The Ultimate Car Checklist Before a Road Trip

by Vineet

Going on a road trip is both fun and memorable. But to really ensure you don’t have a tough time, it’s critical to ensure that the vehicle is really taken good care off. So while we spend countless hours in picking the best hotels or road trip packages; we seldom spend time in prepping the vehicle to perform to it’s fullest on the highway. To make this simpler, we’ve put together a list of 20 must do items for a complete car checklist before a road trip.

We spoke to 7 automotive and travel experts on what they recommend as the ideal and foolproof car checklist, and we promise you that this is all you will ever need!

1. Get the right oil for the trip

This is important to do year-round before a long drive. But if you are road tripping in the spring or summer, it’s important to remember that higher temperatures require higher oil weight/viscosity. Most new cars run fine year-round on the same viscosity oil, but if you’re driving an older car that’s racked up some significant mileage, it might be helpful to upgrade to a heavier oil to compensate for internal engine wear. However, before making the switch, do your research and make sure your car’s make/model will fare well with heavier/thicker oil in the summer.

Car Checklist before road trip

By Dvortygirl (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

2. Check your battery date

You don’t want to get held up by a dead battery in extreme heat or cold! Most worry about their battery dying under the impact of cold weather, but what they don’t realize is that car batteries are more likely to die in the heat of the summer. If your battery is over three years old, get it tested, or it might be a good idea to get a new unit just as a preventative measure to avoid getting stuck and delaying your road trip. This is often forgotten on the car checklist before a road trip.

test your car battery before road trip

These days, most car batteries don’t require maintenance, but they do wear out, usually after five to seven years of use. Fortunately, most batteries lose their ability to start your car gradually, so they give you a warning signal before they go completely dead. If you’re having difficulty starting your car, check the date on the top of the battery or have a technician check its charging ability.

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3. Top up fluids

Your radiator’s antifreeze does not need replacing every year, but some mechanics may suggest it. The mechanic should first test the fluid using a coolant hydrometer. You can check the coolant level yourself (easy to do at the see-through overflow bottle). If you need to top up, be sure to use a 50/50 mixture for best boil-over protection. If you’re road tripping during the winter and there’s potential for bad weather, you can switch to using 100% antifreeze, rather than a 50/50 mix to keep your windshield clear. This is an absolute must as part of a car checklist before a road trip.

4. Change your air filters

Riding around with dirty filters prevents fresh air from getting to your engine and your interior, which has a lasting effect on your engine’s well-being, along with your fuel economy and your sinuses. Engine air filters are super easy to replace yourself. Consider the washable and reusable ones for better filtration and long-term savings.

vehicle checklist before travel

5. Cabin Air Filters

Don’t forget to clean the cabin air filter, which keeps outside smells and pollens out of your heating and A/C systems — your road trip passengers will thank you!

Inputs for Vehicle Checklist 1 to 5 

Richard Reina is a lifelong automotive enthusiast with 30 years of experience in the industry. He is currently product training director for the aftermarket auto retailer Richard also enjoys driving and restoring old cars — he currently owns a 1967 Alfa Romeo.

Website:  | Twitter: @CARiD_com 

6. Check your tires

Make sure all your tires are at the required pressure. If one is particularly low, it might indicate that it has a leak, and you need to have it checked out. You also want to have a look at the tread and make sure it’s adequate. If you don’t have good tread, you may slide or be more susceptible to blowouts. And don’t forget to check your spare. The last thing you want is to blow a tire and learn that your spare is flat too.

Checklist before a road trip

7. Put together an emergency kit.

Your emergency kit should include jumper cables, warm blankets, flares, a first-aid kit, water, and a flashlight. If you’d rather, you can buy a prepackaged emergency kit on Amazon.

8. Consider Road Side Assistance

For a low yearly fee, help is just a phone call away should you get in an accident or break down. Trust me, it’s a lifesaver. And make sure to get a good night’s sleep. The night before you go, you may feel anxious. But it’s crucial to get a good night’s sleep beforehand so you’re fresh and alert. So go to bed early.

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Alex Lauderdale

Alex Lauderdale is a Transportation Analyst and Senior Editor at Here, he uses his wealth of career experience to educate readers and broadcast information related to the current status and future of driving, driving technologies, technology TCD (total cost to driver), driver safety, and gaps in between.


9. Clean your car

Before a long road trip, I get my car ready by making sure it’s clean. I’m going to be in the car for a long time, so I like it to be as comfortable as possible. I vacuum and wipe everything down, plus I change out the air freshener, keep a trash bag handy so I don’t make a new mess while driving and I make sure my music selection is on point. I also wash the outside of the car so all my windows and mirrors are clear.

clean your car

10. Keep Paper maps

I also make sure there are paper maps in the car. We become very reliant on technology, but once my cell phone died in the middle of a long road trip. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in the middle of the forest in Oregon with no technology and no good, old-fashioned map.

11. Fill the tank!

Oh – and don’t forget to fill the tank! It saves you at least 15 minutes on the day you are leaving for the road trip. Tank it up the previous day, so you can zoom past the city traffic and hit the highway sooner! This seems simple enough but often forgotten in the vehicle checklist before a road trip.

fuel check before road trip
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Lenay Ruhl

Lenay Ruhl is currently a blog writer for, and is based in Lancaster, Pa. is a niche career website for traveling physicians. Not only does Lenay write blogs related to travel but she has driven across the country and back twice, giving her unique experience in long road trips.

Website | Twitter

12. Get it serviced professionally

Have a mechanic check and service your vehicle including fluid levels, battery charge, hoses, belts, brakes, tires and anything else that could cause problems.

13. Check the spare tyre / stepney

Make sure your spare tire is fully inflated and that you have all the tools needed to change a tire. Work gloves are useful to avoid getting tire grime on your hands. We can’t recollect how many road-trippers would have hit the road without this off their car checklist.

Car Checklist, Car Checklist before a road trip, vehicle checklist

14. Vehicle Documents

Make sure your driver’s license, vehicle insurance, and registration are current and in the vehicle.

15. Review the route

Review your route using a road trip planner and directions app or site to learn if there are any road closures, construction projects, or other issues that might cause delays or detours. You can plan a road trip using the ScoutMyTrip cheat sheet!

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Jack Plaxe is security, crisis, and risk management professional with nearly 30 years of experience as a consultant and corporate security director. He is the Founder & Managing Director of the Security Consulting Alliance, a Louisville, KY-based consulting firm.

16. Do a quick tyre test

Tires are important — they’re the only things connecting your car to the road, so examine them carefully. Pay close attention to tire pressure and tire tread — you can buy a tire pressure gauge and tread depth gauge from your local auto parts store. When checking tire pressure, check your owner’s manual for air pressure information or you can find the same information in your door jam. Make sure to check your tire pressure before every road trip.

17. Component Check 101

Check the components of your car, including the air conditioning, windshield wipers, and the inside and outside lights. Lift the hood and check your car’s engine parts. Start by checking the battery and cables for any cracks, corrosion or dirt. Hot weather can shorten the life of your battery — if you need to, replace it before a long road trip. Next, take a look at the radiator and hoses for cracks and leaks and don’t forget to change the air filter. Don’t know a thing about checking your engine parts? Don’t worry — your local mechanic can help.

Most importantly, Never leave home for a long road trip when the Check Engine light is on. It’s important to have engine problems diagnosed and fixed before you start your trip.

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Lauren Fix

Lauren Fix, the Car Coach®, is a nationally recognized automotive expert, author, spokesperson, media guest, keynote speaker, television car host, race car driver, and ASE certified technician. A trusted car expert, Lauren is a top woman in the automotive world and provides an insider’s perspective on a wide range of automotive topics and safety issues. She’s a fierce consumer advocate in the automotive industries.  Website | Twitter


18. Change or top up the Oil

Changing the oil is one of the simplest, yet most important maintenance tasks for your car. It’s also the single best thing you can do to keep your engine operating smoothly and efficiently. Depending on the make and model, auto manufacturers typically recommend changing the oil every 3,000 to 10,000 miles.

19.  Radiator coolant

Radiators perform the essential task of cooling your engine to keep it from overheating, so it’s important to make sure it doesn’t run out of coolant. Check the fluid level in the coolant reservoir next to the radiator. If the level is below “full,” add a 50/50 mix of water and coolant until it reaches the “full” line. For safety, always wait until the engine is cool before performing this maintenance task.

20. Lights

Ensure all headlights and brake lights are working. Having a burnt out light is an easy way to get pulled over on a long drive.

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Inputs from Jonathan Herrera of Fix Auto USA is a network of over 125 independently owned and operated body shops providing vehicle owners quality and safe repairs in a timely manner. Website | Twitter

21. Bonus check – or NOT

Keep your car from breaking down on a long trip by not taking it in the first place. Find a self drive car rental and get something for a week or two, unlimited mileage, and you can take it out of state. You’ll be driving a brand new vehicle, with all the toys, GPS, blue tooth, backup cameras, and safety stuff, and if it breaks down in the middle of nowhere, you call the rental company and say “Your car broke, bring me another one.” It is their problem, not yours.

After a week or ten days of flogging it absolutely mercilessly, riding it hard and putting it away wet, you give it back to the rental company and walk away, you’ll never see that car again. They get to scrub it down, shovel out a week’s worth of fast food wrappers, dropped french fries, empty coffee cups, paper napkins, toll receipts, pet hair, baby barf, chewing gum and other garbage, and none of this is your concern. No worries, no maintenance, no repairs, no hassles. And YOUR car will thank you.

Side benefit – with your car parked at home, it will look like you are there, and your home might not get broken into in your absence. (Remember to have the motion sensing lights around your house turned on).
Mike Arman is an unrepentant gear-head, have owned and worked on over 150 cars, motorcycles, airplanes, you name it since he was 17 (He’s now 71). Retired mortgage broker, been self-employed all his life. 

We’ve done a series of posts about being prepared for your next road trip. Have you checked our tips to plan your road trip budget, list of road trip gadgets and the ultimate travel checklist for your road trip .

You can also subscribe to our #MarkAndEmbark podcast series. Listen to the Ultimate Car Checklist podcast below. 

Plan like a pro with ScoutMyTrip


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