Performing The Pre-Trip Car Inspection

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Why invest time in a pre-trip car inspection?  For those who are new to Manning The Wall, my job takes me to Fort Knox, Kentucky for about 6 weeks every Summer.

Phil Leaving

The drive is about 720 miles through Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the winding hills of West Virginia. It’s a good amount of stress for my old Mountaineer, so a pre-trip car inspection is in order.

Here is what I always check at a minimum: Fluids, Hoses & Clamps, Air Filter, Belts, and tires.


  • Engine Oil.

This is the most basic, and anyone can do it. Even if the vehicle is not due for an oil change, one should check this prior to a trip of any length. Check the level and then get a sense if the oil is accumulating more dirt than normal. Clear oil on the dipstick is a good sign.


  • Transmission Fluids.

Also easy to do. Transmission fluid does not get can the same attention as the engine oil, but it is still an important component of a vehicle’s performance.

  • Coolant.

Ensure that the levels are adequate.

  • Other Fluids.

Brake Fluid, Power Steering Fluid, and Windshield Washer Fluid all have easy to reach reservoirs inside the engine compartment. Check the levels.

Hoses and Clamps.

Engines transfer fluids and air between chambers. For peak efficiency, the integrity of the hoses and clamps is vital.

Air Filter.

It’s going to be dirty if you haven’t replaced it within the last 30 days. Replace it before the trip.


Check for tightness, cracks, and missing teeth. One should replace every 40-60,000 miles.


Windshield Wiper Blades.

Among the most neglected when it comes to DIY basic maintenance.  Fortunately they are easy to check.  Is there wear and tear on the rubber?  And most of all, do they work to push the water off evenly and cleanly?


One of the biggest factors in terms of gas mileage is proper tire pressure. Low tire pressure is like throwing money out the car window. Make sure the tread is at least 2/32” deep. Use the upside down penny test. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, it’s time to replace.

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There is a lot of cross-pollination when it comes to safety checks for winter, ensuring the well being of one’s family, and taking a road trip. has plenty of information.

For Emergencies.

A spare tire seems obvious, but a surprising number of us are riding around without a functioning one. Make sure your jack is in working order and ensure the presence of jumper cables and roadside reflectors or flares. Finally, make sure your phone charger is working. A working phone is always going to be your most useful tool in a tight spot.

About Phil Christensen

The trail behind me is littered with failure. The trail before me remains to be seen.
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11 Responses to Performing The Pre-Trip Car Inspection

  1. robin rue says:

    My husband takes care of all the car stuff. We take lots of road trips and my husband always makes sure we change the oil before we head out on one.

  2. Merry says:

    So important especially if you are going very far. I always check my tires but I need to do better about checking the fluids.

  3. Jen says:

    Thanks for the tips! Spring is just around the corner and my van is needing some pre-trip inspection done.

  4. Becky Willis says:

    Thank you for all of this great information. I always wonder about the tire thread thickness and I love how you showed the penny. This way I won’t have to ask my son that question as he is an auto mechanic and probably just loves my questions. 🙂

  5. Desiree Lopez says:

    These are all such great reminders. Nothing is worse than breaking down along some busy highway and you end up at the mercy of some unknown car repair shop. Some of which can be avoided if you just take a few precautions!

  6. Great tips! The wipers are always the one I forget to check and end up struggling with a streaky window when I head over the pass!

  7. Connie says:

    My dad made me learn about all of this before I was allowed to get my driver’s license. I’m so glad he did. I’ve needed this info several times over the years.

  8. Mel says:

    Oh these are for sure great tips! I sometimes forget to do a pre-trip car inspection and I know how costly that could be to neglect that. Glad you shared this reminder and step by step tips!

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