What should I do to my car before a road trip? It is important to make sure your car is prepped and ready before heading out on a long road trip! This post is based off an article I wrote for Austin Woman magazine back in 2018, so I’ve updated it for 2020 and am sharing it here on my blog!

I have also included a free, customizable road trip prep checklist that you can edit for yourself and download and print! I’ll add it to the end of the post with a link to the Google doc. So, without further ado, here’s how get your car ready for a road trip…

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How to get your car ready for a road trip: Maintenance
Get an Oil + Filter Change
Most cars need an oil change every 5,000 miles (check your owner’s manual for exact recommendations). If you’re getting close, it’s a good idea to go ahead and get one before embarking on a long driving trip.

get your car ready for a road trip – maintenance
Have the mechanic top of fluids and check your air filters, too. Old, dirty air filters decrease fuel efficiency, and that can make a big difference when traveling long distances by car.

Check Your Tires
Make sure your tires are properly inflated and that the tread is not too worn. You can do the penny test to check if it’s time to replace your tires: place a penny between the treads on your tire with Abe’s head pointing down.

If you can see his entire head, it may be time to replace your tires – especially if you’re going to be traveling long distances.

get your car ready for a road trip – penny test tires
Be sure to also check that your spare tire kit is in working order just in case you have to use it. Don’t have one? I would highly recommend getting one before setting out on a road trip.

Check Your Lights
Making sure your signal, brake, and headlights are in working order is very important for safety while driving, especially in unfamiliar places. Not to mention you could get a ticket for driving with one out!

You Might Also Like: The Best Road Trip Apps to Download Before Your Next Driving Trip

Check Your Windshield Wipers + Fluids
Two words: bug guts. A bug-splattered windshield is an inevitable part of a road trip. Make sure you’re able to keep your windshield clear by replacing old wipers and topping off your wiper fluid.

Should you run into any rain, you want to have windshield wipers that are efficient and can keep your windshield clear.

How to get your car ready for a road trip: Emergency Kit
Have an Emergency Kit
I keep a car emergency kit in my vehicle at all times, but it’s especially important to have one when going on a long driving trip. These are the items you should at least have in your emergency kit:

a flashlight
duct tape
first aid kit/basic medical supplies
water bottles
jumper cables (and a portable jump starter is a plus)
a blanket
a tool kit
granola bars or other snack
a car escape tool
hand sanitizer or towelettes
How to get your car ready for a road trip: Entertainment
Don’t Forget a Cell Phone Charger!
Using GPS and playing music can really drain a phone’s battery, so be sure to have a cell phone charger in your vehicle! Get bonus points with your passengers by having one that can charge multiple devices at once.

Keep in mind, some cars only have charging outlets in the front seats. If you’re going to have people riding in the back, consider getting a longer 6-foot charging cable that can reach all the way back there! This will save some headaches, especially if you have kids… nothing is worse than a device dying 😉

If your vehicle doesn’t have built in GPS, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, or something similar, consider getting a dashboard mount for your cell phone. It keeps your phone screen in your line of sight making it easier to follow directions/GPS.

They also make some that mount through your AC vent. These work well, but keep in mind they do block air flow a little which can be annoying on a summer road trip.

Check out this post too: The Best Road Trip Apps to Download Before Your Next Driving Trip

Pre-Plan Your GPS, Maps, or Directions
You’ll likely drive through areas that have little to no cell service during a road trip, so having an old-school paper map or even printed directions from Google Maps is a smart idea just in case.

get your car ready for a road trip – maps
Google Maps (and probably most directions apps) allows you to download sections of a map for use when you’re offline or don’t have service — I would highly recommend doing this. Even taking a screen shot of your route beforehand can help in a case of no signal.

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get your car ready for a road trip
How to Get Your Car Ready For a Road Trip + What to Bring​ Checklist

Plan Your Entertainment
You’ve got to have some entertainment to help pass the time on a road trip! As far as music goes, plan your playlists beforehand. On Spotify, you can invite your friends to contribute and add songs, that way all passengers can add music they like (Shelly and I did this on our big Utah Road Trip)! Just be sure to download the playlists to your phone beforehand so you don’t lose your tunes when driving through an area with no service.

Audiobooks and Podcasts are also a great way to pass the time! I am currently obsessed with Crime Junkie podcast and listen religiously on my way to work. Audible has tons and tons of audiobooks available that are great to download before a road trip!

Got kids? There are tons of games designed specifically for playing in the car! Many of them are magnetized so you don’t have to worry about little pieces flying everywhere. These are some of the coolest ones I found:

Road Trip Bingo
Set of 12 Retro Magnetized Board Games
Travel Tic-Tac-Toe (magnetized)
Hangman Word Game (magnetized)
Magnetic Dress-Up
I saved more games and all the Road trip essentials in this post on this Amazon list.

Keep a Camera Close in Your Car
If you’re going on a road trip, you should definitely bring a camera with you — even if it’s just a smart phone camera, they take amazing photos too! Make sure you keep it close/easily accessible, you never know what you might stumble across… which is one of the things I love most about road trips!