How To Save Money On Road Trip by Prepping Your Car

by Vincent King · 6 comments

Steam swirls through the air, billowing from beneath the hood of a 65 Ford convertible. An exotic woman slowly steps out of the car. Sweltering in the summer heat, she waits on the side of the road for the next weary traveler to offer her a chivalrous hand.

Only the guy never shows, and she ends up getting a toothless tow-guy instead.

Rather than being swept off her feet, she’s shipped to a local car lot, only to find she’s going to owe more money than she has on her would-be awesome vacation.

Not Being Prepared

Not preparing for emergencies when you travel is the easiest way to end up paying more than you need when accidents inevitably happen. “Emergencies” are more than stopping at the 7/11 for a slushy, only to discover that the machine isn’t in order. We’re talking triple digit payouts. Blown gaskets, cracked radiators, flat tires; they can’t be predicted, but if you know how to handle them, you can save tons of money in repair bills. But only if you’ve done your homework before leaving the city limits.

The Excitement Is Just Too Much

When you get ready to leave home for vacation, there are so many things to consider that it becomes all too easy to leave something unchecked.

But prepping the car or your route aren’t one of those things that it’s okay to forget.

Maybe you think that since you just had the oil changed or the tires rotated, you don’t need to have it checked again. But those jobs didn’t cover all the parts and pieces that should be checked prior to travel.

Or perhaps you feel like you’re not going too far, so you shouldn’t have to worry about it. Well, all those “maybes” are mute once you’re standing on the side of the road. Those maybes quickly turn into “Are you kidding??” once you see the repair bill.

Plan and Prepare

While not all repair issues can be avoided, things like fluid levels, transmission status, belt condition, spark plug firing, or tire wear can easily be checked simply by getting your car serviced before you hit the road. Take care of every loose end possible when you’re thinking of going on a road trip.

5 Pre-Trip Actions To Take

If you don’t want to get overcharged, or taken for a ride (pun intended), put these 5 items into action before leaving home (or getting help).

1. Check your route. Know where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there. Check for travel centers along the way, and plan to take scheduled breaks – especially if you’re traveling in the heat of the summer. High temperatures outside and under your hood could cause you to blow a head gasket or other serious problem if you push your car past its limits. Trust me, you don’t want that repair bill just because you were too proud to take a couple of minutes to stop every few hours! And always pay attention to where you are when you’re on the road so if you do need a tow, you can tell them where you are.

2. Make your calls. Call different tow companies along your route and get an idea of prices for service. Don’t ever settle for the first price you’re given. When a company knows you’re smart enough to ask around, they’ll think twice about playing games.

3. Check the car. Take your car to a repair place you know and trust. If you don’t have one, find one. There’s nothing more valuable than a mechanic that’s in business for the customer first, rather than his own wallet. Let him check out your car, fender to fender. Often the good guys won’t charge you but if they do, it will be worth it to know your parts are in order before you leave.

4. Check your glove compartment. Make sure you have the owners’ manual, insurance card, and a flashlight in your glove compartment. Go one extra step and make sure you know what your policy covers before hitting the road. You may have roadside assistance, and that will come in handy if stranded.

5. Check your gear. Your car should be equipped with the tools required to change a tire. You’ll need a cross wrench, a spare tire, and a jack. Familiarize yourself with how to change a tire so you don’t have to rely on a service to bail you out over a job you could easily do yourself with a bit of know-how. Flares and caution signs are also useful to have with your jack and other accessories.

Don’t do any of these tips I just mentioned and you can guarantee that, should anything happen, you’ll pay a lot more than you would have if you had taken a a few minutes to do a little homework.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Kevin@moneywisdomtips says:

    This is a savvy way to block the leaks and save more.

  • Dave says:

    You missed an important one….rent a high mileage car. A car rental for a long trip can pay for itself in fuel savings alone….and there’s no worries about repairs with the national chains.

    If you do decide to take your own car….keep a a case of bottle water in the trunk. Rather than paying $1.70 for 12 oz of soda at the rest area along the way, you can drink a water bottle. You can also use this water in your radiator if necessary.

    Keep an extra quart of oil and transmission fluid in a ziplock bag in your trunk. A role of electric or duct tape can repair a leaky radiator hose until you get to the next city.

    Did you forget jumper cables? You may forget to turn off the dome light after unpacking.

    And stopping every couple of hours is just wrong. Driving along at highway speeds provides the most air flow across your radiator. Most cars heat up to operating temperature in only a few minutes, so stopping every couple of hours just wastes time…which we all know is worth money.

    If you really want to be prepared…dump that silly donut spare and get a real spare tire you can put 1000 miles on.

    And if you travel a lot with your own car…like a traveling salesman…buy one of the auto towing membership clubs. My last tow for nearly 100 miles was free. This saved me the cost of the membership.

  • Jean says:

    Good tips. It is really important to maintain a checklist before hitting the road. Like you said, the excitement sometimes gets to people and they don’t bother taking enough time to do it. Make sure you atleast know the basic car repairing tricks so that you only have to call a tow truck in the case of a really complicated fault.


  • Lifeisdynamic says:

    One thing not mentioned about your vehicle breaking-down in the middle of anywhere/nowhere is the personal risk to self and your passengers. A baby, for example, may swelter in a car which is not air conditioned (motor not running) and getting the child to hospital in a hurry is not easy. Children and babies dehydrate quickly and it can be an emergency very quickly. Carry plenty of water for drinking and damping down.

    Traveling alone, particularly a female of any age is fraught with danger if the car breaks-down – robbery is only one consideration. For me, as a lone traveler, I always keep in touch with someone close to me – checking-in at regular intervals at pre-arranged times and at distances of around 100km. Knowing where there are cell phone black-out spots on the intended trip is handy to know before taking the trip so as contact can be maintained.

  • Leonard says:

    Checking the car out before a long journey is essential, not just to see the water level in the radiator is up to the required level, but such things as tyre quality and any other points you can check yourself at no cost. If a service is due, better to get it done before the journey too.

  • Lance@MoneyLife&More says:

    Luckily smart phones allow you to get a lot of this info on the fly. You just have to know that you will have service… great tips for planning ahead but I bet many people don’t take it seriously unfortunately.

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