Prepare your technology
- A GPS will make your life so much easier. Map your trip with a GPS and also take note of other services you'll need along the way — like gas stations, restaurants and public bathrooms.
- But don't forget a map! It's bad news when a GPS malfunctions and provides faulty directions, so keep a low-tech map as a backup in case your GPS fails.
- Pack device chargers. You don't want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with a phone that is out of batteries, especially if you need help.
Know your car's needs
- Check the tires. First, make sure that the treads on all your tires are in good shape. You can check by inserting a penny into the tire treads: If the tread goes past the top of Lincoln's head (about 3/32 inch), they're in good enough shape. Also, make sure all the tires are inflated to the recommended levels.
- Change the oil and filter. If you haven't changed it within the last 3,000–5,000 miles, take your car to the shop.
- Take a road trip checklist to a mechanic for a full checkup. We know you can knock out the basics like tires and oil, but if you really want peace of mind (or if you know you'll be traveling over long stretches of deserted highway), have a trusted mechanic do a full checkup prior to your departure. Print off this handy PDF from Car Talk to specifically tell the mechanic what needs to be checked.
Compile your rations
- Think worst-case scenario. What types of food and water would your family need to survive if your car broke down in the desert and help were slow to arrive? Make sure to pack what you'll need if the road trip is a disaster.
- Pack a cooler and snacks with a variety of options. Chips and beef jerky have their place, but make sure you include a variety of healthy and tasty snacks and meals to prevent junk food burnout and expensive restaurant stops.
- Stock up on toilet paper and hand sanitizer. All we're saying is that bathrooms aren't always available when nature calls.
- Make sure everyone brings accessible layers of clothing. Temperatures change drastically as you navigate your way cross-country.
- Keep a flashlight and batteries in the car. If your car breaks down at night, you'll need to put light on the subject.
- Make sure first aid is available. Just pack a simple pre-stocked first aid kit for everything you need.
- Double-check that your spare tire is in good shape. Most drivers only realize their spare tire is punctured and without air when they actually need it. Before leaving, check the spare tire the same way you check the other tires.
- Enroll in a program like AAA for your roadside assistance needs. If you think you'll need help troubleshooting roadside problems, make sure you have a backup plan.
Last but certainly not least, make the trip fun for everyone by packing awesome music, portable DVD players with batteries and a variety of coloring books and games.
How do you make sure your car is roadworthy? Share with us in the comments below!
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