How do I prep a car for a long road trip
March 19, 2012 5:00 PM   Subscribe

How do I prepare my car for a long road trip?

My car is a Kia 2006 and is about to hit 100k miles. What do I need to prep this car for a road trip? I will be driving from Los Angeles, to Boise, and back.

I already plan on getting an oil change and a new air filter. What else is there above and beyond this? What costs might be involved?
posted by digdan to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Check tire pressure.

Do you have a mechanic you trust? Bring it in, explain what you're doing, and ask them to take a look.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:04 PM on March 19, 2012

Have them check your tires, battery, and windshield fluid when you take it for the oil change. Make sure that you have an emergency kit that includes lots of water, a blanket, and jumper cables.
posted by pickypicky at 5:04 PM on March 19, 2012

Tyres (wear, alignment and pressure), wipers, lights, fluid levels. Check your spare tyre, and make sure you have a jack and know how to use it. Get a pump or a compressed air inflater just in case, and perhaps a can of fix-a-flat just in case you need to deal with a puncture.

Check your manual to see if there's anything specific on the maintenance checklist for 100,000 miles. And if you have a shop you can trust, they'll give it the kind of inspection it needs.
posted by holgate at 5:09 PM on March 19, 2012

An AAA membership, definitely.
posted by sawdustbear at 5:10 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Good suggestions so far.

Also check into AAA or adding roadside assist on to your auto insurance. While you are at it, make sure your insurance bill is paid up and not due to lapse while you are out on the road.

I know it is spring, but we've had snow flurries in Seattle mixed with sunny days and clouds, so I'd bring an ice scraper with you. You don't want to be stuck trying to chip ice off your windshield with a credit card or library card (but either will work, in a pinch).
posted by b1tr0t at 5:12 PM on March 19, 2012

How many miles is the trip? I would bet money you're coming up on a timing belt replacement, which is usually 100,000-105,000 miles. Check your owner's manual or Gates Belt has a replacement interval guide. It seems that most, if not all Kia engines of that time are interference engines. If the timing belt lets go, it would be the end of that engine.
posted by narcoleptic at 5:16 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

It might also be a good idea to keep a (filled) 1 or 2 gallon gas can in your trunk. If you run out of gas in the middle of BFE, that could spare you a lengthy walk to a gas station.
posted by AMSBoethius at 5:18 PM on March 19, 2012

I would put "High Mileage" oil in during this and further oil changes over 100,000. It doesn't do much but it does something. It should be $5 to $7 more at a shop doing the oil change. Beware if they try to charge more than $10 higher.

3rding AAA.
posted by caclwmr4 at 5:26 PM on March 19, 2012

Pour in a bottle of fuel injector cleaner before you go.
posted by zagyzebra at 5:30 PM on March 19, 2012

Check your tire pressure and your tires for too much wear. Get an oil change if it's been a while, maybe even a once-over from the mechanic if the car is getting elderly.

Bring a map of your whole route and a cellphone with a car charger. That's all I usually do.

It might also be a good idea to keep a (filled) 1 or 2 gallon gas can in your trunk.

This can be really smelly with even a proper gas container. With a poorly sealed one, even a bit dangerous at 8hr+ exposures. Bring a can if you must, but I'd keep it empty in the car.
posted by bonehead at 5:32 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Make sure you've got a cell phone charger that plugs into the power outlet in your car. Also check with your cellular carrier to make sure that you actually get coverage along your trip. Don't be surprised if data coverage disappears if you stray off the major freeways.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:33 PM on March 19, 2012

People above have the car itself covered pretty well.

In my experience of long drives, here's the helpful stuff:

Power inverter - Converts car 12V into 110V to charge phones, laptops, etc. You want at least 400 watts. Don't get too small. If you are in LA, you can borrow mine.

Cooler - The stretches past Las Vegas toward Idaho are LONG. Bring a cooler for food & drinks. Not having to stop makes it the time go by faster.

Spoken Word/Podcasts - IMHO, listening to someone talk makes the trip go faster than music. I recommend some Spaulding Grey and Henry Rollins. Again, I'll be happy to lend you mine.

Work gloves/tools - If you run into trouble, or run into someone that needs help, these kind of things are a godsend.

Have a great time!
posted by Argyle at 5:49 PM on March 19, 2012

Work gloves/tools - If you run into trouble, or run into someone that needs help, these kind of things are a godsend.
And a tarp. Changing a tire on mud or snow absolutely sucks. Also, you can throw a tarp on the ground and sleep on it, if you must. Tarps are great to have around in a car.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:55 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

It might also be a good idea to keep a (filled) 1 or 2 gallon gas can in your trunk.

It is much smarter, safer and aromaticly more sound to consider 1/4 tank as 'empty' unless you know how many miles it is to the next fuel station and that it is open. Cold or heat of even 'more than average' makes running out of fuel annoying and potentially dangerous. Keep your fuel reserve in the properly crash safe and vented place - the fuel tank. Loose cans of fuel in cars is dangerous and unnecessary.

Besides a gps takes all the guessing about fuel stops out of the equation. Learn how to search 'along my current route' for fuel stations and heck when you get to quarter tank or before wide open expanses.

Also, fill up whenever you stop anyway. It stops you doing that annoying 'I'll hold it until we stop for fuel' discomfort. You may stop once or twice extra on a long trip, but comfort is much higher.

As for the car:
Make sure servicing is up to date- you should. E doing this anyway. Make sure brakes have beenchecked in the last 5000 miles from the END of your trip.
Clean all the crap out of your car and make sure you have a small emergency kit (triangle, first aid kit or something)
Check tyre pressures every 1000 miles on long trips or weekly (whichever is sooner)
Check oil and other levels at least every other time you fill up with fuel.
Phone charger plus mp3 player charger. Seconding podcasts and audiobooks as better for long journeys.

Clean your windscreen regularly. It is surprisingly Irving to squint past bug guts.
posted by Brockles at 6:06 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Look through the schedule maintenance in your owner's manual - if you haven't already, I'd bet you need to change the timing belt. Other than that, a fresh oil change (and air filter; but you can probably do that your self), tire pressure, and maybe a bottle of gas/fuel injector treatment, and you should be good. If you're feeling frisky, spritz some graphite in the locks, maybe some new wipers, and a serp belt.
posted by notsnot at 6:11 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Given the distances you're driving, if your car doesn't have a full-sized spare tire (i.e. you just have a donut) I recommend getting one and keeping it in your trunk. If space is an issue, you can ditch the donut and reclaim the space in your tire well for storage. Also: keep two cans of fix-a-flat in your emergency kit.

I second the 400W AC inverter. In addition to charging laptops when rest stop power outlets are few and far between, you'll be able to pack a small 200W immersion heater to provide emergency hot coffee/soup if you're stranded.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:16 PM on March 19, 2012

Nthing narcoleptic. I had a timing belt blow--right on schedule at 100,000 miles--and that was the end of the car.
posted by fiery.hogue at 6:16 PM on March 19, 2012

I just wanted to stress how rural that area is. Have some spare food and water and a good mix of clothing with you, like a jacket, fleeces, hat, good walking shoes and so on. You will be going through desert, pairie, mountains and lots else with a HUGE climate range. There are a LOT of elevation changes on the way and not a lot of much else, including cell phone coverage. If you stay on the Interstates you will have coverage, lots of traffic and about twice as long as it needs to be. Never skip a gas station if you are below a half tank, and check your tires and wash your windshield every stop for gas. Highway miles are not real tough on car in general but make sure your tires are good and you have a good spare (If it is just the hide a spare the car came with a tire/wheel combo from a junkyard is not a bad idea at all-you may well be more than the 50 miles from help those tires are rated for). And get all the regular maintenance stuff done mentioned above.
posted by bartonlong at 6:21 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

While you are at it, bring a couple of glow sticks, a blanket, a change of clothes (old T-shirt and Jeans should do fine) and other cold weather gear.

If you do not know yet, learn to change a flat in the comfort of your home. There is nothing worse than trying to do it for the first time in an uninhabited area at night, while its raining!

Fix-a-flats are almost a no-no (I said almost, because you have to use it ONLY in case two tires blow out at the same time). Most mechanic shops will not fix a blown-out tire that has been sealed with fix-a-flat.

Be sure to take adequate rest stops (both for your sake and the car's) and avoid driving at night, if possible.
posted by theobserver at 8:59 PM on March 19, 2012

It is much smarter, safer and aromaticly more sound to consider 1/4 tank as 'empty' unless you know how many miles it is to the next fuel station and that it is open.

Yeah, I've done a ton of long distance driving and I start looking at half a tank. That's not to say I'll pull over right on the 1/2 line, but I'll start keeping an eye out for billboards advertising far off stations and towns where I might stop and pick one that looks reasonable as my destination. I probably spend a bit more on gas that way, but I've driven through parts of the country where passing up a gas station may mean a long walk to the next one. And it looks like this route's on a lot of state highways, not interstates, so all the more reason for caution.

A lot of people have already covered the mechanical and technical stuff so I'll cover the you stuff. I've driven across parts of where you're going and you're going to want to bring CDs, an iPod, audiobooks, or whatever keeps you from going nuts, because there's not going to be much in the way of radio on that drive. I'd bring a roll of toilet paper because the last thing you want to do is stumble into a backcountry gas station (or have to make do roadside) and find they're out of toilet paper.

Whatever you're using for directions, bring backups of various technological levels. I have a recently-updated GPS, my phone with GPS, and a google maps set of directions on any long distance trip I make. It's a bit of overkill, but I've had things happen like the GPS fail and my phone's battery die so I have to use the google maps or the road is under construction, so the google directions don't work anymore and the GPS has to take over or the GPS decides we need to go down "obscure unpaved road" rather than "6 lane interstate" so we have to paper maps it for a while.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:02 PM on March 19, 2012

Oh, and a towel. And I'm not being glib and quoting Hitchhiker's Guide. It's just that they take up so little space and you can make do with an old one. And you will be so, so glad you have one when you really need one, from mundane things like your soda exploding to more exciting things like needing to dry off after digging your car out of a sudden snowstorm.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:18 PM on March 19, 2012

My car does (and always has) gone 5,000 miles (probably more like 6,000 by the time I actually take it in) between times that anybody checks it for anything other than the tires not being flat, the gas tank not being empty, and the dash warning lights not being on. So unless you're going more than 6,000 miles, you really don't need to do anything. Really, your car's not any more likely to break down in 1,000 miles of cross-country driving than it is in 1,000 miles of driving around home.

Besides, your car is still pretty new. In 2001 I drove from northern California to central Florida and back in a 1985 GMC pickup truck with 140,000 miles on it and even that gave me no problems, aside from the heater not being able to keep up with the coldness of the night outside Denver.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:22 PM on March 19, 2012

Really, your car's not any more likely to break down in 1,000 miles of cross-country driving than it is in 1,000 miles of driving around home.
Not only is that not true, but the consequences of a breakdown that far from home are much worse.

A typical commute is enough to get the engine up to working temperature, exercise it there for a while, and then cool down. A long road trip keeps the engine spinning for eight or more hours at a time, with brief stops for food and gas. If your car is having minor issues, they may not show up on the commute. They are much more likely to show up when the car is operated continuously for a long period of time. Additionally, a trip from LA to Idaho will take you through a lot of different elevations and climates. You might warp your rotors as you exit a mountain pass. All sorts of things might happen simply because you are outside your normal commuting environment.

If anything does happen, you are no longer a cab ride away from home. It gets a lot harder to deal with a broken car far from where you live, and that is compounded by the lack of population between LA and Idaho. So even if the odds of a breakdown remained constant, the cost of a breakdown goes way up. So it makes sense to prepare a bit better.

Now, if it were me doing the trip, I'd just get AAA, a tarp, and a cell phone charger and stick to I5 and I90, passing through Seattle. This is a longer route, but it is a very heavily traveled route. I'd forget the cooler, the AC inverter and all that other heavy gear. I'd probably buy a box of powerbars and maybe a couple bottles of gatorade. I used to be a pretty big coffee drinkers, but the only major accident I've been in was partially a result of too much caffeine. So I'd ditch the coffee, and just pull in to sleep when I'm tired. You can drive 20 hours in one sitting, but that's a great way to fatigue yourself into a serious accident. Try to keep your driving sessions down to 8-10 hours. Bring a friend (make sure they are on the insurance) if you need to power through the drive.

Keep in mind that if you stuff your car full of crap, it becomes a bigger target for theft when you park for the night.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:55 PM on March 19, 2012

Not only is that not true, but the consequences of a breakdown that far from home are much worse.

I'll give you that a breakdown far from home is more frustrating, but I can't think of a lot of good examples of scenarios that are likely to fail in two days of 8 hours of driving that *wouldn't* fail in three weeks of driving a bunch of 30-minute to 1-hour chunks, especially if you don't know about them before leaving. Do you have to add coolant to your car before every trip? Then sure, that will show up on the trip, but you already knew your car can't go more than half an hour without overheating. If you're driving around in L.A. traffic for a month and the car never overheats, it's probably not going to on a couple long days, either. Similarly, your car might only leak when it's hot, but it'll spend enough time hot over a month of normal driving that you'll run out of whatever you're leaking by the end, just as you would on one single long trip.

And I guess it's feasible you could warp your rotors coming down from Vail or something, but I really can't see it happening (especially since I've done that trip before). Remember, it's a 2006 car with under 100k on it and no known problems.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:45 PM on March 19, 2012

When was the last time that you changed the timing belt?
posted by zia at 1:59 AM on March 20, 2012

Many cars call for some relatively major maintenance at 100k miles. IN addition to a timing belt, you might due for new spark plugs (which might get you slightly better gas mileage on your trip) and a few other things. Check the maintenance schedule. If you still have it, it should be in the folder with the manual in the glove box, if not, you can probably find on online or call a local Kia dealer and ask them what maintenance items are required and 100k miles.
posted by VTX at 1:33 PM on March 20, 2012

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