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Getting your car ready for the road

Ready to hit the road and get away from it all? Make sure your car is ready for the journey, too.

Few things spoil a road trip or family vacation more quickly than car trouble far from home. Who wants to spend even a moment of a hard-earned holiday on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck?

A pre-trip auto checkup could make all the difference. Take good care of your car before you leave, and it will take good care of you out on the road.

An ounce of prevention

The easiest way to safeguard your road trip is to let a mechanic perform a full safety inspection on your car a week or two before your trip.

"Do it at least a week before you go -- so if something pops up, it would give the repair shop time to take care of it," says Bill Csogi, an ASE certified master mechanic. He owns Car Critic of Naples, Fla., an automotive inspection, appraisal and investigation company.

Having a mechanic look at your car the day before your trip is not a good idea. If there's a problem, it could take some time to fix.

A big, last-second auto repair could really throw a wrench into your vacation plans or even force you to delay your trip.

"You may have to rent a car at the last minute, and that can get expensive," Csogi says.

So let a mechanic give your car the once-over a week or two before your trip. In a safety inspection, a mechanic will check everything from fluid levels, belts and hoses to lights and tires and brakes to make sure your car is ready for the road.

Low coolant or antifreeze, a fraying belt or a worn-down hose could lead to big trouble out on the road. A small repair now could spare you a big expensive repair later on.

And there are plenty of things you can do on your own to help get your car ready for a long road trip. Check out these do-it-yourself maintenance tips.

If you're a regular customer, a mechanic may charge you next to nothing for a safety inspection. Other customers can expect to pay the cost of a full hour of labor.

Whatever the cost of a safety inspection, you should consider it money well spent.

"It's just one of those peace-of-mind things," says David Bennett, manager of automotive programs at AAA. "Have somebody who's qualified take a look at everything."

Prepare for the worst

No matter how much maintenance you and your mechanic do on a car before a trip, there's no guarantee that you won't have auto troubles out on the road.

"Keep in mind nobody has a crystal ball," Bennett says. "It may look good today and tomorrow something may happen."

Having a roadside survival kit at the ready will make an unexpected breakdown a lot less stressful.

What should you pack? A copy of your car's warranty and contact information for your emergency car care service should be at the top of the list.

Whether you have roadside assistance through your car's warranty or insurance or you belong to an auto care club such as AAA, make sure you have the emergency contact number with you at all times.

Not sure what else to bring? Check out this list.

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