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Preparing the Family Vehicle for the Trip

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The following are some suggestions for getting the family car ready for a long trip.

  • Make a clean start when hitting the road. Clean out the car and trunk to free up as much trunk and legroom space as possible. Vacuum up crumbs and dirt from the trunk, floor mats and upholstery. Thoroughly wash the windows, headlights and taillights.
  • A long trip can make for a messy car. Take along a cleaning kit that contains paper towels, window cleaner, disposable towelettes and hand wipes. Fill an empty tissue box with plastic bags to use as trashcans. “Keep Iowa Beautiful” by always disposing of your trash properly.
  • Another way to cut down on vehicular food messes is to pack lunches in plastic shoeboxes. Use the boxes to catch crumbs that may fall while eating, then wipe them out and stack the boxes in the trunk.
  • Make sure the car is healthy by taking it in to a service establishment for a tune-up. Have the mechanic check the oil and fluid levels and air pressure in the tires, including the spare, before setting off. Continue to check fluid levels and air pressure regularly during the trip.

Vehicle Preparation

Follow this checklist to ensure that your car is tuned up and trip/vacation-ready.

  • Check all fluids to make sure they’re topped up In the winter months, fluids are easily depleted as your engine works harder in the colder weather. Make sure to double-check all the car’s fluids regularly.
  • Remove your winter tires/rotate all season radials If you have winter tires, it’s finally time to store them. If you don’t have winter tires, it’s equally important to have all season tires rotated. Driving in the winter weather can be hard on tires. Rotating tires regularly extends their life and will give you better braking and handling. This is especially important when you’re driving on wet roads that are typical during spring.
  • Wiper blades check Your wipers work hard all winter wiping away dirt and debris on your windshield. It is a good idea to replace them in the spring to be prepared for April showers.
  • Brake check After the cold winter be sure to check your brakes. One of the warning signs is brake noise, including excessive grinding, squealing, screeching or chatter.
  • Clean the underbody In addition to washing the exterior, be sure to spray the underbody and underneath the rear and front bumpers to rinse away any salt build-up which can lead to erosion and rusting. Use a high-pressure sprayer or garden hose for best results.
  • Interior clean-up Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum! Be sure to throw away any unwanted garbage that has hibernated under your seats over the winter. And now is the time to store your winter car mats in the garage.
  • Apply a protectant Any vinyl surface, including the dashboard, seats and the steering wheel are susceptible to cracking, sun damage and fading be sure to apply a protectant at the beginning of the season and touch-up regularly.
  • Change oil If you’ve been using thinner oil for winter (i.e. 5W30) change back to 10W30 for warmer weather. But make sure you stick to the manufacturer’s recommended oil type for your car!
  • Wash your car Just like a good maintenance program prolongs the life and performance of your car, all vehicles regardless of the finish (clear coat, acrylic, enamel, etc.) require regular washing throughout the year. To preserve your car’s shine and protect the surface, wax your vehicle once it has dried completely.

Some other tips for vehicle travel.

  • Having a clear destination is an important part of a road trip. Use current road maps and an atlas to plan out the trip before leaving. Don't rely on maps that are more than a few years old.
  • Stack maps in the order they will be used, and attach them to the car's visor with a large clip or rubber band so they're handy during the trip.
  • GPS devices work best in cities and on well-travelled highways. Even then, they may not take you via the best or fastest route. In rural areas, they may take you down roads that dead end or do not go through to your destination. Always double-check GPS routes against a current map, especially in rural and remote areas.
  • If the passenger in the front is up to the job, assign him or her to be the navigator. It always helps to have an extra set of eyes.
  • Children tend to get fidgety when locked in a car for extended lengths of time. Bring along an empty tote bag for them to put their shoes and sweaters in when they shed them. This will ensure that the items are easy to find when it's time to make stops along the way.
  • Pack a cooler with fun snacks for children. Juice boxes, string cheese and fruit snacks are some favorites. Another idea is to punch a straw through the foil top of a custard-type yogurt. This is an easy, no-mess way for them to have a healthy snack.
  • Not only is a cooler useful for holding snacks, it can also be used to keep the peace. If children begin fussing over personal space, try putting the cooler between them. This sets up a natural boundary and designates individual space.
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