Skip to Content

A Few Easy DIY Vehicle Things to Check Before a Road Trip

A long road trip can put your vehicle to the test, especially in the heat of summer. Before you pack up your gear and head out on an adventure, there are a few easy things you should check.

We’ll walk you through how to examine each of them so you can set off on your road trip with confidence. Let’s get started!

How Do You Prepare for a Road Trip?

If you’re like us, you want to avoid a dramatic or unpredictable road trip. While you can’t eliminate all unexpected scenarios, adequate preparation can help minimize them. 

Researching the best route and what to bring are vital. The more you prepare, the less likely you will experience an unpleasant situation on the road. However, while you must make sure you’re mentally ready for the road trip, you must also survey your vehicle. 

Red haired woman driving car
Before you hit the road, check your vehicle is in good working condition.

Are Road Trips Bad for a Car?

Road trips aren’t bad for your car if it’s in good working order. The components of your vehicle will have to work harder for longer. If there are any issues with your car, a long road trip may bring them to light. This is why you must check several vital components of your vehicle before heading out.

Pro Tip: Use our tips on How to Survive a Family Road Trip on your next adventure.

How Many Miles Should I Drive a Day on a Road Trip?

There’s no magic number of miles you should drive per day. However, we recommend driving no more than 450 to 500 miles daily. This would result in about eight hours of driving under normal highway conditions.

It can be tempting to push the limits and drive for as long as possible to reach your destination. However, road trips can be exhausting, and driving drowsy is hazardous. Spending hours in a vehicle can also result in cranky passengers.

Woman mechanic inspecting car
Make sure to get a vehicle maintenance check before a long road trip.

A Few Easy DIY Vehicle Things to Check Before a Road Trip

Set yourself up for a smooth road trip by checking a few simple things. These tasks won’t take long if you know what you’re doing. Let’s dive in!

Maintenance Schedule

Nearly all vehicles come with a maintenance schedule the manufacturer recommends. This schedule is in the owner’s manual or other documentation that comes with the car. Many modern vehicles utilize mobile phone apps to help the owner know essential maintenance requirements.

One of the best ways to ensure your vehicle is always ready for a road trip is to stay up to date with the maintenance schedule. This can save you from a hefty last-minute repair bill.

Wiper Blades

You never know what weather conditions you will encounter during a road trip. It can be challenging to drive in snow or rain without a working set of windshield wiper blades. Wiper blades typically need replacing every 6 to 12 months. Depending on where you live and the weather conditions, you may get more use out of them.

Look for any signs of wear and tear on the wiper blades. If you haven’t used them in a while, pull the lever near the steering wheel to spray a generous amount of windshield wiper fluid onto the windshield. See how well the wiper blades remove the liquid from the windshield. You can also ask a partner to spray the windshield with a garden hose while turning on the wipers. If they struggle to keep your windshield clear, you should consider replacing them.

Car parked in driveway being cleaned.
A clean and well maintained car will ensure a pleasant road trip.

Car Battery

Your car battery provides the energy to start your vehicle. If your battery isn’t in working order, you could run out of power on the road. Extreme drops in temperature can push a battery over the edge. 

You’ll need to attach a voltmeter to the positive and negative terminals. A healthy car battery will have between 12.4 and 12.7 volts. If you do not have a voltmeter, you can take your battery to the nearest car parts store or mechanic and have them check it for you.

While checking the volts on your battery, it’s best to ensure all connections to the terminals are tight. Loose electrical connections are never good, and they can prevent your car from starting. Grab a wrench and hand-tighten all the terminal connections.

Belts and Hoses

Belts and hoses are critical to a vehicle operating safely and effectively. A road trip can put aging belts and hoses to the test. You need to take action if you see belts with signs of fraying or cracking. Often, these are signs that the belts and hoses need replacing.

If you notice your vehicle leaking fluids, it’s likely a sign that there is damage or a crack in a hose. You do not want to take off on a road trip with any obvious signs of wear and tear on your belts or hoses.


Vehicles rely on various fluids for optimal performance. You’ll want to check all the fluids in your car and ensure they’re at the appropriate level. Check your engine oil, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, and windshield washer fluid.

If your vehicle is due for an oil change as part of the maintenance schedule, many professional services will check your fluids. However, popping the hood and looking at the various reservoir levels isn’t a tricky task.

Pro Tip: Make sure to pack these 7 Summer Road Trip Essentials for your big road trip adventure.

Man checking his car engine
A vehicle check of your oil, lights, brakes, and more will keep you safe once you hit the road.


The lights on your vehicle allow you to communicate lane changes and turns with other drivers. They can also help improve visibility during low-light conditions or in fog. You’ll want to test every light and signal on your vehicle.

The process goes much faster with a partner. Test each light or signal one at a time and communicate with the partner which light or signal you’re testing. You can try most of them yourself, but the brake lights only illuminate when you press them, so having a partner makes it more accessible.


You do more than cruise down the highway on a road trip. You also need a solid set of brakes to stop or slow down. If your road trip takes you through elevation changes, brakes can help you descend mountain passes and steep hills under control and at the proper speed.

Use your senses to examine your brakes. Drive your vehicle around the block with your windows down and listen for any grinding or squeaking when you stop. Use your eyes and a flashlight to look inside your wheels and check the thickness of the brake pads. They should be no less than 0.25 inches in thickness.


A solid set of tires is essential for a road trip. Walk around your vehicle and examine each tire. Look for any signs of uneven wear or balding in the tires. You can use a penny to check the tread depth. Place the penny with the head facing down and see how much you can see. If you can see the entire head, you’ll want to consider replacing your tires.

While inspecting your tires, check the tire pressure. Tire pressure varies depending on the vehicle. However, you can find the manufacturer-recommended pressure for your tires in your owner’s manual, inside the driver-side door jam, and on the tires. Setting your tires to the proper pressure increases tire life and optimizes fuel efficiency.

Preparation Is Key for a Smooth Road Trip

If you want to enjoy a smooth road trip, please prepare. Don’t put off doing any of these checks until the last minute. You don’t want to find something the night before you go and must delay your departure. Give yourself ample time to address any problems so you can confidently hit the road, knowing your vehicle is ready for the trip.

Have you crossed any of these items off your list yet? Tell us in the comments!

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: