Keys to a successful Road Trip.
By Dean Newman, Professionalcar.org
So you have made the big decision and decided that you want to drive your coach to a show out of town. Good for you! You are answering the call of the open road. You are feeding your vintage vehicle wanderlust. Easy enough. You just need to pack your bags, load up and head out, right?
Not so fast sparky…
You are driving a vintage coach. Not one of those modern, new fangled, electronic everything, comfort barges. You have to do a little bit of planning and work to make sure you are ready. You have to prepare and make sure you are equipped and ready for the journey. But dont worry, most of the process is common sense. A good bit of it is really easy, and almost all of it is going to be fun.
Unlike modern cars, our vintage coaches need a little extra TLC before a long trip. You should either check yourself, or have a trusted mechanic take a look at all of the basics in advance of your trip. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE. This should be done about 2 months BEFORE your trip is scheduled. Here is the basic checklist of things that *I* inspect before every trip.
- Tires. Make sure they are in good condition and properly inflated.
- Top up all of the fluids, including washer fluid if your car is so equipped.
- Double check your radiator to make sure its filled properly and contains the proper mix of water and coolant for your area.
- Make sure your wiper blades are decent and your wipers are working.
- Check all your belts and hoses. Make sure they are not dry or starting to crack or craze. Also make sure all the hose clamps are tight and the belts are adjusted properly.
- Check for leaks and drips under the car. (Most old cars drip something, so a small drip isn’t always a huge issue. You want to make sure the puddle isn’t larger than usual though as that may indicate a problem.)
If you haven’t taken your coach on any road trips recently, its also a good idea to have your mechanic check over the major mechanical parts of the car as well.
- Bushings and suspension parts to make sure they are still in good condition.
- Shocks and springs to make sure they are still working properly.
- Tune up the engine if it hasn’t been tuned in a while. (Or at least have it checked to make sure its still where it needs to be.) A coach may run fine for short in town trips, but not be tuned properly for long jaunts on the highway.
- While I’m under the car checking suspension parts, I always take a quick look along the length of the car. I’m looking to make sure all the bolts look tight and making sure that there isn’t anything that’s come loose and is dangling where its not supposed to. You can also check your exhaust and mufflers to make sure they are decent and not rusted. (A hole in a muffler can be REALLY Annoying on a long highway trip.)
Ok. So now we have an OK from the mechanic or we have checked the car over ourselves and we know that the coach is ready for a road trip. So we are good right? Not quite. Patience Grasshopper. There are a few more things to do before we are really ready to leave. The next few things are easy and fun though. And these should only take about an hour to do.
First we are going to make up a “Travel Kit” for the car with some basic supplies. (These are what I carry, your needs may be different. Tailor this kit to YOUR coach. And all of this fits into a small plastic tote box with a snap on lid. My box with everything is the same size as a carry on suitcase. And it fits easily in the back of the coach.)
- Fire Extinguisher (Make sure its somewhere you can get to it EASILY and QUICKLY)
- Fuses to match all the fuse values used in the car
- Extra wire, wire connectors, and some sort of crimping tool
- An extra relay to match any relays you may have in the car
- An extra fuse holder. (In case I need to replace one already in the car)
- Spare belts or hoses that are unusual or hard to find
- Spare parts that are unusual and hard to find for your coach
- Some bailing wire
- Duct tape and Zip ties
- Gloves. (I carry both nitrile disposable gloves and heavier mechanics gloves)
- A couple of plastic garbage bags. (can be used for lots of things including holding dirty parts to keep your interior clean, Of you can lay one on the ground to get under the car to check something
- A pair of plastic safety glasses. (Just in case.)
- One quart of oil
- One quart of Transmission fluid
- One bottle of power steering fluid (If needed for your coach.)
- A flashlight with GOOD Batteries and a spare set of batteries
- A gallon jug of drinking water. (Which can be used in the radiator if needed.)
- Rags or shop towels or paper towels
- Spare hose clamps in assorted sizes
- Traffic cones/safety triangle/flares/some sort of warning lights
- 2 cans of “Fix a Flat” (If I had a spare tire in the car, I’d scale back to 1 can of this.)
- Auto First Aid Kit
- If you have custom wheels and you carry a regular spare tire, make sure your lug nuts will work on BOTH the custom wheels and the spare. Some custom wheels have special lug nuts that wont work with a spare. If that’s the case, bring spare lugnuts for your spare.
- If your coach has the old style points and condenser ignition, take a spare set and a screwdriver and feeler gauge. (Thanks to Bill Frisk for this one)
I also carry a basic toolbox so I can actually use the stuff listed above if I need to.
- Pliers: needle nose and standard
- Crecent wrench
- Vise grips
- Wire strippers/crimpers
- Screwdrivers: Phillips and standard. (Depending on your car, you may only need one type)
- Medium sized prybar. (Better than a screwdriver when you need to “adjust” something. And it fits under the seat and I never even see it.)
- I found a small “automotive” socket set in a plastic molded case and I toss that down in the bottom of one of the compartments in the back of the ambulance when I travel.
I have a couple of optional things that I take with me depending on the trip.
- Tire iron. (It never hurts to check your lug nuts before EVERY trip. And at the midpoint of your trip, just in case.)
- Small rolling floor jack. If I’m taking a long, multi day drive, I take a jack in case I need to get under the car. Sometimes the extra height provided by the jack makes all the difference in the world.
- Two way radios. If you are traveling in a group with other cars, its handy to have some of the inexpensive FRS radios for car to car communications. They are short range license-free radios, and on the road its sometimes easier to push one button and call on the radio when you need to alert the other cars in your group.
- Portable GPS Navigation unit. This will allow you to map your route, check your speed via satellite, track travel time, and navigate in unfamiliar areas. Some units will also have the ability to locate gas and food and other points of interest, which can be handy in a city you are not familiar with. If you are going to use a GPS, make sure you either have enough batteries for the trip, or an appropriate power cord that will work in your coach.
So now we know the coach is ready. We have parts and supplies and tools. So we can leave now, right?
Sort of. Now we get out and drive. We take a couple of shorter weekend shakedown cruises out of town to see how she rides on the highway and make sure everything is good. Load up your travel kit and your toolbox and make sure you have a cell phone and some sort of roadside service plan, just in case. (I use AAA Plus and have had NO problems with them. I’ve been told that some plans try to classify our coaches as “commercial vehicles” and they claim that they do not cover commercial vehicles. As long as your coach is registered to you as a collector vehicle, you should be covered as its no longer commercially used. Be sure to check with your provider to make sure. And make sure you are clear that the car is privately owned and a collector vehicle.)
I usually try to start with a short drive of 30-45 minutes. Backroads are Ok for this one, and if you can get a friend to tag along in a regular car, they can watch your coach from behind and make sure everything looks good, make sure the car is tracking right, and you can even check your speedo against the other car to see how accurate it is . The first trip is really just going out and back to get everything up to temperature and make sure the coach feels Ok. If all goes well the first time out, on the second trip I will try to go somewhere that’s an Hour to an hour and a half away from home. (One way) And this trip needs to be on the same type of roads as your big trip is going to be. Usually this means Actual 65-75mph highway time. I’ll leave mid-morning and stop for lunch somewhere out of town. Have a quiet lunch, let the car sit during lunch and then jump back in and head for home before its totally cooled down. We want to see how the car is going to react to running when its already warmed up. Pretty much anywhere you can get to is good as long as you get some real road time in. You want to be on the road for 2-3 hours to make sure that everything is working fine under real loads. Here you are seeing how the car feels at speed and how it does over time and distance. You want to keep an eye on temperatures and oil pressure and the vitals of the car. If its fine for an hour and then starts to overheat, that indicates a problem you need to look into before your big trip. Be aware of how the car sounds and feels. It should be obvious when the car feels “right”. This is also a good chance to figure out what kind of mileage you get on the highway. Figuring out approximate highway mileage lets you plan your gas and food stops on your big trip so you dont end up miles from anywhere on fumes. 🙂 This also lets you get used to how the coach handles on the freeway and lets you figure out what speeds the car is most comfortable at. Some coaches will do 75 on the freeway with no problems. Others run better at 65 or 70 and just dont “feel” right at certain speeds. Part of this trip is figuring out the sweet spot for your particular coach. These cars all drive differently then our “regular” cars. And you need to get a feel for them so you know when things are going well, or just aren’t quite right. You want to develop that feel on your shakedown trips so when you are on the road, you can stop when you notice something feels odd, before it becomes a huge issue.
NOW you should be ready to go. You have the parts you may need. You have the tools to fix whatever you may come across. You have checked out the coach mechanically, and you’ve put in some road miles so you KNOW that it runs fine and is capable of the trip. Now you should be ready to go. And if you have put in the time ahead of your trip, it should be pretty smooth and uneventful. Most of the road trips that I’ve taken end up completely uneventful. Occasionally I run into a glitch here and there, but so far, almost everything has been able to be fixed on the side of the road or at a rest stop. And nothing so far has prevented me from arriving at my destination.
I’ve also discovered that I look forward to the drive almost as much as the trip. The people I meet and the enjoyment of driving my coach is every bit as cool as the actual destination.
So get out there, do your homework, and drive those coaches! The more you drive them, the better they usually run, and the less time you have to spend preparing for future trips. If you keep your coach maintained and drive it regularly, then its much easier to get it ready for a road trip when you want to go the next time. Sitting unused is harder on vintage coaches than taking them out and enjoying them. So get out there and enjoy!
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