Preparing Your Car For A Long Road Trip: Simple & Useful Tips

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Preparing your car for a road trip doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task. By planning ahead, you can make sure that it is done in plenty of time before you next adventure. Keeping a list and checking everything off will give you peace of mind knowing that your car is as safe as possible for your family vacation. 

preparing your car for a long road trip

In 2016, we did an East Coast road trip to look at colleges and visit Disney and Universal Studios. I did each one of the steps below, and it made it a fun and relaxing time. So how should you be preparing your car for your next long road trip? Here is a list broken up over a 3-week period.

Get Your Car Ready For A Long Road Trip: Before You Think Of Leaving

What is considered a long road trip?

Anywhere from anywhere from one week to ten days is considered a long road trip. But for some people, a long road trip can be anything over 6 hours.

How often should your rest your car on a road trip?

Typically, you should rest your car for 15 minutes after a two-hour driving period. Not only does it give your car a rest, but it also allows you to rest and recharge so you can stay alert & safe. But realistically, that isn’t always possible.

See how your car responds as your driving. If the gauges are off, or it feels funny, that is probably your sign to take a rest and check things out. I usually try to locate a few car dealerships along our route, just in case.

How can I make a long road trip more comfortable?

First, and foremost, make sure you get a good night’s sleep before your trip. Remember to stay hydrated and have some healthy snacks available at all times. Plan your rest stops ahead of time. I love the Next Exit book to do just this. Chewing gum or having pleasant scents help as well.

Pro Tip: To help the little ones be more comfortable on the trip, have them look through the rest stops with you. Say things like “when we get to x rest stop, we will have y hours/minutes until our next stop or destination. Make a chart that then can x off and stay involved.

What is the best day to travel by car?

If possible, the best day to start your road trip is on a Wednesday. While most people plan to start traveling on the weekend because of how vacations are typically scheduled, arranging a Wednesday or Tuesday departure date will be helpful.

So now that I shared some the most frequent questions you may have, let’s get to the steps for preparing your car for a road trip.

How To Get Your Car Ready For A Long Road Trip: 3 Weeks Before You Leave

Preparing your car for a road trip can seem intimidating, but if you break it down, you won’t miss anything, and it won’t be overwhelming. I know a lot of people use the AAA road trip checklist, but I feel like it doesn’t cover things for the average driver or realistic for the everyday family. These are my best tips that I have used over the years.

Take your car to your repair shop and have a trip check done.

They will change your oil if it is needed, rotate your tires and check your air pressure, and check your hoses for leaks or tears. The $40 you spend on that could save you thousands later if something should go wrong on your trip. This is not a step that should be skipped on your road trip checklist. Our car dealership sends coupons out for routine maintenance, so I have no excuse not to get it done. 

Purchase a GPS if you don’t already have one. 

You may have taken the same trip every year and know the route by heart. Having a reliable GPS can mean the difference between getting to your location a little later or getting completely lost. That GPS can save you a lot of hassle. Make sure all the maps are updated as well. 

Pro Tip: Have a micro-SD card available for your GPS. I went to update mine and was out of internal memory. Save time and money by buying the largest one your device will hold.

Take the time to make sure the device you use to hold your GPS in place while traveling is functioning properly. There is nothing more frustrating than having your GPS fall off the windshield when you are driving and you are unable to retrieve it.

Preparing For A Long Road Trip: What You Need To Do ONE WEEK Before You Go

Check to make sure you have an emergency road kit. 

Each kit will vary depending on your family size, vehicle storage, etc. Check out Edmunds.com for tips on creating your emergency road kit. Make sure you check your vehicle’s user manual to get the proper fluids for your make and model. 

Excursion Road Kit from AAA needed for long road trip

Make sure your E-Z pass account is filled and your account information is up-to-date. 

It is no fun finding out that you have a violation because your account was empty, or you forgot to add a vehicle to your account. By having it written down on your road trip checklist, it will be a situation that is easily avoided. Some states have several lanes that you can just pass through without stopping.

In my state of PA, many toll plazas no longer accept change, and if you don’t have an EZ Pass, the toll booth will take a picture of your license plate and mail you a bill. For us, the EZ Pass is more practical, and you get a discount for using it.

Prepare a miscellaneous kit for your car. 

This includes things like paper towels, garbage bags for trash, water bottles, granola snacks, and blanket. We always have a blanket, even in the middle of summer, with us in the car. If there is an accident, the warmth from the blanket could keep you(or another person) from going into shock.

Pro Tip: Take a plastic cereal container and put a plastic bag in it. Use it as a garbage can in your car. The lid seals tight to keep the garbage and odors in!

Have a mini first aid kit available as well. Just same basics like pain relief, allergy pills, a few bandaids, and some anti-diarrhea medication. If you have little ones, store extra diapers and wipes, as well as small garbage bags to store dirty diapers until you can dispose of them properly.

If you are planning on traveling with your pets during your road trip, here are tips to make sure your pets travel safely & securely.

Must-Do’s To Accomplish TWO DAYS Before Your Long Road Trip

Take your car for a “beauty treatment”. 

Give it a good wash, paying particular attention to the wheel wells. Make sure there are no loose twigs, rocks, or other foreign objects that may puncture the tires. Vacuum it out really well. You all benefit from this tip on your road trip checklist. A long car ride is no fun if you are stuck smelling something icky that was missed. The beauty treatment helps prevent that.

If you have car seats or booster seats, make sure they are in proper working condition.

By doing this a few days before your trip, you can avoid last minute problems. Check buckles, tethers, and any other securing mechanism. If any of them are not up to standards, then you need to head out and replace them before you think about heading out! 

Often local police or fire stations have car seat safety inspections. You can check to see if your local ones have that, and head on over.

car seat safety inspection event before a long road trip

Things To Do The NIGHT BEFORE Your Next Long Road Trip

Check your tires one last time.  

I can’t stress that enough! Use your car’s tire gauge that is built in, but also take the time to use an old-fashioned one as well. Inspect your tires for stones or other materials that can possible puncture a tire.

If you don’t have an E-Z pass, put plenty of change in your car. 

Make sure you have a lot of quarters, dimes, and nickels. And one dollar bills are a must. 

UPDATED FOR 2023: Most toll roads have switched to non-monetary methods. You can pay by charge card or they will bill you based on your license plate number. Be sure to check with any states along your route to verify what methods of payment you may need.

Place a box of tissues and a small white garbage bag in the inside of your car. 

That tip is definitely self-explanatory. Also make sure you have hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes, and personal care wipes just in case a rest stop does not have toilet paper.

Make sure important information is in the glove compartment. 

This includes your registration and insurance information, your owner’s manual, and a large index card that has information about every passenger in the car.

Full name, your home address, emergency contact information, and each person’s blood type. That information could save your life, so clip it together with your registration. Another item on your road trip checklist that should be a priority!

More Resources For Preparing For A Long Road Trip

I hope you found this information helpful. It should make preparing your car for a road trip easier and less stressful. Happy road tripping!

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