6 Responsible Things to Do Before You Hit the Gas

Car keys come with maintenance needs

Whether you’re driving across town to West Hollywood or across the state to Zion National Park, it’s important to keep your car safe. We asked Pep Boy’s auto expert Stacey Hamilton how to prepare your chariot for journeys long and short beyond that bi-annual oil change. Here are six maintenance tips to try before driving off into the sunset:

1. Perfect Inflation: “Regardless of destination, first and foremost, make sure tires are in good condition,” shared Hamilton. “They shouldn’t be under inflated or over.” An average tire will be happy with a pressure around 32 PSI (pounds per square inch), but be sure to adhere to the “cold tire pressure” number in your car’s owner’s manual or on the inside of the driver’s door. For mishaps en route, carry a tire inflator, a sealant, like Fix-a-Flat, and the number for roadside assistance.

2. Keep Your Tread Up: Try the penny test to check if a tire is too worn down. Stick Honest Abe head first in between the tire grooves. If the tread covers Lincoln’s noggin, like a silk top hat, then the wear and tear isn’t dire, but if his forehead is left out in the cold, then you may need a new set of tires. Rotating tires regularly can prolong their lives. “Rotation may be needed before a significant drive so you can get the best grip on the road,” Hamilton suggested. This involves taking tires off the car and swapping them, so it’s best to go to a professional.

3. Go With the Flow: Check under the hood to make sure all fluids are full. “Pep Boys will do that for free,” said Hamilton. “Always consult your owner’s manual and stay away from web forums—they can be inaccurate.” Don’t forget to change the anti-freeze. Though the name is misleading, anti-freeze can prevent your engine from overheating.

4. It’s Electric:  Most auto facilities will do a battery test for free, and you should take advantage. Any batteries over five years old are extra risky and may need to be replaced. While you’re at it, make sure that your windshield wipers, brake lights, and turn signals work, too.

5. Shine Bright Like a Diamond: To protect your vehicle’s paint job from sand, dirt, and those pesky highway pebbles, treat it to a day at the spa: a wash and wax are musts. If you want to take a DIY approach, Hamilton said conventional “wax on, wax off” products will be effective (and probably cheaper!).

6. Pack the Trunk: Before you leave, load up on a First-Aid kit, blankets (“a lot of people don’t think to bring a blanket,” said Hamilton), and one gallon of water per person. When on the road, be aware of your gages—they will tell you something is wrong before disaster strikes.