So you've finally found that new (to you) car that you've been after--and saved your money to buy it--and now you're headed home on the holiday break. Make sure you arrive on time and in one piece with these handy travel tips.
Longer drives at highway speeds can bring out issues that don't present themselves in short trips around town. Winter driving can also be trickier than driving in summer and fall--especially if where you're going is a lot colder, snowier, or higher elevation than where you live.
If this is your second or third (or 10th, or 20th…) used car, you probably already do many of the things you should before heading out on a long haul. But if this is your first used car--or your first car ever--you'll want to be sure you tick every box before hitting the road. These are things you can do yourself even if you don't have much car know-how, but don't hesitate to take your car to a trusted mechanic for a once-over if you don't feel up to it. Safety before pride.
First things first: check your tire pressure. A tire that's even 3-4 psi low can get hot and blow out under extended driving, especially at higher speeds, with more weight than usual in the car (hello, presents!), or if the tire is getting near its wear limit. You can find your recommended tire pressures in the owner's manual or listed on a chart that's usually stuck on the door jamb of the driver's door. Speaking of tires, if you're headed somewhere snowy, swap your regular all-seasons for real snow tires--you'd be amazed how much better they start, stop, and turn in the white fluffy stuff.
Next, be sure your oil is at the correct level. Consult your owner's manual for the proper oil-checking procedure, but typically, you'll want to get the car up to operating temperature and then park it on a flat surface with the engine off for 10-15 minutes before checking for greatest accuracy.
Double-check your spare tire and tools. Getting stuck on the side of the road in the freezing cold is never fun, even if you have everything you need to get going again in short order--but it's a lot less fun when you find out the spare tire you were relying is low on air pressure, or the tools you need to change it are missing.
Put together a bag with some winter emergency items, especially if you'll be crossing the western states, where you can end up dozens or even hundreds of miles from the nearest safe, warm place if the weather gets too bad to keep driving or your car should break down. Items you might want to have in your car: an emergency (mylar) blanket; drinking water; a first aid kit; a second set of warm clothes in case you get wet; a few energy bars or other easy-to-store food; a powerful flashlight; and reflective triangles to put on the roadside to let others know where you are in the dark.
These are just a few of the keys to safe holiday travel. An hour or two spent before your trip could save you days of headache--or worse--on the road.
automotive freelance journalist