Richard's got a road-trip looming, with a Jeep that hasn't been touched in a year. Should he take any special precautions?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 2007

Dear Tom and Ray:

I am a jet engine mechanic ("Jet Mech") in the Air Force and have been overseas for one year now. This is quite a common problem for all of us in the armed forces. I am due to return to the states here shortly. When I return, I will be driving my '04 Jeep Wrangler cross-country from Charleston, S.C., to Ogden, Utah (my next duty station). I have a relatively short history with the vehicle in question, and am now asking it to make a 2,500-mile trip. The vehicle, as far as I know, has NOT been driven or even started for the entire year. The Jeep was stored with all the fluids at max. I am wondering what I should do to ensure that she'll make the entire trip. I will be limited on how much time I can spend on it as well. At MOST, I will only be able to devote one day to her prep. I am planning to drive only about 350 miles a day, and at relatively slower speeds than others might travel (it IS a billboard with an engine, after all). I have received MANY suggestions, but I hold your opinions above all else. Well ... maybe not Tom's! (Kidding.) By the way, the podcasts of your radio show have helped us relax and smile in our shop here, and we thank you, sirs. -- Richard

RAY: Gee, it's too bad you don't have a teenage son at home, Richard. Then you could have been sure that the Jeep had been driven 12 hours a day, every day, while you were gone.

TOM: And all you'd have to do is unwrap it from around a tree.

RAY: One day is not much time to prepare a car for a cross-country voyage. But I think the plans you've made are good ones. You want to limit your speed, because high-speed driving puts a lot of stress on the engine. And you want to limit your daily miles, because that kind of constant hard duty is tough on the car, too.

TOM: If I only had a day, I think I'd start by checking all of the fluids and changing the oil. I'd check for any leaks in the cooling system. And if there's time, I'd change the oil in both differentials, and the transmission, since I'm guessing none of that stuff has ever been changed.

RAY: I'd also change the belt (this car has one serpentine belt), since it spent a whole year in one position and could be cracked and vulnerable.

TOM: I'd check all the hoses, too. They should be OK given the age of the car, but you might as well replace any hose that looks even the least bit questionable.

RAY: And take a careful look at the tires. After sitting for a year, they might have developed flat spots. Those might go away as you drive. But you don't have a lot of time to find out. This thing handles badly enough. The last thing you want to do is try to drive it with four square tires!

TOM: Then check the brakes. Make sure your pads are good, the brake fluid level is full, and none of the calipers are sticking. Make sure the parking brake works, too, and check to see that all of the lights are doing what they're supposed to.

RAY: And then change the air freshener (very important!) and make sure the radio works. Twenty-five hundred miles is a long way to go listening to nothing but the roar of the tires in this beast. Although as a jet mechanic, you can probably just slap on your ear protection and feel right at home. Good luck, Richard!

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