How to keep your vehicle road-trip ready

Grab your keys and go – by following these tips

The sun is shining, the ice and snow are gone and you're aching to trade the stop-start of city traffic for a long, unbroken stretch of highway.

But is your vehicle ready to go the distance?

When asked how to ensure it can make the trip, Chris Feist (Automotive Service Technician ’97) doesn’t think a checklist inspection is good enough. He believes the best approach is to focus on basic, ongoing maintenance that will make your vehicle last for the long run, rather than just the few hundred kilometres required for your next adventure.

“You can check your oil, your belts, your hoses,” says the Automotive Service Technician instructor. “But, if you never maintain your vehicle, the chance of you breaking down on a trip is still great.”

That’s why preparing for an epic road trip is a year-round activity. Here’s Feist’s advice for making sure your vehicle is ready when you are.

vehicle owner's manualRead the magic book

“There’s a book in the glovebox that people never read,” says Feist with a laugh. “It’s called the owner’s manual.”

Inside are the secrets to your vehicle’s longevity.

The manual lists all the services required to keep the warranty valid and the recommended frequency of everything from a basic oil change, to changing brake and other fluids, to an entire tune up. (Often, you can also find your manual online.)

“Keep informed on what needs to be done,” says Feist. “[New] vehicles last a long time now – if you maintain them.”

NAIT auto mechanic studentFind a family mechanic

When Feist talks about finding a mechanic, he draws parallels to choosing a doctor. For one thing, that mechanic needs to be properly qualified.

Every shop must have at least 1 journeyman. They should also be able to make repairs according to your vehicle’s warranty standards. (Keep your receipts as proof the work was done.)

And, like a good doctor, a mechanic has to earn your trust. This involves being able to explain things in layman’s terms, and making you feel like you can ask about anything. He or she needs to show an interest in the long-term health of your vehicle.

“Most of the staff you talk to should be trained in consulting on what your vehicle needs,” says Feist. This includes options for parts and repairs, and even setting up a detailed service schedule.

The parallels between doctors and mechanics end when it comes to billing. Or maybe they don’t. If fees were an issue, how many of us would take a chance on a physician promoting rock-bottom prices?

“You’re not really price shopping,” says Feist. “If you trust them, you trust that they’re going to give you the best price and do quality work.”

car maintenance fundStash some cash

“A thousand dollars is not a big bill anymore,” Feist says of a trip to the mechanic for repairs. “Budget for your services.”

How much? He’s reluctant to say, given all the variables.

While Feist sees $50 as a minimum monthly contribution to a repair fund, a realistic amount accounts for the age of the vehicle as well as driving habits, frequency and conditions. Talk it over with your mechanic, says Feist, and take his or her advice.

The alternative might mean a repair bill that puts the brakes on your big adventure, he adds. “The nice trip you wanted to take with the family ends up being, ‘Hey, we’re going to go to West Edmonton Mall and ride the rollercoaster.’”

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