Summer Road Trip Checklist

As warmer months roll around and we approach summer, many of us are planning on long car journeys across interstates and vast empty roads. Though you likely already have enough on your mind to plan the trip itself, ensuring your vehicle is in the proper shape to get you there in the first place is vital.

Whether you’re driving up the Great Lakes, through the desert of the Southwest, or anywhere else in the vast open space of the US, there are some steps you should take to make a long trip as easy as possible for both you and your vehicle. As cities, gas stations, and repair facilities can tend to be few and far between on road trips (particularly the further west you head), ensuring the health of your car before leaving can save you from some unfortunate situations involving a tow truck and a headache.

Fluid Health

One of the most important boxes to check before your trip is the health and level of the vital fluids in your vehicle. From oil to coolant, these fluids play multiple important roles in the operation of your car. Though it may be running fine at the moment, any active leaks or contaminated fluid conditions can lead to problems seemingly out of nowhere. 

Possibly the easiest of these to check is your oil level, which can be accessed by the dipstick in most vehicles (although some modern cars only use digital interfaces). A low oil level may be a sign of an active oil leak, which should be fixed (or at least inspected) before embarking on your drive. You should never drive a vehicle with low oil levels, as the lubrication and cooling that oil provides is a non-negotiable for your engine, and will experience expensive internal damage without it. 

Technician pouring motor oil into engine

Coolant/antifreeze is another to keep an eye on. Low coolant levels will lead to overheating, which can quickly cause irreparable damage to your engine. The worst place for this to happen would be on a road trip, as you’ll need to pull over and shut the vehicle off immediately to avoid further damage no matter how far you are from your next stop. 

Other fluid levels to monitor include brake fluid, windshield wiper fluid, power steering fluid, and transmission fluid. These generally don’t need to be replaced as often as coolant or oil, but should still be accounted for before leaving on a long-distance drive. 

Tire Tread

You should always be aware of your tire tread’s condition, whether on a trip or not. Bald tires will reduce your vehicle’s traction, braking and handling considerably.

The easiest way to check your tread is the penny method. Take a standard US penny and insert it between the tread with Lincoln’s head facing downwards. If the top of the head is at all covered by the tread, it is likely in good shape for the time being. If the top of the head is completely exposed, you’ve run under 2/32nds of an inch tread life and should have your tires replaced as soon as possible. 

Any damage to the sidewall of your tire also needs to be taken seriously, as even the smallest defects can cause your tire to blow out at highway speeds. 

Close-up of tire tread


Many vehicle owners often don’t think about replacing their lights or turn signals until one has failed, and even then you may not notice until it’s dark enough outside to see (or not see, more accurately) the problem. The worst place to encounter this is midway through a long trip, so checking the operation of your lights before leaving is important to guarantee a safely illuminated drive. 

To ensure your lights are working correctly, turn on your headlights, high beams, turn signals, brake lights, and fog lights before walking around the vehicle and checking that all are working properly. You may need a friend to help you test the brake lights, as one will push down the pedal while the other checks for the lights.

Dashboard Warnings

Most drivers are aware of the check engine light, and the potential for issues if left untreated, but the same caution should be applied to any red or yellow warning light that appears on your dashboard, especially before leaving on a road trip. 

For example, an active TPMS warning is likely to let you know of a low tire pressure issue. Maintaining proper tire pressure is important for safe driving and maximizing your fuel economy.

Other warnings to look out for are the coolant temp light, battery light, brake warning light, and traction control light. Each of these is warning you of a problem in a crucial mechanical, electrical, or safety system in your vehicle. These warnings should always be addressed before the trip. 

Cabin Air Filter

Nobody wants to be stuck in a stuffy vehicle for hours. The cabin air filter, usually located behind the glove box, is responsible for filtering dust, debris, and bacteria from any air entering the interior. Over time, these contaminants build up on the surface of the filter and prevent clean air from passing through. This can result in a stuffy or mildew odor circulating within the cabin. Furthermore, this smell will only worsen if the heater is active during the drive. 

The filters are generally inexpensive and a quick replacement, which makes checking and replacing your cabin filter before your trip a great way to make the drive more comfortable for both you and your passengers. 

Vehicle Inspections in Naperville

If you need an inspection of your vehicle before your road trip, trust the experts at Becker Service Center in Naperville! Our ASE Certified technicians have extensive experience inspecting and diagnosing a wide variety of makes and models. Give us a call or schedule online today to speak with our friendly team and get your vehicle ready for wherever your journey takes you!