Before You Go

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The prospect of heading out on your first adventure may have you ready to pack up and roll out of town right away. After all, the thrill of traveling down an unpaved trail awaits, and you can never spend too much time in the wilderness. While the temptation to leave is strong once your bags are packed, it pays to do one final vehicle check.

In the offroading community, you’ll notice the topic off self-reliance showing up time and time again. Although there are many tools available to seek rescue today, you never want to be in a position where you need it. Depending upon where you travel, locating you may be difficult or impossible for first responders. Even a minor mechanical malfunction can leave you stranded and forced to stay overnight in an undesirable location for a serious period of time.

In most cases, these types of emergencies are preventable with proper planning and vehicle maintenance. Before you go on your adventure, make sure to work through this checklist to identify potential issues that need to be fixed to keep your vehicle humming happily along the trail.

Do a General Walk Around
In addition to reinforcing the importance of self-reliance, we also like to make it clear that you don’t have to be a professional mechanic to get into overlanding. Many vehicle issues are notable from just a visual inspection, and you don’t have to necessarily be able to say what is wrong. Instead, you need to be able to see, hear or feel that something is wrong so that you don’t take it off-road until a pro checks it out.

Take a moment to look at your vehicle from a distance, and see if you notice any of the following warning signs of a problem.
•one side looks lower than the other
•bumper hanging down or falling off
•racks look loose
•obvious fluid leaks on the ground

Check the Wheels and Tires
Your vehicle’s tires make all the difference in how well it performs while you are overlanding. You should always choose tires that are designed for the terrain that you plan to drive on, but don’t rely upon that alone to keep them in good condition.

Start by checking the inflation levels of each tire, and air them up to meet the specifications for the paved roads that you must drive on to get to the starting point destination. Seeing an initial low inflation level during your inspection may not be cause for concern if you regularly air down during certain trail conditions. However, the tires should be fairly consistent. If one is significantly low, then it may have a leak.

You should also inspect the tread to make sure it is still appropriately high, and give the rest of the tire a check for other warning signs such as bubbles or cracks. As you do this part of the inspection, be sure to remember the spare. A quality spare is critical if you run into any tire issues on the trail.

Finally, look at each wheel. Make sure the lug nuts are properly secure. Then, check for damage such as major dents or cracks that compromise their integrity and signal a need for replacement.

Do a Safety Feature Check
The lights on your vehicle are one of the most important safety features that you have available, and they could be the difference between getting out of a jam once it gets dark. Take a moment to turn on the headlights along with the brake lights to make sure that they work. If you have a partner handy, have them help you check these lights along with the turn signals. If not, you can use mirrors or watch to see if the light up an object in front of you such as the garage door.

You’ll also want to check each seatbelt in your vehicle, and give the windshield wipers a once over to make sure that they are operational and not worn down. Then, give the horn a honk to make sure that you can warn others on tight curves that you are heading around while you are offroading. This is also a great time to check out your safety gear such as fire extinguishers and signaling devices to make sure that they are ready for potential emergencies.

Head Under the Hood
There’s a lot you can find out about your vehicle by checking the interior parts. Begin by checking all of the fluids to make sure that they are at the appropriate levels. If you notice that the oil or coolant are suspiciously low, then it is worth getting it checked out for leaks. This is also the ideal time to make sure that you are stocked up with additional fluids in case there’s a need to top off on your trip.

You will then want to carefully inspect along all of the hoses and lines to identify areas of concern such as holes or places where two pieces have come apart. The spark plugs should all be firmly in place without any detectible corrosion along the battery connections.

Look at the Undercarriage
As a final point of inspection, give the underparts of your vehicle a check. For this part, you are looking to make sure that the suspension is in good condition with the shocks and springs properly secure. The steering wheel should turn without making any unusual noises, and you shouldn’t notice excessive play when someone else turns it as you watch. Finally, shine a flash light up into the engine bay and along the rest of the undercarriage to check for any oil or other fluids that warrants further inspection.

Once you’ve got your pre-trip vehicle inspection down, make sure to do it every single time you leave. In fact, you should be doing this checklist every morning of a multi-day adventure since treacherous conditions can jostle things out of place. Once you’re done, give your vehicle one final walk around to identify any tools or supplies that you might have left on the ground. Then, you can head out with full confidence that your vehicle is ready to handle anything you discover along that dusty trail.