX (or any alternative that does the same job). When waxing your car, apply a coat of RainEX to your windshield. It causes the water to bead and “roll” off your window!


Inspect brake lining and pads. A brake pad replacement is pretty cheap. If you let it go too long and the rotors get damaged… the repairs get more expensive since you have to replace the rotors. This is one thing my sister never understood and each brake job wound up being a major and “sudden” expense. You do not have to be the same way: Ask them to check how much wear you have on your pads when you get your tires rotated every 6,000 miles.


A lot of diagnostic checks are done free of charge with the exception of engine diagnostics. You might have to pay a small fee for this one. They will check the electrical, ignition, fuel, and emission control systems. Have needed services performed. For example, they may say you need an engine tune-up.

Drive Belts

Check for cracks and wear on the belts. They may need adjustment or they may need replacement. However, a belt that tears while you are going 60 down the highway will cause A LOT of damage.

Cooling System

Check and make sure all of the connections are air tight (har har!).The coolant should be at the proper level AND clean. The hoses, thermostat, and pressure cap should also be in good condition.

Suspension & Tires

Based on your tire wear, you should be able to tell if you need new tires. If signs of bad alignment are showing, make sure you get your wheels aligned. If it’s been 6,000 miles or so since your last tire rotation, you should also get that done. I got my tires put on at Mr. Tire because they offer free lifetime rotation. It is worth it to look for shops that will do this for you if you buy the tires from them. You also want to check the steering linkage and shock absorbers and/or struts.

Exhaust System

Check for holes in the muffler and pipes and look for loose support hangers.

Ready to Go!

After performing all of these checks you should be ready to go on your trip!

Of course, something could still happen so it is always a good idea to have some sort of roadside assistance program like AAA. Preventive maintenance will solve a lot of issues, but not ALL of them!

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MLR is passionate about saving for his future while maintaining a high quality of life. He currently resides in a great town, has a wonderful girlfriend, adopted the cutest puppy ever, and works for a Fortune 500 company.

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9 Comments For This Post

  1. kosmo @ The Casual Observer Says:

    Yeah, replacing rotors is expensive :(

    Whenever I replace wipers, I always put the old set in the trunk, as an emergency spare pair – in case a wiper breaks during a rainstorm. They don’t take up much room, and can prevent a big headache later.

    I get the oil changed every 3000-2500 miles … even though my driving is predominant highway driving. Better safe than sorry.
    .-= kosmo @ The Casual Observer´s last blog ..Weekly News Nuggets =-.


  2. Paul @ FiscalGeek Says:

    You forgot the little tree air freshener vanillaroma which is key for our longer road trips.
    .-= Paul @ FiscalGeek´s last blog ..Calculate the True Cost of Debt =-.


  3. Travel Tips Says:

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.


  4. Mike Edwards Says:

    I have found that when it is time to replace the windshield wipers, you are better off replacing the car! You can never get a set as good as the original


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I'm MLR. After graduating from college debt free, I decided to write a blog encouraging people to adapt responsible and sensible personal finance rules.

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