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Getting ready for a road trip

Be sure both you and your vehicle are prepared before you take a road trip.

Published: May 17, 2013, 3:00 PM
Updated: July 22, 2020, 4:51 PM

Preparing for a road trip

With a long weekend upon us and summer just around the corner, many Canadians start to think of a road trip – whether it's to get away for a day, a weekend or longer.

Road trips can result in wonderful memories, but also in nightmares. The difference can often be related to preparation or lack thereof. So be sure both your vehicle and you are prepared before you take to the road.

Vehicle Preparation Prior to Taking a Road Trip

Preparing tires for a summer road trip

Tires are the single most important safety feature on any vehicle, the only point of contact it makes with the road.

Just as you won’t be wearing your heavy winter boots any longer, your car needs summer footwear as well. Replace winter tires with all-season or summer rubber designed to deal with heat and provide superior grip and safety in warmer conditions.

Make sure there is plenty of tread and the pressures are at the levels recommended by the vehicle manufacturer as indicated on a plaque or sticker on a door post or perhaps the inside of the fuel filler door. Under inflated tires not only increase fuel consumption, they are potentially dangerous.

Preparing fluids for a summer road trip

Fluids are the lifeblood of a vehicle and warmer weather places an additional strain on both those fluids and the vehicle's vital working parts.

The most obvious of these is the lubricating oil that protects the engine. Make sure it has been changed according to the manufacturer’s schedule and is topped up.

Coolant level is also critically important and the cooling system belts, pumps and thermostat, which are necessary to keep your engine temperature within a safe operating range, should be checked regularly, especially in summer.

Steering and braking systems use special hydraulic fluids in a sealed system so they need to be checked at the time of a regular maintenance service.

While cooling system belts or hoses are among the most common causes of breakdown, one of the most expensive problems is an overheated transmission. If you are towing, take the necessary precautions – extra coolers and heavy-duty components designed for towing.

That one-time trip to the cottage with a boat or other plaything on the trailer and a full load of people and stuff inside can overload and/or damage a transmission. Read and heed the weight allowance in the owner’s manual.

Extra equipment for a summer road trip

Just as you get rid of your heavy winter parka, free your vehicle of that ski-rack or car-topper that creates gas-guzzling drag. Empty the trunk or cargo area of unnecessary articles. Every kilo saved means less fuel is burned, plus you’ll need that space for luggage.

Personal Preparation Before Embarking on a Road Trip

Watch for weather on a summer road trip

Canada is an immense place and every region is known for changing conditions. A little time spent checking current and forecast conditions along your route may help avoid a nasty surprise as well as plan stops and etc. Sun in the forecast? Pack sunscreen.

Stay in touch on your summer road trip

If you'll be away for more than a day, it is a good idea to leave word of your plans with friends, neighbors or family. Be sure to carry a cell phone in your vehicle, or that it has a built-in emergency calling system, so you can call for help if necessary.

Things to pack for your summer road trip

Not only will you need to take clothes and other articles for overnight or longer stays, take time to pack the vehicle with things you and your passengers will require along the way, including items to keep little people happy and occupied.

Remember to wear comfortable clothes for those long hours confined to a vehicle – and when you're on your way, remember to make rest stops every one to one-and-a-half hours.

Places to stay on your summer road trip

Before you leave, research spots to stop and book hotels in advance if possible to reduce stress en route – as well as to get the best rooms and rates.

Don't forget a map

Be sure you have sufficiently detailed maps of the area in which you'll be travelling or a good GPS system. If your vehicle isn't so equipped, aftermarket units are available for a relatively modest price. They can save a lot of stress and more than a few "marital moments."

Not only will they guide you to a destination, they can provide a wealth of information along the way, including where to refuel your vehicle and passengers. It's a one-time purchase that can serve for all future trips.

Bring plenty of liquids

Take along plenty of fluids. Warm weather places an additional strain not only on your vehicle, but also your body.

Prepare well and have a safe trip!