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Prepare Your Car for a PCS Road Trip

by Lizann Lightfoot - September 9th, 2022

Prepare Your Car for a PCS Road Trip

For military families, a PCS move often means driving to your next duty station. If you aren’t shipping your car or pulling it behind a moving truck, then you are probably driving it to your new home.

Whether you are moving within the same state or traveling across the country, you are probably about to put a lot of extra miles on your vehicle. The last thing you want is to break down, get a flat tire, or experience car trouble in the middle of your move. It doesn’t matter if your vehicle is fairly new or has been in the family for a while. All vehicles should go through a similar checklist before going on a long PCS roadtrip.

(And speaking of checklists, download your free PCS checklist from PCSgrades here. Scroll halfway down the page to get the link!)

If your car has been sitting a while, then your engine isn’t ready to run its best. And if your trip will take you through long, empty stretches of road (I’m looking at you, Kansas and Texas!), then you definitely need to get a tune-up and make sure your vehicle is ready before the big road trip.

Here is your to-do list to make sure your vehicle is ready for a PCS roadtrip.

9 steps of auto care for your PCS road trip

Get an oil change

This one is a no-brainer. Not only do you need clean oil to help the engine run its best, but you should also pay attention to all the little extras that are part of an oil change. Make sure you get a new air filter (which will help maximize your gas mileage) and top off all fluids, especially antifreeze if you will be driving through cold weather areas.

Check wipers and replace blades

Don’t wait until you are driving through a thunderstorm to discover that your wipers leave annoying streaks all over the windshield! In hot, dry climates, the rubber can crack quickly. In wetter climates, blades wear out from use over time. Either scenario makes your wipers useless in a heavy downpour. They are cheap and easy to replace. You can do it yourself, or just ask during your oil change.

Flush the radiator

Radiator coolant should be flushed every 60,000 miles or whenever your manufacturer recommends it. It’s more important for older vehicles. Over time, rust and scaling can build up inside your radiator and water pump. Getting it flushed and filled with fresh antifreeze will help everything run smoothly and prevent overheating when you are driving through the desert. More summer maintenance tips are here.

Check your tires

Your whole trip is riding on these tires (literally!) so make sure they are ready for the road ahead.

Check each tire for good tread thickness. You should be able to insert the edge of a coin into the grooves. If they are too smooth and going “bald,” you risk slipping on wet roads or having a dangerous flat tire or blowout.

If all your tires are balding, replace them with a new set. If it is just two, then rotate them so the ones with better tread are in the front (for front-wheel drive vehicles). Check your tire pressure and inflate to the recommended PSI—it’s written on the tire—so there is no dangerous bulging on the sides.

Many tire repair shops will check your tire pressure and inspect your tires for free.

Locate your spare tire and jack

Maybe you are lucky, and you’ve never needed to change a tire on your vehicle. But a PCS trip with a car full of luggage and family members is not the time to learn where the spare tire is located! Take time to read your owner’s manual and check the location of your spare tire and tools. Make sure everything is accounted for, and you know how to go through the process on your particular vehicle.

Get a spare key

You would be surprised how often people lock themselves out of their own vehicles! This would really slow you down on a cross-country trip. Especially if your spouse is not traveling with you or is in a separate vehicle, you will want a backup key kept somewhere different, like in your purse, inside your phone case, or in a small magnetic box underneath the vehicle.

Clean out the inside

Get your vehicle PCS road trip ready by cleaning out every nook and cranny. Not only will this help you improve storage options and make more space during the long drive, but removing unnecessary items reduces the weight and improves the gas mileage.

Try to organize a space for each family member to help them stay comfortable and entertained during the trip. There are more tips on long road trips with kids here.

Download your entertainment

If you are playing music from your phone, there’s a good chance you will lose your signal during long, empty stretches of highway. If you have a favorite music playlist or podcast, download your favorites ahead of time. You can always change them out with new downloads at the hotel each night. The same is true for kids’ devices with TV shows, games, or movies.

Pack emergency supplies

Before you squeeze in all your overnight essentials, make some room for supplies that will get you through roadside emergencies. Your car survival kit should include a gallon of water (for you to drink or in case the radiator overheats), rags or paper towels to handle spills, a flashlight, jumper cables, and an empty gas container. 

If you take care of your vehicle checklist before your move, you will be prepared for an epic PCS road trip. Taking care of these items will give you the peace of mind to enjoy the trip and make fun memories along the way!

Lizann Lightfoot

Lizann Lightfoot

Lizann Lightfoot, the "Seasoned Spouse" is a professional writer and speaker for the military community. After two decades with her service member, her family has been through 7 deployments and 6 PCS moves. Lizann has raised 5 children and published several books for military families. Her most recent book is "Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses" published Sept 2021 by Elva Resa. You can find Lizann's articles and resources at