Last year, when the world still seemed normal, we wrote a comprehensive guide packed full of tips for a successful holiday road trip. But in 2020, how we travel has changed completely. International trips are looking like an impossible goal as passport holders choose destinations that are closer to home. Instead, many have discovered and rediscovered America’s best landscapes, beaches, and cultural hotspots, and rekindled their love for the great American road trip.
How To Plan A Safe Roadtrip
In the current climate, being safe is more of a priority than ever before. You must consider your safety not only on the road, but also during rest stops and overnight stays. Consider your health and that of your passengers, especially if they are deemed to be at an increased risk of COVID-19 related illness.
Planning and preparation will help to minimize risk, starting with your destination. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes an updated map detailing COVID-19 hotspots on their website, which you can view by clicking here.
The CDC has advised that stopping for gas, restroom breaks, or food increases the risk of coming into contact with other people and potentially contaminated surfaces. To minimize this risk, assume anything that you have to touch has been handled recently and will need to be cleaned with a sanitizing wipe. Masks and hand sanitizer should be used appropriately.
Packing For Your Road Trip
Here is a list of essentials to get you started:
- Enough face masks for all passengers
- Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes
- A flashlight with fresh batteries
- A first aid kit
- Toilet paper
- Phone chargers
- Drinking water
- Your vehicle’s owner’s manual
- Warning hazard/triangle road sign
- Jumper cables
- A basic tool kit
- A blanket
- An umbrella
- Your license, registration, and a copy of your insurance policy
Use Technology To Your Advantage
Using a fold-out map may induce a dose of nostalgia, but along with navigation, your smartphone can make a road trip much more interesting. These are our favorite apps that can assist you and keep passengers entertained and make a road trip more enjoyable.
- Roadtrippers – Allows you to input your beginning point and destination and Roadtrippers plots your route, giving you information about the best restaurants, hotels, and any points of interest along the way.
- Gasbuddy – The best app for finding and comparing gas prices. Gasbuddy also has an option to plot your road trip, telling you not only how much you can expect to spend on fuel, but also highlights the cheapest places to fill up along the way.
iExit – Chances are, your road trip will include some time on the interstate. iExit tracks where you are in relation to the next interstate exit and lets you see what amenities are there, taking the guesswork out of how far the nearest restroom or restaurant is.
- The Dyrt – If you’d rather spend the night camping under the stars than in a hotel room, The Dyrt can help you find a campsite, RV park, or cabin along your route. It allows users to read reviews and browse photos posted by people who have stayed there previously.
- Best Parking – Nothing raises the blood pressure like trying to find a parking space in a crowded, unfamiliar city. Best Parking can reduce your stress by suggesting the best parking space based on your GPS, and lets you pre-book (and pay for) parking spaces before you arrive.
Prepping Your Vehicle
If your car has a weakness or isn’t performing at its best, traveling hundreds of miles in a single trip can potentially expose it. It’s no fun when you break down not far from home, but being hours away in an unfamiliar location can test anyone’s patience. You can avoid a roadside breakdown by preparing your car and doing some checks before you hit the road.
Admittedly, the following list is quite comprehensive and may even appear daunting. For those who aren’t feeling particularly handy, asking your mechanic to get your car ‘road trip ready’ is a simple and inexpensive way to reduce the chance of breaking down.
Our previous article on Tips For Your Holiday Road Trip had a dedicated section on how to prepare your car for the miles ahead, but given the boom in popularity of road tripping in 2020, we’ve expanded it into a much more comprehensive guide.
Important: Always proceed with caution when checking your engine as fluids can be hot, pressurized, or corrosive.
- Seatbelts: Seatbelts should be in good condition and free of nicks, cuts, or fraying.
- External lights: Front lights, rear lights, and indicators should all be working. Any bulbs that are dim or not working will need to be replaced.
- Handbrake: The handbrake needs to be able to hold the vehicle’s weight at an angle of 70% or less on the handbrake lever.
- Windshield and mirrors: Windshield and mirrors should be free of any cracks or imperfections which can limit visibility and compromise structural integrity.
- Windshield wipers: Windshield wipers should have plenty of wear left with no signs of nicks, cuts, or uneven wear.
- Horn: Makes a sound when you press it. If it isn’t loud enough it could point to a minor wiring issue.
- Tires: Should be inflated to the correct air pressure, as per the manufacturer’s recommendation. Tire tread should not be showing signs of uneven wear, or be below the wear indicator, and tires should be in good condition, free of scratches or bulges.
- Spare tire & jack: Spare tire (or tire repair kit) should be in good condition with no parts missing. If you’ve never changed a tire before, familiarize yourself with the process before you head out.
- Radiator hoses: Hoses should feel firm but flexible without feeling too squishy. They should show no signs of leaking, cracks, or bulges.
- Air filter: The air filter should be clean of debris and not clogged or look dirty.
- Battery: Terminals should be clean and free of corrosion. The vehicle should not be sluggish when starting.
- Belts: Belts need to show little sign of slack with no visible cracking, fraying, or missing teeth.
- Coolant: The level should be neither overfilled nor under-filled in the coolant reservoir. The coolant should not have a rusty color, floating particles, or other signs of contamination.
- Brake fluid: Fluid level must below the minimum level when checked in the master cylinder reservoir. It should not be a dark color or showing signs of contamination. The brake pedal should not feel spongy or have too much travel when pressed.
- Power steering fluid: Fluid level should not be low when checked in the power steering reservoir or on the dipstick. The color of the fluid should not be dark, brown, or black.
- Transmission fluid: Your transmission may have a dipstick or it is possibly a sealed-for-life transmission. Either way, the transmission fluid should be checked regularly. If you have a sealed transmission it’s best to seek help from a professional.
- Windshield fluid: There’s nothing more important when driving than being able to see where you’re going. Your windshield washer bottle should be filled before you leave.
- Brake pads: Brake pads should have at least 3.2 millimeters of thickness on them and the brake disc should be free of rust, scoring, and uneven wear.
In Case Of Breakdown
Even the best-laid plans can go astray, and a well-cared-for vehicle can break down unexpectedly. You can buy an emergency breakdown kit that comes prepackaged. But in most cases, it’s cheaper, and a better option, to consider what you may need in an emergency breakdown situation and put an emergency breakdown kit together yourself.
Some components you may want to include are materials to tow your vehicle such as a tow strap. You should familiarize yourself with how to safely prepare a vehicle to be towed, including the regulations in the states you’ll be traveling.
Another common problem that you may encounter is a flat tire. If you’ve never changed a tire, the best time to learn is before you leave home. You should also check the condition of your spare tire, or if you don’t have a spare tire, ensure you know how to use your run-flat kit, check you’ve packed a wheel brace, and learn how to use an air compressor to inflate a tire to the correct psi.
You may also want to include some general multipurpose tools such as a utility knife, Philips and flathead screwdriver, adjustable wrench, pliers, cable ties, and electrical tape. If you don’t know your way around an engine, be sure to have a plan for roadside assistance, and pack some emergency supplies like an emergency blanket, first aid kit, snacks, and drinkable water.
RepairSmith Can Help
Preparing your family for a road trip can be difficult enough without the added stress of making sure your vehicle is up to par. Our expert mechanics can come to your home or office and check your car to make sure you don’t get caught in the middle of nowhere and reach your destination safely.