Common Car Troubles on Road Trips

most common Car Trouble road trip

Road trips can be an amazing way to explore the world, whether you’re travelling a few cities over or exploring an entirely new country. However, unexpected car trouble can quickly turn an amazing trip into a stressful ordeal. Car breakdowns can delay your plans, make a mess of your itinerary, and cause unexpected budgeting strains. In some cases, car problems can even put you and your fellow travellers in danger.

Common Car Troubles on Road Trips

Being knowledgeable of the common causes of car breakdowns and how to effectively address them keeps you safe and ensures that your trip won’t be derailed by a simple mechanical issue. By understanding the warning signs of potential problems and knowing how to react, you can ensure a smooth, stress-free experience on the open road.

#1. Warning Signs of an Overheated Engine

Engine overheating occurs with unfortunate frequency on road trips. This issue is oftentimes caused by low coolant levels. Coolant helps regulate the engine temperature and prevent it from overheating. If there is not enough coolant present, the engine will not maintain a safe operational temperature and will instead overheat. A malfunctioning thermostat or radiator issues can also cause engine overheating. In many cases, it’s easy to notice that there is something wrong with your vehicle’s engine. You might see a rising temperature gauge on your dashboard, smell something burning, or view steam or smoke coming from underneath the car’s hood. Should you experience any of these warning signs, pull over to a safe location and turn the vehicle off. You need to let the engine cool down, before the heat damages other critical vehicle components or a fire starts.

Road Trip most common Car Troubles

Although it may seem like the right thing to do, never add coolant to an overheating engine. Allow the engine to cool down completely before adding coolant, if needed. If you don’t know why the engine is overheating, seek professional help from a mechanic. Neglecting proper vehicle maintenance and repairs can easily result in a significant motor vehicle collision.

#2. Tackling a Flat Tire

Flat tires occur quite often, even when you’re not on the road trip of your dreams. One of the most common causes of a flat tire is driving over road debris, such as a rusty nail or screw. A punctured tire may deflate slowly or blowout suddenly. Tires that are underinflated or very worn-out are particularly susceptible to damage from hitting an object.

Road Trip Common Car Troubles

In most cases, there will be warning signs that your vehicle’s tire has been damaged. You might feel strange vibrations while driving, hear a weird thumping noise, or see visible damage to the tirewall when the vehicle is stopped and you are inspecting the tire. If you suspect that your vehicle has a flat tire, pull over to a safe location and assess the situation. If you have the required tools and have changed a tire before, you can equip your vehicle’s spare tire. However, if you don’t feel confident doing so, you can always call roadside assistance and have a professional perform the replacement.

#3. Failing Car Batteries Cause No End of Issues

Car batteries only last so long before needing replacement. One of the worst times to find out that your car battery is failing, of course, is during a road trip! Although batteries generally last three to five years, there are some things that can shorten their lifespan, such as:

  • Extremely hot or cold weather;
  • Taking frequent short trips without allowing the battery to recharge;
  • Leaving interior lights on accidentally.

A slow engine crank when starting the car, dim headlights and interior lights, or illuminated dashboard warning lights can all be signs of a weak battery. Even if you notice these issues, it might be possible to jump-start the vehicle using jumper cables and another car. However, this is just a temporary solution. If your car’s battery is failing, you will keep running into the same issues until the battery is actually replaced. It’s vital to visit a mechanic as soon as possible when experiencing battery issues, so that you can determine whether it needs to be replaced.

#4. Issues With Your Vehicle’s Ability to Hold a Charge

The alternator is a vital component of your car's electrical system. When the car is running, the alternator charges the battery. If the alternator fails, your car may not hold a charge, even if the battery is in great condition. You might become aware of an alternator issue if you observe dim headlights, flickering interior lights, or malfunctioning automatic power windows. Power fluctuations of this nature may indicate that the alternator is not doing a good enough job of keeping the battery functioning as intended. If the alternator fails entirely, it might not even charge the battery at all, leaving you unable to start the vehicle. Alternator issues require a skilled mechanic to diagnose and repair. If you believe there may be a problem with your car’s alternator, avoid driving for extended periods. You should especially avoid driving at night if possible, since issues with your headlights can be a serious safety risk. Regular maintenance, including checking and replacing belts associated with the alternator, can help prevent problems.

#5. Running Out of Gas Can Cause Quite the Inconvenience

Running out of gas is a preventable problem, but it happens to the best of us. To ensure you aren’t running on fumes as you limp to the nearest gas station, be mindful of where you’ll be able to fill up on your trip. Plan to fill your tank before hitting long stretches of open road, such as in the desert. While running out of gas is a common trip-wrecker, there are other fuel system issues to stay aware of too. A failing fuel pump, clogged fuel filter, or dirty injectors can make it impossible for your car’s engine to receive proper fuel flow. You might notice subsequent problems like engine sputtering, loss of power, or difficulty starting the car.

Common Car Troubles on Road Trips

If you experience any of these issues, check your fuel gauge first to see whether you’re running low on gas. If your fuel level is fine, consider adding a fuel system cleaner to your gas tank. This can alleviate the symptoms of minor fuel system problems. If the issue persists or gets worse, seek professional assistance from a mechanic.

Planning Ahead for a Stress-free Road Trip

Car breakdowns are never enjoyable, but they can really ruin your day when they occur during an activity-packed road trip. To ensure you’re ready to hit the road on your next adventure, we suggest having a working understanding of common issues and how they can be fixed.

We hope this article helps you enjoy a safe, breakdown-free trip the next time you get behind the wheel!

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We overland. We eat plants and fungi. We live outside as much as possible. We are all connected. A female travel blogger overlanding and writing about ecotourism, ethical and sustainable travel, socially conscious travel and housesitting. An online travel magazine since 2015.


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