Help me not get stuck in the middle of Texas!
July 22, 2008 8:48 PM   Subscribe

Roadtrip Filter: I'm driving across country next week. What should I do to make sure my car will make it?

It's a 1997 Mazda Miata. I just changed the oil, but today, I discovered that my clutch slave cylinder has a leak. I'm going to fix that tomorrow, but what other things should I look at to make sure that my car will survive the 2300 mile trek?
posted by Geppp to Travel & Transportation around Texas (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You should have someone who knows about cars take a look at yours and see if anything looks like it needs to be fixed. My psychic powers aren´t telling me anything.

Check all the fluid levels, make sure your tires are in good shape including the spare, have a jack and tools with knowledge of how to use them, and bring water and extra fluids. AAA or somesuch might be good to have just in case.

There´s really nothing you can do to be 100% sure you will make it, all you can do is give yourself a very good chance.
posted by yohko at 9:05 PM on July 22, 2008

Put new batteries in your flashlight.
Check the air pressure in all your tires, including the spare.
Change the pine tree on your rear view mirror.
posted by furtive at 9:14 PM on July 22, 2008

First off, is an excellent resource for all things Miata.

I had (my parents now have it) a '94 Miata. To tell the truth they're really durable cars...not sure how long you've had it, but I never had major problems with mine. I road-tripped a lot in hot weather with no problems.

Having said that, the radiator on the '94 was plastic in parts and it split on me once. Not sure if the '97 one is plastic. There's not much preventative you can do with this other than perhaps carry some extra coolant in the very remote chance that this would happen to you - though I don't think it's a very common problem.

I see that there's already an answer about having it checked over - good idea. Carry a quart of oil and check the oil every fuel stop.

Carry some clutch (brake) fluid and also check this at every stop. You don't need the clutch very often on a road trip, but check it anyways.

If you're really cautious you may want to get a transmission oil change and a rear differential oil change.

The front turn signal/daytime running light was ALWAYS burning out - quite often. Get a few extras.

Check that the spare is in good condition.

Maybe get the air filter checked/replaced.

If you have A/C, the hardtop can be a good road-trip option (if you have one). I found that driving with the top down can be good for the first hour, and then it's loud, hot and sunburny. If you don't have a hardtop, driving with the top up, the rear window and the side windows unzipped is a good option which provides shade but minimizes buffeting.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:15 PM on July 22, 2008

yohko writes "make sure your tires are in good shape including the spare"

You'll have an idiot spare but they still need air. Check that it is inflated to the correct pressure as indicated on the sidewall.

Make sure all your scheduled maintenance is up to date including stuff like trans and diff fluid changes. Do not however wait till the last minute, get it done tomorrow in case some twit forgets to tighten the diff drain plug and it shakes loose after 50 miles.
posted by Mitheral at 9:18 PM on July 22, 2008

If you're fixing that slave cylinder yourself, I'd imagine you know your way around an engine bay. Maybe I'm wrong?

Anyways, it's mid-July, which means heat. Check all your rubber hoses for cracks/leaks and that they're fit snug at the ends. I'd also check that the air filter is decently clean, and it might not hurt to replace the fuel filter as well.
posted by ninjew at 9:27 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oi, thanks for the advice so far. This is actually my 2nd Miata, my first one being a '94. Actually, I was about to change my tranny/diff fluid today. I jacked up the car, popped the hood, and noticed that my reservoir was almost empty. I kinda lost spirit after that. The slave cylinder in my first Miata also gave way, but I didn't discover the problem until, one day, I got in my car at Barnes and Nobles and my clutch wouldn't engage. I've carried a big bottle of brake fluid ever since.
posted by Geppp at 9:50 PM on July 22, 2008

I drove across the country in my first Miata back around 1999. It was a fucking blast. If you know your way around Miatae, you already know that you can basically weld the hood shut on the things. The following is a list of all the problems that I had on my month-long trip:
  • Absolutely nothing.
Seriously. Not one single problem. No leaks. No overheating. Not even a freakin' flat tire! Miata are practically bullet-proof (though I'm sure luck played a part in some of that.) This was in the middle of summer, driving through some of the hottest places in the U.S. That said, my 1995 was only 4 years old when I did the trip. Add another ten years and I would suggest the following:
  • Timing belt + water pump if you haven't already. Just about any other problem you might have on the road can be fixed relatively easily, but if either of these go, it's game-over.
  • You'll probably need to replace your radiator if you've still got the stock one. It's fucking hot around the rest of the country, and Miata radiators are prone to cracked heads at around the 10-year mark.
    • Quick tip #1: Radiators from Miatas with automatic transmission have almost twice the cooling capacity of the radiators from the manual transmission cars, and are directly interchangeable. I suppose you can go crazy and get a fancy dual-core aluminum beast that will probably set you back $300, but unless you're running under boost, I wouldn't bother.
    • Make absolutely certain your coolant hoses are in good shape. In particular, the heater hose coming off the back of the engine block. This is an absolute bitch to replace on the road... you need a child's hands to get back there. The 1.8L (94-97) engines have a nasty, nefarious slow-leak around the CAS (Cam Angle Sensor) O-ring, which just-so-happens to sit directly above the heater hose. Nine times out of ten, if a Miata has a busted coolant hose, it's the heater hose, and nine times out of ten, it's because the CAS O-ring has been leaking oil over the past ten years causing the hose to foul.
    • Quick tip #2: You can revitalize old hoses by rubbing power steering fluid on them.
    • A shade-tree mechanic with little-or-no experience can replace the radiator in under an hour. Seriously. They're simple as hell to replace yourself. The hardest part will be removing the old radiator because of all the rusted-on bolts. Spray 'em all with your favorite de-rustifier and let 'em soak overnight. You'll also probably be cursing the Mazda engineers for using so much goddamned plastic on the things.

  • I know you may be tempted to ditch the spare tire to give yourself a little more storage space for your trip. Don't. Just don't. Same goes for the car jack and the wheel nut wrench. And make sure your spare is inflated!

  • Replace the oil, oil filter, spark plugs, and spark plug wires if they haven't been touched in a while.

  • The only tools you will ever really need for the Miata:
    • 10mm, 12mm, 14mm socket + wrench
    • Pliers
    • Philips-head + flathead screwdriver.
    75% of all tasks can be carried out with just those items. I personally also carry around one of these bad-boys. It's a pencil-sized butane torch, which is extremely helpful for removing rusted bolts, of which your Miata will no doubt have plenty of--unless you have a "California" car, in which case, I hate you. :)

  • The single-best source for M1 (first-edition) Miata (1.6L and 1.8L) parts is Rosenthal Arlington Mazda (aka Finish Line Performance). I'm not affiliated with them in any way, shape or form--I'm just an extremely satisfied customer. They stock OEM Mazda parts and charge half to a third of what the dealerships will charge you. In case this wasn't already obvious to you: only use factory, OEM, real-Mazda parts! There's a reason why hundreds of thousands of M1 Miatas are still on the road: Mazda engineers know their shit. The only exceptions to this rule are specialty items like stainless steel exhausts or 4-2-1 headers or other fancy-pants upgrades. If you don't care about any of that, just make sure it's Mazda parts only.
If you have any other questions whatsoever, feel free to ask.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:46 PM on July 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Have you kept up on maintenace? If so, you probably know the state.

I'd check the suspension, belts, tires, and fluids -- in other words, the consumables. If your car makes funny noises, find out why, and if a risk, fix before you go.

Car history -- does your car hate hot weather? Avoid the desert routes, does it hate climbs? Avoid the most dramatic mountain routes. That sort of thing.

If you have space, replacing your spare tire with a full size spare can be a comfort.

You'll want an emergency pack -- some food, a blanket, jumper cables (or better, a jump battery, better, one with an air compressor on board.) If you're dealing with slow leaks, you'll want plenty of that fluid (you really should fix that, but...)

C_D's tool list is small, easy to carry, and worth having -- if, and only if, you know how to use them (You imply such.) Do be careful with the torch, though.
posted by eriko at 8:18 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just in case your timing chain breaks, as mine did on my first cross-country road trip, have a bus ticket in the glove compartment.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:40 AM on July 23, 2008

Civil_Disobedient, it is a California car =P
posted by Geppp at 11:49 AM on July 23, 2008

it is a California car =P

Mine is a daily-driver... in Maine. If I had the option of purchasing the exact same car, only with stainless steel fasteners for an extra $2,000, I would have done it in a fucking heartbeat! When Miata bolts rust, they really rust. Personally I can't understand it... I mean, they do get snow in Japan, don't they? Grrr...

Anyway, hope you have an awesome trip. Just be careful in the rain. Miatas can get a little squirrelly in the rain if your tires aren't tip-top, and some of those narrow mountain passes aren't terribly forgiving. When I drove across, I took the northern route to Seattle, then drove down to L.A. and took the southern route back again. When driving through Glacier National Park, every mile or so there'd be a sharp turn and a perilous drop; and at each turn was a tribute of sad little crosses on the side of the road where someone overestimated their car's ability to grip the road. Drive safe.

Oh, and one other thing: if you do decide to drive through the southwest, make sure to top off your gas tank every chance you get. Some of those stretches of highway are freakishly long without any rest stops in-between. Suffice to say, running out of gas in the middle of the desert sucks. AAA is a godsend for the distracted motorist without a fuel-idiot-light: if you don't already have a membership, consider joining.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:22 AM on July 24, 2008

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