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Summer road trip tips. No. 1: Make sure all your limbs are in the car.

My dealer performs regular maintenance on my 2003 Subaru Legacy wagon. It has 193,000 km on it. My family and I are preparing for a road trip from Vancouver to San Diego (and, of course, Disneyland as well). What should I have my dealer look at before the trip, aside from an oil change? -- Douglas, Vancouver

Breaking down on the side of the road when it's 30 C takes a bit of the lustre off a trip to the Magic Kingdom -- so your dealer should check for any little problems that could become big problems in the next 5000 km.

Some dealers will do a pre-trip checkup for under $30 – or for free, says Eugene Eng, instructor at BCIT in Burnaby.

"I still work at a dealership and we're happy to do a pre-trip inspection," says Eng. "Of course, if we find a problem we'll have to sell work on it -- but this way you can get it fixed close to home before you leave and not when you're in a foreign land."

Besides a basic oil change, checking lights, wipers and tire pressure and topping up fluids, here are a few other things Eng looks when making sure cars are road trip worthy.


This is at the top of the list. Eng checks tires for bulges, slightly torn inflation stems, and irregular wear.

"No one needs a blowout at any time, much less at speed with your family in the car and other families around you," Eng says. "And it's better to replace those 'nearly done, maybe one last summer' tires, than to get stuck in the mud somewhere or hydroplane in an unexpected rain storm." Same goes for brakes. If they'll need replacing or service in the fall, do it now, before you haul your family and a full load through the mountains.

Eng says everyone should check their spare before a road trip. "It's no good to you if it's flat too, or if the tools to change it are missing or broken," he says. "If you have wheel locks, know where your key is.


Eng checks for oil or coolant leaks. You'll be covering close to 5000 km on a return trip to Southern California, so "a small or moderate oil leak can add up to a significant amount."


"The long sustained climbs, extra engine load from a full vehicle with A/C on and warmer ambient temp can all stress cooling systems," Eng says. He tests the coolant to make sure it's the correct mix of coolant and water . The ratio is listed in the owner's manual. "Coolant contains the anti-corrosion, lubrication and PH additives," he says. "The water is more responsible for the actual cooling." He also makes sure the hoses, clamps, and radiator are in good condition and he cleans off the radiator. If the rad is clean it will have more air flow and maintain efficiency.


The water pump, the air conditioner and alternator all have belts – and belts can wear and break. If you have an older car without electric power steering, that's another belt to add to the list. The most obvious sign of belt trouble is a squeal, but Eng checks each belt for cracks.


Eng inspects the battery, cables and the battery clamps. Any corrosion can cause enough voltage drop to keep your car from starting. "Corrosion from the ground cable to the chassis is often missed," he says.

The dealer can also check the car's computer to see if any codes are pending – showing a problem that came up once but didn't trigger the check engine light. "It means they were tripped in the past, but it might require two faults to illuminate the check engine light," he says.

Eng also suggests having someone else in the family carry a spare key, especially if you have a radio transponder key. "Losing your keys on a road trip can cost hundreds of dollars," he says.

Readers, join the conversation to share your tips for not getting stranded on a road trip.

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