The ultimate guide on how to prepare for your summer road trip

Consumer Reports breaks down everything you need to do before hitting the road.

July 2, 2018, 8:06 AM

Planning on hitting the road for a summer getaway soon?

Before embarking on the perfect road trip there are a few things you need to do to ensure you have a safe journey and are prepared for any speed bumps or anything else that may come your way.

Here, experts at Consumer Reports break down everything you need to know -- including the "truly complete car emergency kit" -- prior to driving away to your summer destination.

Getting your car ready for the road:

Your vehicle will be where you spend the bulk of your time during your journey, so make sure all its functions are fine-tuned and operating at maximum performance levels.

- Tires: Check the pressure on all tires, including the spare, before starting the trip. Use the pressure recommended by the vehicle’s manufacturer, which usually can be found on a front doorjamb and in the owner’s manual. Inspect tires for abnormal or uneven wear, cracks, cuts, and any sidewall bulges.

To determine whether your tire has enough tread left or to see whether there’s a wear concern, grab a quarter and a penny.

Place the quarter upside down in a groove on your tire. The distance from the coin’s rim to George Washington’s hairline is about 4/32 inch. If you see all of Washington’s head in any one groove where a treadwear indicator appears, you might want to start shopping for new tires while you have some seasonal grip left.

Use a penny to check for uneven wear. That can be a sign of misalignment, improper inflation pressure, or aggressive driving. Any major groove worn to 2/32 inch, the distance between the top of Lincoln’s head to the edge on a penny, should warrant tire replacement.

- Brakes: You might need a comprehensive checkup if you apply the brakes and there are grinding noises, or unusual vibrations in the brake pedal or steering wheel, or if the vehicle pulls to one side.

- Lights: Check exterior lights, including taillights, brake lights, turn signals, and fog lamps. Make sure lenses are clean, so the lights are as bright as possible. A good time to clean your lights is at the gas station. If you see bug slapper on your windshield, it’s probably on your headlights as well. Use the complimentary squeegee that’s provide at most gas stations.

- Wipers: Based on Consumer Reports' tests, windshield wiper blades last about six months. If they’re a few months old, consider replacing them before a long trip. If the wipers are newer, clean the blades with washer fluid or glass cleaner.

How to pack like a pro:

- Don’t overload your car: Weight limits are listed on the driver’s doorjamb and in the owner’s manual; the figure is for the combined weight of passengers and cargo. Don’t exceed manufacturer recommendations, which vary widely.

- Stow the heaviest items low, particularly in SUVs: This keeps the center of gravity lower, reducing the chances of a rollover. Smaller items should be packed into duffel bags or safely tucked into storage areas. Strap larger items down with cargo anchors. Don’t place heavier items on top of the cargo pile, because they can become dangerous projectiles in a panic stop or a crash.

- Use the cargo space in the seatbacks to store electronics devices like laptops, tablets, etc.

- You could opt for a roof cargo carrier, but Consumer Reports' tests found that a cargo carrier atop a midsized sedan can reduce fuel economy by as much as 5 mpg. Instead, use a hitch-mounted carrier for luggage, if you aren’t using the hitch for a bike rack.

Your Truly Complete Car Emergency Kit:

Prepare for breakdowns and make sure you have these items on board.

- Phone charger: In addition to having a charging cord and power adapter on hand, carry a small battery-based charger in case your car’s battery dies.

- Basic tools: Have standard and Phillips screwdrivers, pliers, and a compact socket set.

- Warning light, hazard triangle, and/or flares.

- Tire tools: If you don’t know how to change a tire, consider learning before the trip. Check if your car has a spare tire, jack, and lug wrench. Many newer cars don’t have spare tires; instead, they have “mobility kit.”

If you don’t have roadside assistance, get it. When considering a plan, just be sure you know the fine print exceptions. And know how to reach roadside assistance in case the tire can’t be easily replaced.

- Flashlight: This or a head-mounted light can be especially helpful during nighttime breakdowns or tire changes.

- Jumper cables or a jump-starter: Cables can be handy, but a paperback-sized jump-starter can get your motor running on its own. Plus, many can also be used to charge portable devices.

- Reflective vest: This safety measure will make you more visible in the dark.

More tips on how to plan and prepare for the best road trip can be found online at