Get Your Car Holiday Road Trip Ready

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Here’s how to ensure your time on the road this holiday season is safe and stress-free.

Whether you have plans to visit family, hit the slopes, or simply relax and unwind somewhere new, a winter road trip can be a memorable addition to your holiday season. While winter road trips are exciting, they also come with their own set of challenges. Frigid temperatures, travel delays, and snowy conditions can all add stress to your trip.

The good news is there are ways you can prepare your car (and yourself) for your road trip and make the most out of your time on the road this holiday season. By following these tips and tricks, you’ll increase your chances of a safe, comfortable journey this time of year.

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Do Your Research

Before you leave for your road trip, take the time to research what the conditions are usually like at your final destination. You can use the National Weather Service website or a weather app to find out about weather advisories or storm watches that may affect you.

It’s also a good idea to download a navigation app so that you’re aware of any accidents, road closures, or troublesome routes. While it may be tempting to wing it and go with the flow, understanding the driving conditions and planning your route can help you avoid unwanted surprises that add stress and delay your trip.

Give Yourself Extra Time

It will take longer to get to your destination in the winter. After all, you’ll likely travel at a much slower pace than you do in the spring, summer, and fall. Therefore, you should always overestimate how long it will take you. Plan to stop frequently at rest stops and attraction sites so that everyone can get out of the car, stretch their legs, eat, and burn off some energy. You might also need to stop for any winter weather emergencies that may arise along your route.

Inform Others of Your Plans

No matter what the weather forecast and winter conditions are at your final destination, share your travel plans in detail with your friends and family. At least a few people should know where you’re going and the route you plan to take so they can send help if necessary. Also, call or text your loved ones before you leave for your road trip and arrive at your destination. This way if you get into an accident or stuck in a dangerous situation, people will know where to look for you.

Get an Inspection

Schedule an inspection by a qualified mechanic at least two weeks before your road trip. Not only can a mechanic check your engine, oil, and wiper fluids, they might find and resolve any issues before you trip. Include a vehicle checkup in your holiday budget to give yourself peace of mind in knowing your vehicle is in optimal shape for the journey ahead.

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Test Your Battery

To avoid a dead car battery that leaves you stranded in the middle of nowhere, test your battery before hitting the road. Start your car and pay attention to the headlights. If they’re dim, it’s a good precaution to look into having the battery changed. On the other hand, if the headlights are bright, it’s a good indication that your battery is still in decent shape. Since most batteries last about three years, you may want to replace your battery if it’s older than that.

Check Your Lights

It gets dark earlier in winter, so it’s essential that your headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals, and emergency flashers are all working properly for your road trip . Replace any burnt-out bulbs and store a flashlight in your vehicle for emergency situations.

Get an Oil Change

If the engine oil in your vehicle is sludgy, your engine won’t be able to perform optimally. That’s why it’s in your best interest to schedule an oil change and find the best oil for colder temperatures. Even if you’re not due for an oil change, fresh oil can better prepare your engine for long drives with potential ice and snow.

Prepare Your Tires

Your tires are one of the most important parts to consider before a holiday road trip during the winter months. This is particularly true if your route involves snow and ice. If you’ll be driving in an area with light snow and plowed roads, snow chains will probably be enough. However, if you’ll be driving through bad weather, winter storms, or very icy roads, replacing your tires with winter tires or snow tires is well worth it. Also, check your tire pressure to make sure it’s at the recommended PSI.

Check Your Wiper Blades and Fluid Levels

Run your wiper blades before your trip to make sure they thoroughly clean your windshield. If you notice spots or leaves streaks, replacing a wiper blade is a quick and easy fix. Also, make sure your washer fluid reservoir is filled with fluid that won’t freeze if the temperature drops. In addition, check your engine’s coolant/antifreeze to make sure you have a sufficient level.

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Create an Emergency Kit

There are certain cold weather supplies that can make your life easier and less stressful if the unexpected happens on your holiday road trip. Put together an emergency kit filled with these items and stow it in your trunk.

Your kit should include warm clothing, blankets, a flashlight, extra batteries, jumper cables, an ice scraper, a compact shovel, extra windshield wiper fluid, and a portable cell phone charger. Don’t forget non-perishable food and water, medications, and first-aid kit. Your spare tire should be kept in your trunk, as well.

Pack a Shovel and Sand or Kitty Litter

If you get stuck in the snow or plowed in, a small shovel and sand or kitty litter will come to the rescue. The shovel will help you dig yourself out while the grit of sand or kitty litter will allow your tires to grip onto snowy, slushy, or icy surfaces. The extra grit allows your tires to gain traction and get your vehicle moving. This is a tried and true trick you’ll be glad you knew about if the going gets tough.

Start with a Full Gas Tank

You’ll be able to drive longer and have more options for finding gas if you start your road trip with a full tank. It’s also important to make sure you have at least half a tank of fuel so that if you do become stranded, you’ll be able to run your engine and keep warm. Running out of gas is a common mishap that can leave you in a very uncomfortable or even dangerous situation.

​​Get Enough Rest

Driving during the holidays, especially in snow and ice can be a real challenge. It will require you to constantly adapt the way you drive for the ever-changing road conditions. To make sure you arrive at your destination safe and sound, get plenty of rest beforehand. If you’re tired, you won’t be able to react as quickly as someone who is well rested and prepared for anything that may come their way. Stop for a break to reenergize or switch drivers any time you do feel tired.
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​​Practice Winter Driving Safety

Once you take all the precautions necessary to get your car (and yourself) ready for your holiday road trip, follow these safe driving tips for winter conditions.

Be mindful of black ice

Black ice refers to invisible ice on the roadways and highways. Try to plan your route around roads with frequent traffic and direct sunlight as they typically have less black ice. If you do come across black ice and start skidding, don’t hit your brakes or try to steer away. Instead, take your foot off the accelerator, firmly grip the steering wheel, and steer your car until it comes to a complete stop.

Avoid cruise control

While cruise control is convenient, it can be hazardous in the winter. Avoid cruise control, especially on slick roadways and highways or you may lose control. Even if cruise control is second nature to you, make a conscious effort to turn it off while you’re driving in icy conditions.

Don’t tailgate

Due to reduced traction, it takes far longer to stop your vehicle in the snow or ice. Therefore, do your best not to tailgate. If the car in front of you stops unexpectedly and you’re too close behind them, slamming on the brakes could cause an accident. It’s recommended to increase the following distance between you and another vehicle to five seconds worth of length.

Reduce distractions

Distracted driving is especially dangerous in the winter when you must be extra cautious and vigilant. If you’re worried you won’t be able to resist the temptation to text or check your email, place your phone out of sight. Also, avoid eating, drinking, grooming, or other behaviors which will divert your attention away from the road ahead of you.

Stay home or pull over

If the weather conditions make you anxious to drive before your holiday road trip, don’t be afraid to stay home and postpone your plans. Also, if you’re out on the road and believe the weather is too bad to continue driving, pull over to a safe spot and wait until the weather passes or calms.

​​Preparation is Key to Holiday Road Trip Success

By being strategic about your holiday road trip and preparing for it well in advance, you’re more likely to enjoy a smooth trip that you’ll remember for years to come. And if an issue does arise, you’ll have the knowledge and resources to handle it well. Best of luck with your holiday adventures in the car!

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About The Author


Anna Baluch

Anna has written for Credit Karma, LendingTree, Experian, Freedom Debt Relief, among many other publications. She is passionate about helping people from all walks of life make good financial decisions. Anna lives in a suburb of sunny Cleveland, OH and enjoys working out, trying new restaurants, and volunteering.


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