How to prepare your car for a road trip

Before you head out on your road trip, inspect the mechanical and electrical parts of your car and replace any parts that are not running properly. Also, update all necessary documents including your proof of insurance and your car’s registration.

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Stephanie NievesEditor & Home and Auto Insurance ExpertStephanie Nieves is a former editor and insurance expert at Policygenius, where she covered home and auto insurance. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Money, HerMoney, PayScale, and The Muse.

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Key takeaways

  • In preparation for your road trip, give your car a routine maintenance check. Start by inspecting the mechanical and electrical parts of your car, and check that all systems are running properly

  • Make sure all your documents are up to date, including your registration and driver’s license

  • Your car insurance will cover you across state lines but it may not cover you internationally

The key to planning a comfortable road trip is getting your car in tip-top shape for the ride. This includes inspecting the mechanical and electrical parts of your car, and making sure all fluids are topped off before you go. You should also test different parts of your car, like the battery and brakes, to make sure they’re operating smoothly, and you may need to replace certain parts for your car for maximized safety.

Before you head out, make sure all your documents are up to date such as your registration and driver’s license. Also, make sure you have a plan for where you’d like to stop, and call ahead to make sure the places you’d like to visit are open.

There is no specific coverage for road trips, but your car insurance policy, which probably includes a minimum amount of liability insurance, will cover you across the 50 states. You may want to consider adding supplemental coverage to your policy, like roadside assistance, to protect you if you need emergency assistance along the way.

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How to prepare your car for a road trip

Before you go, give your car a thorough maintenance check to confirm it’s safe and able to drive the distance. Also, make sure all the mechanical and electrical parts of the car are functioning properly and that your systems are up to date. To help, we’ve compiled a list of car parts you should inspect before you go:

Check the tires and tire pressure.

Check the pressure on all four tires and your spare, to align with pressure recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer. Also inspect your tires for cracks, cuts, uneven wear, gouges, and sidewall bulges.

Test the battery.

Test your car’s battery using a voltmeter, a power probe, or by cranking the engine. Make sure that all cables and terminals are attached and not corroded, and if your battery has a removable cap, check its fluid level.

Top off all fluids and replace filters.

Check that your fluids are at the correct levels for operating your vehicle safely. You can set up a service appointment for an inspection or refill your engine oil, coolant, transmission, power-steering, and brake fluids yourself.

Check your lights and electrical equipment.

Examine your exterior lights and make sure your lenses are clean for the clearest light possible.

Clean your air filter.

Pull your air filter out of your engine compartment and hold it up to a light. If you can’t see the light through the filter, then it’s time for a replacement.

Replace wiper blades and replenish windshield cleaner.

Rubber wiper blades deteriorate over time, so you may be due for a replacement if your wipers are older than six months. If your blades are newer, wipe them down with glass cleaner or washer fluid to prevent streaks.

Check your air conditioner.

Blast your air conditioner to make sure it’s in good condition and running properly.

Test the brakes.

Listen out for grinding noises or strange vibrations when applying the brakes. You may need to visit a repair shop for an inspection to check your brake systems for fluid leaks and your steering wheel if your car starts pulling to one side after braking.

Inspect your belts and hoses.

Replace cracked, glazed, and fraying belts, and replace any hose with leaks or soft spots along them.

Gather your documents.

Keep your proof of insurance, registration, driver’s license, and your vehicle’s owner’s manual in a safe place like your glove compartment, and make sure all of these documents are up-to-date.

Ready to shop car insurance?

Does car insurance cover road trips?

Car insurance provides necessary protection for you and your vehicle. There is no specific coverage for road trips, but there are certain coverage options that could be helpful if your car breaks down or you need repairs along the way.

In order to drive your car legally in most states, you must be insured with a minimum amount of liability insurance to cover medical expenses and property damage in the event that you cause an accident. Depending on what state you live in, you may also be required to have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage which covers the cost of damage or injury to you caused by a driver who either doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have sufficient coverage.

Comprehensive and collision coverage can also protect your car from damage after an accident or a non-driving peril such as theft and extreme weather. Both coverages are usually bought together and require deductibles which you set yourself based on how much you’d like to pay for a covered claim upfront.

In case of a roadside emergency, roadside assistance, also called towing and labor coverage, can cover the delivery of gas, a locksmith in case you get locked out, and towing up to a certain distance. Some roadside assistance coverage also includes coverage for food and lodging if your car breaks down far from home. This can be especially helpful if you wind up stranded on the side of a road in an unfamiliar state.

Does car insurance cover out-of-state trips?

Your car insurance will cover you in every U.S. state. Each state has its own mandatory minimums for different coverages, but you’ll only be required to meet the requirements of your home state. That means, if you’re driving from California, where uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage is optional, you won’t be required to add it to your policy before you get to South Dakota, where drivers are expected to have at least $25,000 in uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage per person and $50,000 per incident.

Learn more about car insurance and out-of-state trips

Does car insurance cover me in Mexico?

Your regular car insurance covers you across the U.S. and will likely still cover you in Canada, but it won’t be sufficient coverage if you’re driving to Mexico. In general, your car insurance will not cover you internationally as other countries have their own insurance requirements. But many major insurance companies will work with insurers in Mexico to offer temporary coverage you can purchase if you’re driving your own car abroad.

Learn more about car insurance coverage in Mexico

Road trips and COVID-19

When planning a road trip during a pandemic, it’s important to bring anything you might need in an emergency. This includes supplies you’ll need to help you practice safe social distancing given the COVID-19 pandemic: like masks, hand sanitizer and even toilet paper.

Road tripping during a pandemic requires you to over-prepare and take extra precaution. The following is a list of tips to help you prepare for a safe trip:

  • Find out what’s open and plan - Plan your destination points, any stops, and activities ahead of time. Also, confirm that any public places you plan to visit are open

  • Know your destination’s hours - If you’re staying in a hotel , call ahead to confirm their hours so you can plan around them

  • Re-stock on emergency supplies - This includes a first-aid kit, a flashlight and extra batteries, umbrellas or rain jackets, towels and anything else you might need in an emergency

  • Bring enough face masks for everyone - Make sure every passenger has masks and follow best practices for social distancing and staying safe

  • Stock up on toilet paper and paper towels - It’s always smart to stock up some of your own paper products before you head out

  • Pack plenty of water and snacks - Stock up on enough non-perishable goods for everyone on the trip to enjoy

  • Bring disinfectant supplies - Carry disinfecting supplies like wipes, spray and hand sanitizer, and use them regularly on the car’s interior and anything else you plan to touch

  • Have a backup plan - Be ready to revise your route in case things don’t go exactly as planned. Have backup destinations in mind, and make sure you have sufficient funds and supplies to last the trip

  • Don’t forget cables and devices - Be sure to grab your phone charger, portable chargers, cameras, and all other tech devices before heading out