With Thanksgiving just around the corner, Americans across our nation are preparing to travel to visit friends and loved ones. According to AAA, 43.6 million Americans traveled more than 50 miles from home during the long holiday weekend last year, more than 90% of them by automobile. To ensure a safe and trouble-free Thanksgiving Road Trip, inspect your vehicle using our road trip checklist before you hit the road.
Inspecting your vehicle is easy for do-it-yourselfers, but there’s an option for those that prefer to have a professional do the task, too. Your local NAPA AutoCare Center can perform a pre-trip vehicle inspection and advise you of any issues that may need attention.
Ready to inspect your vehicle? Let’s start from the top and work our way down.
Windshield wiper blades and glass: If your windshield wiper blades are worn, you probably already know it. They just don’t swipe the glass clean anymore or, worse, you can see the rubber blade coming apart. Replace them if necessary, and don’t forget the rear wiper blade for wagons, minivans and SUVs. Cleaning your glass and side mirrors before traveling is also wise. Good visibility improves safety.
Exterior lighting: You may need a helper to check your exterior lights. Be sure your headlights, high beams, front parking lamps and front turn signals, taillights and rear turn signals, brake lights (including center-mounted brake light), reverse lights and license plate lights are all functional. Replace any inoperable lights, and if you like to be prepared, throw a couple of spare bulbs in your glove compartment.
Engine maintenance: If you’re due for an oil change or other scheduled service – or if you will be by the time you’re back from your trip – play it safe and take care of it now. You can do it yourself with parts and supplies from NAPA, or have a professional at a NAPA AutoCare Center handle it for you. If you have a shop do the work, ask them to perform fluid, air filter and belt inspections at the same time. Many shops already include those with their oil change services.
Fluid check: If you’re between oil changes or scheduled services and won’t need one until you return, just check your fluids and top them off as necessary. Fluids may include motor oil, automatic transmission fluid, coolant (or antifreeze), brake fluid, power steering fluid and windshield washer fluid.
Belts and hoses: Inspect accessory belts and radiator hoses to be sure none are near failure. Hoses typically last about 4 years or 60,000 miles. Modern belts hide their wear better than the old ones, but our KNOW HOW guide explains the signs of wear, like cracking, abrasion and glazing.
Filter check: Nearly every vehicle has an engine air filter under the hood. Simply perform a visual inspection of the filter. If it looks dirty, replace it. Some cars and trucks also have a cabin air filter that cleans air used for ventilation inside the vehicle. This filter can also be inspected by eye.
Brake inspection: Brakes are essential to safety, so it’s wise to be sure they’re in good condition. Remove your wheels if necessary and check brake pad wear. Check your rotors for grooves or damage, too. Finally, be sure that no brake fluid leaks are evident on or near the caliper.
Tires: Check tire wear by locating the wear bars embedded in the tire groove. If the surface of the tread is close to or even with the wear indicator, it’s time for new tires. If not, rotate your tires as necessary to promote even wear, and check air pressure using an accurate digital or analog dial air pressure gauge. Don’t forget to check your spare for pressure, and be sure your lug wrench and jack are in the vehicle.
Following our auto travel and road trip checklist cannot guarantee you don’t have a breakdown, but it can certainly reduce the chances of trouble. Take some time to complete your vehicle inspection, or have a pro handle the work. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!
Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on road trip planning, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Nick Palermo is a freelance automotive writer and NAPA Know How blogger. Since becoming an auto news and reviews contributor at AutoTrader.com in 2011, he has broadened his coverage of the automotive industry to include topics like new car technology, antiques and classics, DIY maintenance and repair, industry news and motorsports. A committed advocate for automotive media professionals, Nick is a member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association.