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Disney Road Trip! A Pre-Trip Checklist

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This is going to be a bit different of an entry, but one that I think can help many of you that drive to your vacation destination. I mean, who wouldn't want to turn up "Holiday Road" on the radio or sing show tunes, or play the license plate game while driving.

Whom am I kidding. I mean, my journey to Disney is about 19 hours of driving and it is nothing like what they show in the movie "Vacation." (The original one with Chevy Chase, not the remake. (Ew.)) When we travel, I talk to my wife. I talk to the kids a bit. But mainly I can through the 80's and 90's channel on the XM radio, with occasional stops on Hair Nation and Radio Disney. Oh, I do sometimes listen to country music, but only during road trips. And who else listens to Florida Georgia Line while crossing the Florida-Georga state lines? (Oh, am I the only one?) The kids indulge in music or movies on their tablets and we just make it a relaxing drive.

Well, mostly relaxing.

In addition to being a Disney fanatic, I am also a gear head. My mantra is that I strive to maintain my vehicles in such a way where they are always available to hit the road at a moment's notice for a last minute Disney trip. If that sounds like I maintain my vehicles on a constant basis, you would be correct. In fact, I probably obsess over my vehicles "health" more than my own.

Every spring, I start inspecting my vehicles for extra wear and tear that happens during the tough mid-west winter months. I clean the salt off and I start checking things like brakes, cables, fluids, and the like. This time around, I found that a tie-rod end (which controls the steering) was beginning to fail on my truck. A quick repair later, and we are back in business. That would have been a bad thing if that would have failed during our trip to Disney.

But it made me think... what can I share with people in order to help make their road trip just a little bit better, safer, and a bit less worrisome? What things can they check on their vehicle to make sure that everything is a-ok? Well, that is what this entry is all about. This is all about checking over your car before a trip.

Let me first say this... I know that not everyone is comfortable working on their own cars. That's ok. I know that cars these days can be somewhat intimidating. They are complex machines. In many cases, your owners manual will help instruct you on how to do those basic checks. In some cases, you might want to talk to your favorite mechanic on what else you might need to do to make your car ready for an extended trip. Just remember - if in doubt - ask a professional.

Here are some of the things that I do to my car before a road trip:

  • Check tire pressure. Best to do this before you do any driving for the day. Your car's recommended tire pressure is usually on a sticker that is on the door, door jam, or inside the glove box. Use a good pressure gauge too. If you know you have a small leak because you keep adding air, now is the time to get that checked out by a professional.
  • Check tire condition. Check the sidewalls for any visual cracks or bulging. If you see anything suspicious, have them checked by a professional. Use an upside down quarter to check tread depth. If you see the top of George Washington's head, you need new tires. I know that many people say to do this with a penny (and Lincoln's head) but studies have shown how such depth can increase your wet stopping distance by a great margin.
  • Check that spare! Many don't realize that tires can loose pressure over time naturally. Check that spare's pressure and condition as well. If you own a truck or van that has the spare underneath, this would be a great time to make sure that the mechanism that holds the tire in place works properly.
  • Is it time to rotate your tires? This would be a good reason to do so. Many places will not only rotate your tires but check the balance as well. They will also inspect the tires in the process.
  • Check your fluids. Washer fluid. Brake fluid. Power steering fluid. Oil. Transmission fluid. Coolant. All these things should be checked and/or topped off before heading out.
  • Check your hoses. Check for cracks, seepage, or visible leaks. Get issues taken care of right away.
  • Check your windshield wipers. In many cases, they should be changed every 6 months. If you have not changed them in a while, it might be time to do so. Streaks are distracting and you don't want to be distracted while driving. As an alternative, clean the blade themselves by using a bit of washer fluid on a clean rag and wipe back and forth. Repeat till all the residue from the blade is removed.
  • Clean your windshield (and all windows) well. Really make it clean and get any bugs off before you go. You will rebuild your dead bug collection quick enough. I tend to use a glass treatment like Rain-X which helps the rain roll off the glass.
  • Check to see if it is time to change your oil and do so if needed.
  • Check your "fan" belt. Granted, in many cars, this no longer drives a fan, but all your accessories on the engine. Check for cracking or chunks missing from the belt itself. If your car is more than 5 years old or has in excessive of 75,000 miles, it might be time to replace it. Its cheap insurance. (Tip: Keep the old one as a spare, just in case.)
  • Does your car have a timing belt? Dont know? Check your owners manual to see if it is listed as a part of the maintenance schedule. (Still not sure? Feel free to ask a mechanic.) If it is due for replacement, do so. In most cases, it is an expensive job but if it breaks, it will most likely damage your engine beyond repair. This part is very neglected on many engines because of the replacement cost.
  • Check your air filter. In many cases, if its more than a couple years old, replacing it can help your car run more efficiently and use less fuel.
  • Check your battery. Most of them are sealed, but if you see anything leaking or corroded around it, get it checked out by a professional. Also, if your car was starting slowly during the cold winter months, it might be time to consider a replacement. Parts stores will have the tools to test your battery and can tell you if you need a new one. Some might even install a new battery for free!
  • Check to make sure all your lights, turn signals, and indicators are in good working order.
  • Is your check engine light (or other warning lights) on? Get that checked out and see if it is something that needs to be taken care of now or can it wait.
  • Disclaimer - Anytime a light comes on, it is for a reason. It is best to get it checked out right away to make sure whatever is setting off that light is not going to damage your car further. Most parts stores and some shops will check the car's computer to see whats going on for free.
  • Take your car out on the highway for a short drive and...
  • Feel for rattles or vibrations. Could be a sign of worn suspension pieces.
  • Listen for squeals or rumbles. Could be a sign of brake or tire issues.
  • Sniff for odd smells. Leaking fluids or fuel issues need to be checked out.
  • Check to see if your air conditioning works. This may seem like an odd item to check, but being that the weather is now getting nicer in the mid-west, and we know that its going to be warmer down south, now is the time to make sure your trip will be as comfortable as possible.
  • Check to see that you have insurance cards and registration papers in the glove box.

If you are not the kind of person that works on your own car, it is well worth your time and a little bit of money to have your vehicle inspected by a professional. They may do it for free or charge a small fee, but can really go a long way to checking the little items underneath your car that can be big safety issues. If you don't have a mechanic that you frequent on a regular basis, the best way to find a good one is to ask around. Your friends will be more than willing to recommend good one and steer you away from those that are, well, not so good.

Next time, I will cover what I think makes for a good roadside emergency kit for your ride. After all, things happen and its best to be prepared.

Till then - Be Magical!

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