Road Trip Tips

Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

At the last gas station before Death Valley, the price of gas was a jaw-dropping $2.50. Not bad today, but this was 1988.  I was headed for California, and I thought, “Who in their right mind would pay this much for gas.” After all, gas was about 90 cents a gallon back then.  So, I flew past the gas station and headed into Death Valley with no water, little gas, and no cell phone (again, 1988). I was stupid and unprepared. Taking a long road trip is something I recommend to everyone.  See things you have never seen before. Go to new places and explore. But, be prepared.

General Tune-up

It is a good idea to consider taking your car in for a general tune-up before hitting the road, especially if your car is not exactly new. Take your car to a dealership or trusted mechanic. Tell them you are taking a trip and want to make sure there are no issues.  It is a small price to pay for peace of mind.  However, let me reiterate, take it to a trusted mechanic. A dishonest mechanic could seize the opportunity to scare you into paying for repairs you do not need. Talk to friends, read reviews, and look online to verify the mechanic or dealership.  If you cannot (or do not want to) take your car in for a general tune-up, you should at least check the tires, fluids, and make sure you have an emergency kit.


Make sure the tires are properly inflated. Refer to the owner’s manual or sticker on the door edge for this information. Usually, this is around 30 to 35 PSI. When traveling a long distance on the highway, your tires will heat up considerably, and they will be under a good amount of stress. This is when blowouts often occur.  So, inspect your tires. Make sure they have enough tread life. You can have them inspected by a trusted mechanic or tire shop. Alternatively, you can simply insert a penny into the groove of the tire.  Make sure the top of Lincoln’s head is jammed into the tread and facing you.  If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, you don’t have enough tread left on your tires and should probably get them replaced. Also, make sure you have a good spare tire ready to go. Make sure it is filled with air (if applicable) or is in good condition if you need it.


Make sure you check all of the fluids to ensure they are all at their proper levels.  This includes radiator fluid, brake fluid, engine oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid (if applicable), and even windshield washer fluid.  Consult your owner’s manual or take the vehicle to a trusted professional.

Emergency Kit

It’s always a good idea to have an emergency roadside kit in your car. You can buy one, or put one together yourself.  Here are some items to consider for your kit:

  • A flashlight
  • Reflectors
  • Jumper cables or a portable jump starter
  • Toolkit (screwdrivers, adjustable wrench, pliers, etc.)
  • First aid kit
  • Water – especially if traveling through the desert
  • Battery charger for your cell phone
  • Work gloves
  • And, of course, duct tape


I Made It

I managed to make it through Death Valley and pulled into a gas station, running on fumes. I was lucky.  Please be smarter than me. Go explore, but be prepared.

Written by Gary Pradel