Have Car Will Travel

As the winter approaches and the colder temperatures arrive, I’ve turned my thoughts to the upcoming road trip season.  I’ve slowly, oh so slowly, started making plans so I thought it might be fun to do a series of posts about planning for and preparing for road trips, either with or without a dog (or three).  Now I’m far from an expert but hopefully I can give a few tips and tricks to help you with a future trip.  And I would love to hear any ideas that you may have.

First things first, you’ve to have wheels if you’re going hit the road.  So with that in mind, the first of my road trip series will be focussing on the car. Below are some things that you may want to keep in mind if you’re looking to wander the roadways:

Size, mileage, and road fitness  

People are shocked that I do the kinds of trips that I do with three dogs in my little car.  All of the dogs sit in the back seat and each have their places that they have claimed.  For me, the car is a good size for my purposes; meaning it has just enough space, is good on fuel, and is reliable.

Could I use a bit more space?  Absolutely.  Am I complaining?  Not at all.  A larger vehicle invites more things to carry.  More things to carry means more weight.  More weight means less fuel efficiency.

I drive a 2009 Corolla that has (by now) over 400 000 km and I have kept a regular maintenance schedule since the day I bought it.  Besides oil changes and expected wear and tear it has not needed any other work done to it.  How’s that for reliability?

Mechanics are worth their weight in gold to a road tripper.  I have a great relationship with the guys at my shop.  I trust them not to jerk me around with repairs and let me know when things are going to have to be addressed.  When I’m planning on going on a road trip, I make sure I tell them at my second to last oil change.  That way, they can go over the car and make note of anything that will need to be addressed at the oil change before I leave.  Giving them a heads up means that if they need to order parts they’ll be ready the next time that I come in and there’s less chances of being surprised with an unexpected repair as the clock is ticking to leave.

I know that some people will rent a vehicle rather than put high mileage onto their own car.  Or if you’re looking at driving with more people than you want to squeeze in with or you have concerns about your car making it to the corner store never mind the next province or if you’re heading somewhere with lots of snow and your usual ride handles like a toboggan, then it might be worth looking at renting.

There are plenty of companies out there that allow dogs in their rentals and some won’t even charge for it.  As in so many things though, make sure you check the fine print.  Few things ruin the good vibes more than getting hit with unexpected fees when you’re coming back from a trip.

So you’ve decided on the vehicle, now what?

Get it checked over: 

Make sure the spare tire is inflated and if you don’t know how to change a tire, get someone to show you.  Have your mechanic go over all the belts, filters, and oil.  They should be doing that anyway but insist that they really take a good look.  Mine actually call it a “L.O.A.F. and C.O.” (Lube Oil And Filter and Check Over)  Just think about how much strain you could put on your car if you’re driving 500 kilometres and up every day for two weeks.  And the last thing you want is for something small to leave you stranded on the side of the road with no cell reception.  In the rain.  At night.

If you’re renting then you would hope that it would be well maintained and would not break down.  Having said that, make sure you know where the documents for the vehicle are kept, where the spare tire and jack are (and how to use them), and where all the cup holders, charger plugs, and storage spaces are.  It sucks having to unpack the entire trunk to get at the tire if you could have packed a little differently or missed a storage compartment.

If you’re towing a trailer, give that a once over too.  And it’s been a while since you’ve hooked it up, it may not be a bad idea to find a wide open parking lot and spend some time re-aquainting yourself with handling the additional size and weight.  Or if you have a secondary driver, put them through their paces and make sure that the first time they’re hauling a trailer is on a freeway as you’re trying to scramble to your stop for the night.  That could be a really good way to add a bit more excitement that you may not want to have to deal with.

Assistance programs:

Are you a member of C.A.A or A.A.A?  If not, have you considered it?  Are there any other loyalty programs that offer roadside assistance that you already belong to?

I personally am not enrolled in any of these programs so I cannot offer any feedback.  But I know plenty of people who are and for them, it provides peace of mind.  If you do enrol, make sure you know what they offer and any fees for use of service.

On a side note, I know some programs offer their members benefits like deals on hotel rooms.  Very nice for the road weary traveller.

Clean out the car:

Make space by removing extra gear. Like I mentioned above: extra weight affects fuel efficiency.  On top of that, if you have limited space, you’d rather use it for things you need or for souvenirs that you’re bringing back.

I like to start by taking out all the gas receipts and other random pieces of paper that somehow manage to collect all over the place.  Then I give the entire car a good wipe down and vacuum.  It feels so much nicer to be spending long hours in a clean car (and it smells better too).  It doesn’t have to be too crazy: just a wipe down of the dash, steering wheel, and especially the cup holders.  They always seem to get a little splash of coffee no matter how careful I am.  I’m baffled at how many rocks will accumulate on the floor under the pedals.  I mean how does that happen?  You’d think I’d notice mini boulders in my shoes yet somehow there they are.  And inevitably I find change under the seat which I happily tuck away for later.

I pull the seat cover out of the back and give it a good shake and let it hang to air out.  Dogs track a lot of dirt into the car and I make a point of spending some time cleaning their area out really well.  If I have the time and the weather is agreeable, I’ll shampoo the upholstery and leave the windows open to dry.  If not, at the very least I clean the nose prints off the windows and mud off the doors before a quick deodorizing spray.  I know they work hard to create their works of art, but they always manage to create more.


Make sure you know where your ownership and insurance are and make sure it’s current.  I’m willing to bet that if you went into most cars out there, you’ll find that they do not have their most up-to-date insurance card.  They might have a stack from the day they bought the car but not the current one.

Check that your ownership and validation sticker are current and will stay current for the duration of your trip.  And while you’re at it, and if you’re from Ontario, do you have the sticker for your validation tag on the back of your ownership?  I didn’t realize that not having that teeny tiny sticker on the ownership is actually offence.

It’s also a good idea to keep copies of your documents.  This could just be a photo on your phone or actual photocopies.  Or both.  If you do take copies, make sure that you have front and back.

I think should do it for the car.  Can you think of anything else as far as the car goes?  Feel free to share ideas in the comments below.

And once that it’s all ready, the next step is to start packing.  Fun!!


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