Pre-trip Inspections

Pre-trip Inspections

Pre-trip Inspections

Before planning a trip, check out your route to find out about any construction or traffic issues that you may run into. By planning ahead, you can save time and frustration. By call 511, visiting the free VA website at, or downloading the 511 app, you can find the travel information that you need to plan your trip in VA. This website will provide you information concerning road work, special events, weather closures and other pertinent information. By linking to www.fhw

Inspect tires before you begin you can have free access to nationwide traffic information. Plan any long distant trips, if you are not on a tight schedule, to revolve around avoiding large urban areas during morning and evening rush hours.

Inspect your vehicle

There are some simple checks that you can do before you take off on a long trip that will make your trip safer and more pleasant. Taking a little time to check out your vehicle and prepare can save you hours and money on the road.

Check all tires
The time to check your tire pressure is before you get out of your driveway. A hot tire has an elevated tire pressure reading. Even traveling for as little as a mile, your tire gauge reading could be inaccurate. . On a cold tire use a tire pressure gauge to read your pressure. When checking your tire or filling your tires with air hold the gauge straight and push against the tire valve. A dirty or clogged tire valve can cause a leakage, so be sure to inspect your tire valve. Occasionally, it may be necessary to replace the valve completely.

Checking your tire pressure or filling your tires should be a silent process. If you hear air escaping through the valve stem you are probably not pushing hard enough on the valve stem. Be sure to check the pressure in your spare also. You do not want to have flat on the road, only to discover that your spare is flat also.

Never bleed your tires when on a trip as hot tires will not give an accurate tire pressure reading Tire pressure can increase as much as 15-20%in hot weather and can take 3-4 hours to cool. 

Although your tire has the maximum pressure for the maximum load, for that tire, written on the tire itself, a more optimal pressure will be found in your owner’s manual, or on a strip on the inside of the driver’s door. These pressures are taking into account your vehicle and its weight in order to ensure a smoother ride. If you are loading you’re your car with heavy luggage or extra passengers, you may want to add a little extra air. At truck tire is turning 450 times per minute and a passenger tire is turning at 850 per minute as you travel down the highway. Too little air can lead to cord fatigue and breakage, can waste energy through heat, or cause a sloppy road feel. Too much pressure can cause poor shock absorption, change the foot print of your tire which can reduce traction. You should check your tire pressure once a week. A car can lose up to a pound of pressure in a week; a truck tire up to 2 pounds. Air escapes from your tires by leaking from between the bead and the wheel, through dirty or iced valve stems, or more frequently through the tire itself. As the tire heats up the rubber expands so that air can escape through the rubber tire. It is important to keep your tires clean, have a good cap on the valve, replace the valve stem when damaged and check tires frequently in hot weather for leakage.

Check all tires for wear. If your tread wear indicator (a band across your tire that is the first place to be void of any tread as your tire wears) is bare, it is time to replace your tires. If you have balding spots, uneven wear, worn tread, stone or metal stuck in the tires, or a dirty, cracked or missing top on your valve stem, you need to do some maintenance on your tires. You may need to replace them completely. Regular rotation of your tires causes your ties to wear more evenly and extends the life of your tires. At the service center they will rotate your front right tire to the back left and your front left tire to the back right. This will cause your tires to wear more evenly, as your front end tends to wear tires out at different points and can easily be out of balance. If you have a wobbly feel or hear a “whooping” sound coming from your tires, it may be something as simple as a missing weight, or a tire out of balance. Your service center will put weights on your tires to balance them and cause them to turn in a more rounded pattern. These can be knocked loose, or come off and need to be replaced. This is a simple fix, but an important one.



Emergency Kit

Prepare for anything that may come up by packing an emergency kit for the road. These should include but not be limited to, the following:

  • Roadside flares
  • A first-aid kit
  • Work gloves or latex gloves
  • Two quart of oil
  • Jumper cables
  • One gallon of antifreeze
  • Brake fluid
  • Extra fuses
  • A blanket
  • A flashlight with fresh batteries
  • A Phillips head screwdriver
  • A flat head screwdriver
  • Vise grips
  • An adjustable wrench
  • A pair of pliers
  • A tire inflator
  • A tire pressure gauge
  • Some rags and a funnel
  • A roll of duct tape
  • A roll of paper towels
  • A spray bottle with washer fluid
  • An ice scraper
  • An AAA or roadside emergency card
  • Triangle reflectors and flares
  • A pocketknife
  • Bottled water
  • For winter driving you may want to add additional clothing
  • Hand warmers
  • High calorie snacks
  • Space saver blankets



Check all fluids

Before embarking on a trip, check under your car for any leaks in fluid that may be on the ground. If your spot liquid, you should look at the color of the liquid. Is it oil, transmission fluid, coolant, or water from the air conditioner? You may have a leak that needs to be fixed. An oil, coolant or transmission leak could lead to a break down on the road and possible permanent damage to your engine. A little time spent in advance, can save you hours on the road and a much bigger expense.

Check your motor oil

Be sure it is at the correct level. The oil and filter should be changed every 3 months or 3,000-5,000 miles. If you frequently drive on dusty roads you may need to change more often. If your trip is going to put you over this mileage amount, it is a good idea to change your oil before you leave. Changing your oil regularly is the single most important maintenance you can do for your vehicle. Your oil is the cleanser in your engine, moving little bits of metals that are produced from moving parts into the oil filter. When changing your oil, check your owner’s manual for the correct weight of oil. Higher quality synthetic oils will stay more stable in changing temperatures and cause less wear on your engine. Dirty oil puts extra wear and tear on your engine, resulting in shorter engine life. Dark, dirty oil is a sign that you are in the need of oil change. Clean oil should be a rich honey color. If your oil is low, this could also be an indication that you need a change, vehicles burn a certain amount of oil as they function. If you are low, it may have been long enough to warrant a change. To check your oil level, pull out the oil stick, wipe it off and reinsert. Remove it again and look at the level that the oil registers on the stick. It will be clearly marked “add a quart” if you need to add. If you do not see any oil on the stick, add oil until you do. There is a clearly marked “full “line on your stick. Do not overfill!

Wiper fluid

Having fluid in your reservoir is very important on a trip, especially at night. If you are traveling in an area where dirt, debris, or bugs will be on your windshield, be prepared with a full reservoir of windshield wiper cleaner. You can be completely blinded at night by a dirty windshield. The lights from other vehicles shine on your windshield and reflect the dirt back in your eyes, keeping you from seeing out. Wiper fluid is a necessity in this situation. A quick fix until you can get to a service station to clean the windshield properly.


Store spare fuses in your glove compartment. You can avoid the inconvenience of having to buy new fuses while on a trip with just a little planning

Cooling System

Check the level of coolant in your overflow tank. If you have to look in the radiator be sure the engine is cool. Never open the top of a steaming radiator! Add antifreeze as needed. Be sure that you add the correct color fluid. There are antifreezes on the market that you can mix with orange or green, but be sure you have this type if you don’t know what color you need. Check your owner’s manual. It is amazing the information they have in there!

Check your hoses and belts

Look for softness, swelling and cracking. You want your belts to be tight when you apply pressure. A worn belt will be cracked, frayed and even cut in places. If you press on your belt and there is too much play, you want to have it tightened, or replaced. This is a job for a service center. If you are concerned, carry an extra replacement hose with you, if you don’t replace before you travel. It can save you time and money if your hose or belt were to break. Any time you hear screeching under the hood, check your belt, it may be wearing out, or not running properly.

Brake System

Yearly inspections will let you know of any brake issues once a year, but many times you may need to replace your brakes before the year is out. By replacing your pads in a timely manner you can spare yourself the expense of having your rotors turned or replaced which is an additional expense. Check your brake fluid in your master cylinder and check the operation of your parking brake. If you were to lose your regular brakes your emergency brake will still work. It is a manual brake on a different system than your regular brakes. In an emergency when using the emergency brake, down shift to slow down and pump the hand brake to gently slow down and stop. If you pull the emergency brake quickly while moving you will make a 180 degree turn, as the parking/emergency brake only brakes the back wheels. If your brakes feel “mushy’ check for low brake fluid or air in your brakes. Pump the bakes a few times to help rebuild pressure in your pedal.

Power steering

Check the fluid in your power steering fluid reservoir, add if necessary. If you were to lose your power steering you can still steer, but it will be much more difficult. Losing power steering is not the same as losing your steering completely. Total steering loss would require a serious malfunction or damage in your car.

Washing and Cleaning

Clean your car before a trip. Load all your favorite CD’s, program your GPS in advance and set up your hands free phone device. These things done in advance can further increase your pleasure and avoid hassles on your trip. Good planning can spare you hours sitting in back up traffic for construction, help you avoid rush hour traffic, and perhaps save you time and money in repairs.

Air Filter

Check your air filter to see if it needs replacing. You should be able to see light through your air filter when you hold it up to the light. You may go for long time before changing your filter if you travel mostly in commercial or expressway traffic. If you travel on dirt, gravel or rural roads, you will have to change your filter more often. A dirty filter can affect fuel economy, performance and emissions. Your filter does not need to be perfectly clean to function, but you should be able to see through it.

To consider

  • How do you find out what type oil to use in your vehicle?
  • How often should you have your oil changed?
  • How does where you live affect how often to check you air filter?
  • Which liquids should be checked?
  • What type, what color and what mix of antifreeze do you need in your vehicle?
  • What does a worn belt look like?