Avoid Long Walks On The Side Of The Road
Story By: Kyle Callen
Photos By: Brandon Bunch
There is nothing better than hitting the open road. Sure, a plane will get you to your destination faster, but the common saying is that life isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey along the way—yes, I’m paraphrasing. As I prepare to hit the road for a 2,400-mile trek myself, I systematically go through a pre-trip vehicle inspection without much thought. It is something I have always done, and knocking on wood, has saved me from any need for a roadside rescue. (Now that I have said that, I better check the status of my AAA card…) The 15-20 minutes that this normally takes not only has the ability to catch a problem long before it arises, but also saves time and headaches. After all, we all want to wander through and explore these beautiful lands without worry. As someone who has seen many and various places, I will say no matter how beautiful one spot might be, the beauty is almost lost when you are looking at a broken-down vehicle in the foreground. What continues to save me is a quick check on the following:
#1 Fluids (Oils and Coolants)
We should all know by now how to check fluid levels. Engine oil, trans oil, coolant, power steering fluid, brake fluid, and even windshield washer fluid. Popping off the reservoir cap or pulling a dipstick is quick and easy, but also take note of the color and sometimes, smell. If your engine oil in a gas engine is dirty and black, you may want to get it serviced before you depart. If your trans fluid smells burnt, there may be a larger problem brewing. It only takes a few minutes to find out by checking the oils and coolant.
This seems silly as most new vehicles will tell you if a light is out, but always check for yourself. Bulbs are cheap, easy to change, and will keep you from getting pulled over and ticketed three states away.
#3 Windshield Wipers
You never know when you will hit an unexpected storm, or even just water on the road. Wiper blades again are cheap and easy to replace. If your wipers aren’t working at all, I would highly recommend figuring out why, and fix them… But if that’s not your style, you will at least know to pull over in a local café before you are blinded by the rain.
Tires are very important. They are hopefully the only point of contact to the road as you run along at 80 mph. Most, if not all, auto manufactures have a recommended tire pressure inside the driver’s door jam. Tire pressure means nothing if there is no tread on the tire. Using a quarter, if the tread touches the top of Mr. Washington’s hair, you are at 4/32 of tread depth. Anything less, the overall performance and safety of the tire have diminished and it is time to start saving for some new ones.
#5 Spare Tire
First and foremost, make sure you have a spare wheel and tire in the vehicle along with the proper tools to change it. If you happen to have a flat on the road, you can be back up and running in minutes by swapping it out yourself instead of waiting hours for roadside assistance. If you have a spare in the vehicle, make sure it’s properly inflated. Nothing sucks more than swapping out the spare and finding out its flat.
It’s important to watch closely and carry spare fluids in case of any leaks. If you have oil streaming out, this will surely leave you pissed off on the side of the road waiting for the tow truck.
#7 Drive Belt
This fancy strip of rubber keeps the engine accessories turning. Those accessories keep the engine cool, the cabin cool, the electrical system charging, and makes turning the steering wheel easy. Check for cracks, gouges, and that it’s properly operating on all the pulleys. It’s not fun fighting a heavy vehicle to the side of the road with no power steering as the engine is overheating. I speak from experience on this one.
#8 Brake Pads
This is a wear item. Finding a shop a thousand miles from home on a Sunday when your brakes go metal to metal is not my idea of fun. It makes a great story 15 years down the road, but in the moment, it sucks and it is also extremely dangerous. Make sure there is ample pad life left before you start your journey.
#9 Tool Kit and Water
This sounds funny but if something were to go wrong, your body and your car need water. It never hurts to have a spare gallon or two with you. A basic tool kit is also handy if you need to tighten a clamp, fix a loose screw, or help a fellow traveler.
#10 Snacks and Music
Every good road trip needs awesome snacks and kickass music. I prefer muddy buddies and beef jerky while listening to anything from Melissa Etheridge to Eminem. Tweak your snack and music choices to your personal taste.
These are ten simple things that take a short amount of time to check that will help make your next road trip hopefully uneventful and enjoyable. Outside of hitting a deer (which we strongly recommend you don’t) or eating a bad gas station burrito, the open road is an amazing place that will create memories for years to come. Get out and explore. With all that said, farewell and safe travels!