How to Make Your Car Road-Trip Ready

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We’re in the midst of the summer travel season and with gas prices having likely peaked, it’s a great time to pack up the car and head out on the road. But before you hit the highway, you need to make sure you’re car is in top shape.

Consumer Reports Deputy Technical Director David Champion recently visited the Today show to offer tips for prepping your vehicle for a trouble-free vacation.

Check out his appearance, and also see our related video and these tips to ensure a safe and fun drive.

1. Fill it up. Make sure the oil, brake and coolant fluids are at their proper levels. Don’t forget to fill up the windshield washer fluid.

2. Stay charged. Check your battery to make sure it’s in top shape with clean terminals: A little baking soda and water will do the job. A road trip is no fun if your car won’t start. See our car battery ratings.

3. Belt up. Check the drive belt on the engine; most today are flat rubber belts with many ridges on the inside. Inspect these ridges--they should not have any deep cracks or sections missing. Replace the belt if it’s worn out.

4. Read the rubber. Inspect your tires for any tears or bulges in the side wall. Also, inspect the valve stem for cracks. The tires should have a good amount of tread left. If they are down to the wear marks, they need to be replaced (see our report on measuring tread depth). Make sure the tire pressures are set to the inflation pressure that is printed on the door placard on the driver’s door jam. If you need to replace your tires, our car and truck tire Ratings will help you choose the best model.

5. Give it a break. Have your service station inspect your car’s brake pads to make sure they aren’t worn or in need of replacing.

6. Pack smart. Check your vehicle’s load capacity to make sure you aren’t putting too much weight in the car. On most new cars, the total weight you can carry is printed on the door placard inside the driver’s door jam. This load includes all the passengers and cargo. Be aware that fuel economy is reduced with extra cargo. Roof-top cargo boxes should only be filled with light bulky items. Heavy loads on the roof can make the vehicle more difficult to handle in emergency situations and increase the risk of a roll over. If not in use, remove the roof rack as if can significantly worsen your fuel economy.

7. Track it. A portable GPS navigation system will help you get where you’re going, making it easy to find gas stations or restaurants along the way. Traffic-enabled devices can warn of roadway congestion, and all units can assist in finding an alternate route. Also, a navigator can help direct emergency services to your location, should something happen.

For more information on car maintenance, see our guide.