15 Things to Check Before a Road Trip

TREMEC Road Trip Check List

No one wants to break down during the middle of a road trip. Give your vehicle a good check up first and you may save yourself some major head and heart ache down the road.


Check fluid levels: engine oil, transmission fluid, differential fluid, coolant, brakes, power steering, and windshield washer fluid... all of them! When you check the engine coolant, check the coolant reservoir and the radiator, if the coolant looks rusty or like pond water, flush it out and change your coolant.

While you're at it, check your maintenance schedule. If you're due for an oil change or other fluid change or will cross that point on the trip, change it now.


Hoses crack, bulge and blister before failing. Look especially close at the pipe collars where they are clamped and extra stress is placed on them, but they can blister and crack anywhere. You may also want to purchase a hose patch kit at a local auto parts store as an extra precaution.


Belts can crack or stretch with age before failure. Turn the belt to see both sides of the belt and check for ragged, torn, cracked or exposed fiber cords. Replace if it shows wear. If you can press on the belt and move it more than a half-inch, it's stretched. If it's stretched and in good condition, adjust the tension, but if it shows signs of wear, replace it.


Tires can also crack, blister and bulge before failure. Look them over, inside and out and make sure you have plenty of tread left. Use a tire gauge to check you have more than 2/32" of tread left. No tire gauge? Use a penny. If the treads are lower than Lincoln's shoulder, it's time for new tires. If you found any bulges in the sidewall, don't risk it and replace the tire. Uneven wear may signal a need for tire rotation or alignment. 

Check the tire pressure. Don't go by what the tire says, go by the recommended tire pressure listed in the door of the car, fuel filler door, or glove box. The pressure listed on the tire is the maximum pressure and if combined with extreme heat and speed can lead to a blowout. Low tire pressure not only will effect your gas mileage, but the extra friction can heat up the tire and lead to a blow out. Take a tire pressure gauge (available at local parts store) and check your tire pressure before traveling long distances.


If your classic vehicle uses DOT3 or DOT4 brake fluid, it can absorb moisture. It will turn the color of maple syrup and begin to rust your brake components. Check to make sure the reservoir is full and if it's been a few years, flush the system and replace with fresh fluid. The water-logged brake fluid can lower the fluid's boiling point and cause a squishy brake pedal, a bad situation to be in. DOT5 will not absorb moisture, but you'll want to check your owner's manual for recommendations with this fluid.

Check the wear on the brake pads. If you've been hearing squealing or screeching noises, you've reached the metallic shim indicator that's there to warn you it's time to change the brakes. Otherwise, you'll want to change them out if you've got less than a quarter of an inch of brake pad. A deep metallic grinding or growling is a serious indicator that you need to change your brakes; you may be causing damage to your brake system.

Drum brakes will become smaller as they wear down. A mechanic can measure them to gauge if they need replacing. A few other signs you may notice: the back of the car will shake when braking, the car pulls to one side when applying the brakes, and/or the rear of the car may make lots of noise when bringing the car to a stop.


Check the terminals for corrosion and that the positive and negative leads are tight. If you find corrosion, wearing safety goggles, remove the positive and negative leads. Sprinkle baking soda over both terminals, enough to coat the terminal and a little around it. Poor some water on each terminal and let it bubble a few of seconds. The baking soda neutralizes the battery acid, making it safe to handle. Repeat the process on the cable ends. Use a wire brush or a stiff bristled brush to scrub the terminals and connectors. Rinse with water and let the battery dry completely. You can use compressed air to speed up the process if you like. Spread a little petroleum jelly on the terminals to protect them from corrosion and reconnect the cables, making sure they are good and tight.

If your car has been hard to start lately, it could be a dying battery. Go ahead and replace the battery before taking a road trip.


Check all your lights and replace the ones that are out


When was the last time you took your classic car out in the rain? Chances are if your windshield wipers need replacing, you may not even realize it. Test your wipers and weather-stripping to make sure they are working and you won't have a leaking T-top or door to dampen your fun.


Did you know it's against the law to drive without a working horn? Check your horn.

10. A/C

If you have it, you'll want it to work. If you don't have it... make sure you take lots of water!


It's amazing how we've come to rely on our cell phones to keep our contacts. If you lose it or it breaks, you'll want a list of contacts you may need on the road. Family members, neighbors, medical contacts and insurance contacts are all great numbers to have on the road. 

You should also pack a first aid kit and flashlight.


We all know asking directions should only be done in a last ditch, desperate situation. The embarrassment! To avoid this unfortunate situation, you should pack an atlas or map of your destination just in case the GPS malfunctions or breaks.


Do a road test before you leave, driving through town and on the highway/interstate. This isn't a pleasure cruise, turn off the radio and really pay attention to the car. Listen for strange noises, feel for vibrations, and pay attention to how the brakes are working. You may find your vehicle needs to be aligned, have the wheel bearings checked, has warped brake rotors, or has a dying alternator. All of these things should be fixed before embarking on a long road trip.


Taking a friend along who'll drive your car? Make sure they know about the all the little quirks. Like how the gas gauge will go from 1/4 tank to empty in 3 miles, or the speedometer says 60 but you're going 75 mph - things that you know and expect, but someone driving your car for the first time may be surprised to learn!


If you're driving through other states, there may be laws you're unaware of. (For instance, check out all the variance on when to and when not to use hazard lights.) You can also find out about road closures and construction potentially saving you hours of sitting in traffic. Visit the DOT site for the states you'll be traveling through or call their information number.