Road trips and packing go together like camping and mosquitoes. No one loves packing, but it has to be done right for a pain-free road trip. Fortunately, we've got you covered with an easy checklist of everything you need, whether crossing the state or the entire continent.
8 Steps Before Heading Out On A Road Trip:
Check Your Fluids
Fluids are hugely important for vehicle life, and you don't want to run low in the middle of nowhere. The critical ones are coolant/antifreeze, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and engine oil. Click the links for handy how-tos.
You should check all your fluids and hoses before a road trip, but also be sure to bring any extras you may need. Maybe you have an oil consumption issue yet to be repaired, as commonly found in the Scion tC and Chevy Equinox. Bring extra oil stowed with the rest of your kit, and check the level every day during long drives.
No one wants to spend more on gas than you have to, so make sure your fuel system is clean and efficient with a product that can pay for itself after just a few tanks. Lucas Fuel Injector Cleaner is a safe petroleum-based cleaner with various detergents that gently remove deposits and let your engine run at max efficiency. It'll help restore lost gas mileage, which is like having a gas discount card for your entire trip.
Now that your tuneup is complete, don't forget the tunes. A mixtape full of Wilson Phillips and Milli Vanilli is only appropriate for a rad '80s ride, so think of your passengers and make a playlist everyone will enjoy. For the modern version, download all the songs no later than the night before the trip, and make sure the music device/phone has a charging cable and can connect to the vehicle's sound system.
You need a full tank too. Make sure you're ready for the road by having your favorite calories within easy reach. Grab grub you enjoy, but also aim for the healthy side. A day of driving and eating a salty, greasy mess will make you feel like a wreck. Make sure to stash some cash for random fried pie stands and taco trucks that can't take your card. Taking a side trip to Flavor Town is worth it, and you'll have some cash handy for any tolls on the way.
Stock Up on Water
While you might have a favorite carbonated beverage (there's not enough space in the comments for "pop" vs "soda"), you really should pack water too. It's great at hydrating you, and in a pinch it can rehydrate your cooling system. The big gallon jugs are cheap, and distilled, meaning they're safe for your ride.
Clean your windows
If you're more of the show car type, take the next step beyond washer fluid and wipers. A dedicated window cleaner is specially formulated to clean glass, ensuring optimal visibility. You might have more than just bugs on your windows, and all that grime builds up and reduces visibility the more you drive.
Yes, washer fluid generally works, but the nastiest crud needs real window cleaner and a shop towel. You'll be amazed at the difference and how much it improves the drive. Prepare your car ahead of a long journey but make sure to add a window cleaner and towel to your road trip packing list too.
Top up your washer fluid
Sometimes you can't stop, or just aren't ready to stop. When a huge moth splatters on your windshield, clear it away with a blast of washer fluid and your wipers. Road trips smash a legendary amount of bugs across your windshield, so you might want to get the stuff specifically designed for removing bug guts. Still, any kind of washer fluid is better than no fluid. Headed through some mountainous/cold areas? Get the cold-rated stuff for deicing and fluid that won't freeze in negative temps.
Check your windshield wipers
Remember the first Jurassic Park movie, where the computer tech was trying to escape in the pouring rain? His windshield wipers were garbage, so he missed the turn and ended up dinosaur food. Don't end up like that guy. Make sure you wipers are in good shape before setting out.
Ideally you'll want them to be less than five months old, and with no chips or gaps in the blade. If they're junk, it's easy to select the right ones, and just as easy to replace. If you're road tripping the rainy Pacific Northwest, you'll definitely need these and some Rain-X. And maybe some oars.
7 Items You Need To Bring On A Road Trip:
As well a preparing your car for a road trip, you'll need to pack the right supplies too.
Every driver has some kind of story about jumper cables. Whether a good Samaritan offering a jump in a parking lot or just a passing witness, these affordable cables can save the day when your battery is drained. Battery jump starters are the 21st century option, essentially just a massive power bank. But instead of using it to charge your smartphone (which you can also do), use it to send a burst of power to your battery at startup. These jump starters offer the additional benefit of independence, too. Lightweight and powerful, lithium ion batteries hold a charge for months. Traditional jumper cables still work fine, too, for those of you who don't mind the social interaction.
Getting that tire pressure warning light is stressful when you're out in the middle of nowhere. Here's a lightweight solution that makes it an easy repair. Just pull over and take five minutes to fix it with a can of Fix-A-Flat. It's easy enough for someone with zero mechanical skills, but does solidly fix minor punctures and leak up to ¼ inch so you can make it to the next tire shop. It's non-toxic, nonflammable, non-corrosive, and even safe for tire pressure sensors. Keep in mind, this is a temporary fix, so get the tire repaired or replaced as soon as you can. Fix-A-Flat can't always do it all, so a small portable tire inflator is also a good idea for road trips.
Great, so you planned ahead and brought washer fluid, oil, coolant, or any other needed fluid. But how do you add it? Without a funnel, you're either too far from the engine and spilling it all over the engine bay, or too close to the hot engine and getting steamed. Plop a cheapo funnel in there and easily pour without messy spills. Funnels are cheap, so just a few bucks upgrades you to a heavy duty version made of high density resin. They're rust and dent proof, and have a larger spout for easier pours. A quality funnel is probably the single most useful way to spend a couple bucks.
Just like the Boy Scout motto, you should “be prepared." A roadside emergency on a poorly lit road can make an unfortunate situation into a dangerous one. Safely get back on the road using an emergency kit to warn other drivers while taking care of your problem. Basic kits include reflective signals or road flares, a flashlight, and zip ties, while larger kits can include jumper cables, gloves, electrical tape and even basic tools. It's smart to carry this in your vehicle all the time, road trip or not.
You thought ahead and brought an electric inflation pump to avoid manually blowing up that air bed. Good idea! Unfortunately, like most home accessories, it runs on 110V and your vehicle uses 12V. Fortunately, you also picked up a super-handy power converter that allows you to charge any two or three prong 110V devices using your vehicle's 12V system. Just plug the power converter into the power outlet (formerly “cigarette lighter") and you'll be able to power anything from laptops and Blue-Ray players for the kids in back, to a mini fridge for keeping your snacks and energy drinks cold. Bonus, it works for truck camping and tailgating, too.
You never know when an unexpected spill will happen, inside or out. Maybe you spilled oil when you were adding more (see, should've had that funnel!), or maybe the 4-year-old in back dumped his entire juice box. Again.
Shop towels are super handy in as part of your regular cleaning tool kit, and they can pull double duty on a road trip. If you picked up something gross, you don't have to wash these disposable towels—just toss 'em the trash. Whatever the mess, a roll of shop towels can tackle it.
“Stuff happens," as the bumper sticker says, so make sure you're ready with a basic tool kit. You don't need to haul all your air tools and compressor, but you do need to bring enough to take care of basic mechanical problems like changing a tire or a serpentine belt. Your basic tool set should include common sockets and a ratchet, as well as some screwdrivers, pliers, and a hex key set.