TodayApril 15, 2022

DIY tips for cleaning your car for a road trip

Do-it-Yourself Car Detailing Tips

One of the best things to come out of this current pandemic is that we dream bigger about all the places we want to go but cannot go yet. We seek out destinations online and make bucket lists of locations we want to visit at least once. When you’re tired of seeing the same four walls over and over again, you naturally dream about what’s outside the windows. If you’re like most people, you are desperate to load up the car and go on the road trip of a lifetime.

The problem is that while all of these ideas will lead to an amazing trip, you can’t do anything if you can’t depend on your car. You need to be able to hop in and go when you want to and not be held back because your car hasn’t been serviced in some time. Car maintenance and care is a must no matter the time of year, but it’s a little difficult in a pandemic when appointments are scarce. You need to get your coil-over shocks serviced as much as your suspension and carburetor – and you need a mechanic for it! So, it would help if you got your car road trip ready by completing the following tasks before you get stranded in the mountain.

Your car needs way more than just the gas you pump into it. Fluids are what keeps your car going, and you need to service and change these every six months at a minimum to keep it moving. The fluids you need to consider include:

  • Oil. Your engine will not run without oil, and you need it for lubricating the pistons and other moving parts. You should check your car manual before you start setting schedules for changing the oil over. If it’s black, gritty, or it’s been months since the change, it’s time to get on it!
  • Radiator. You have a radiator in your car that requires your attention. The radiator keeps the engine cool and balanced, and the coolant will work to draw the heat from the engine and let it flow through the radiator.
  • Brakes. For the brakes to be effective, you need to have brake fluid topped up every so often. Pushing the pedal to activate the brake compresses the fluid in the brake lines. This helps the brakes to clamp and stop effectively. If there is a “spongy” feeling, you may have air bubbles in the fluid lines.

Move Onto Tires

You’re planning on going on a long road trip, and your tires need to hold you up while you do it. You will be stranded if your tires are old and pop in the middle of nowhere. You can make sure that your fuel is more efficient, and you can be more comfortable when your tires are replaced and are new. Here’s how to check them before your trip:

  • Air. Every 1,000 miles, check the air pressure of your tires. You will waste your gas if your tires are not inflated correctly. Equally, if they are overinflated, you will find them harder to drive.
  • Rotation. Did you know that tires can wear at different rates? It’s important that you rotate your tires between different locations on your trip so that they wear evenly. Of course, you only need to do this every 5-8,000 miles, so it will depend on how far you plan to drive how often you do it.
  • Tire Replacement. Look at the tread of your tires. If they are almost flat, you need to replace the tires. You can’t go out on a road trip and expect it to be a good time with worn tires with no tread. Don’t go on a road trip with less than optimal tires – you could cause an accident doing that.

Car Maintenance

You want to go on a long trip, which means that you need to make sure that your car is well-maintained.

  • Brake Pads. You know about brake fluid, but it’s brake pads that can wear down, too. They wear with use, and eventually, the pads end up screeching and squeaking when they’re thin enough to need replacing. Have the mechanic check these out for you when you go in for your pre-trip checkup.
  • Air Filters. There is a chance you’re going to drive through dust and dirt on your trip. Cars use air filters to filter all of this out and prevent dust and bugs from getting inside the car engine. The air filter needs to be replaced once a year at a minimum. If you don’t have them changed, you’re going to be risking your engine becoming clogged up with dirt that should have been filtered out. This can lead to even more significant problems with the car!
  • Replacement Lights. Did you know that it’s illegal to have a broken taillight? You can get pulled over and use some of your trip cash on a ticket or get your light bulbs replaced before you go. If the lights have burnt out, you need to make sure that you are keeping yourself safe on the road. You need your lights and blinkers for people to see you while you drive – so make sure that they can!
  • Under The Hood. There are belts and hoses under the car’s hood that you need to check to ensure that the car can run properly. Belts should have very little slack, and they shouldn’t skip any teeth – none of the teeth should be loose, either. Look for any cracked and missing pieces, and if the hose fails in the middle of driving, you’re going to cause an accident potentially.
  • Windshield Cracks. A hairline crack in the windshield can cave it in on you when you’re driving. You could end up with a shattered windshield all over you, and this can be extremely dangerous. If you have your windshields – front and back – inspected, you can avoid any accidents happening.

How to clean your car inside and out

You’re going to be on the road, and while you will see everything on your trip, you will still be sitting in your car for potentially hours on end. So, it would help if you made sure that it’s a clean place to be. Cleaning your car isn’t just about going through the car wash, either. You need to get the interior detailed properly, too.

Interior Detailing.

You won’t believe how much muck can gather in the places of your car you wouldn’t have considered.

  • The cup holders can gather bacteria when drinks leak. The floor mats collect dirt and grime whenever you get into the car with dirty shoes, and if you have to emergency brake and spill a drink? Well, that’s a sticky mess you’re left to clean up.
  • The trunk needs to be cleaned out so that you can put your belongings in there without them getting filthy in the process, too.
  • While it’s something you don’t want to think about, your leather seats and the steering wheel can have dead skin on it. Get a leather cleaner and a soft towel to wash the inside of your car.

Exterior Cleaning.

We mentioned going through the car wash, but make sure that you have the car’s exterior washed and waxed properly. Bugs and bird poop are going to gather on your car as you travel, but you don’t have to add more. While you’re doing the exterior of your car, patch any scratches at the same time!

  • Get Organized. Packing a car for a long trip is going to take some time, and if your car is not organized, you’re not going to be able to find anything. If you’re packing a tent or any other sleeping bags, you need to make sure that you have it packed in a way so you can get what you need the first time you reach into the trunk of the car. Pack enough power adaptors and torches, emergency supplies, and water as you can, too. If something DOES happen when you are on the road, you want to be prepared when you are waiting for roadside assistance. Bring in bin bags for trash as well as spare change in the glove compartment for emergencies.
  • Wash your car often, using soft towels. Owners should wash their car every other week to help keep it looking new and free from contaminants like pollen and iron particles that can damage the cars’ paint.
  • Use two buckets. One for washing the car, one for rinsing out your towel or washing mitt to remove debris, and a separate soap bucket to dunk it in before going back to work on the car’s surface.
  • Wash from the top of the car to the bottom: It should not be a surprise that most of the dirt and grime your car collects stays on your vehicle’s bottom half. Start washing from your car’s hood and working your way down to its wheels and grille to help eliminate the amount of debris that gets dragged across the paint’s surface.
  • Other tips: Purchase a car-dedicated shampoo product for cleaning, don’t use dishwashing soap. And don’t wash your car in the sun.

Being on the road should be a fun experience. As long as you pack extra maps and supplies, you are going to remain as safe as possible on the road. You should be able to have an adventure, and it’s so much more fun when you are prepared. Bring extra maps in the trunk and a spare tire, just in case.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.


  1. Laine Reply

    Extremely relatable! I actually take my car to a professional interior and exterior car detailing right after a road trip. Aside from keeping dirt and pollution from sticking onto my car’s paint, I make sure the interior is cleaned by a professional to completely remove any spills I may have gotten especially in hard to reach places such as cupholders and carpets.

  2. Carl Harold Reply

    Absolutely loved this article. I was looking for this type of awesome cleaning tips, finally got this one.
    Going to share these tips with my friends.

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