Vehicle Preparation – Part 2, by Traveling Mechanic

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

You should look and feel along the total length of all hoses. Any unusually soft or hard areas are of concern. Any bulge or area worn more than half of the hose thickness is a sign of imminent failure and needs replacement as soon as possible.

There are several things that will cause your vehicle motor to run hotter than expected. The typical cause is that the flow of air through the radiator may be partially blocked. A no-cost or low-cost solution is to take your garden hose and blow water from the motor side of the radiator toward the front. This reverse flow will often remove most of the bugs and rocks. You can shine a flashlight through the core. Any blocked light will show you where any remaining problem areas are located. I have also found several cases where leaves have managed to get between the air condenser coil and the front of the radiator. This trash blocked the airflow through both. A few minutes with an air or water hose removed the problem. The result was an improvement of air conditioner performance and slightly lower motor water temperature. I recommend that you place metal window screen meshi in front of the condenser and radiator If your location has lots of bugs or trash. This screen will block the ability of things to get into unwanted places.

Carefully examine the water flow path that it takes inside the radiator. The water flow will be either from side to side or top to bottom. Carefully place your hand on a part of the front of the radiator fins. Place your hand at approximately one half of the fin flow path. Cautions: Some electric radiator fans can turn on unexpectedl.. This area will be hot to the touch. Move your hand, with the same orientation, to another group of the fins. All of these groups should all be at approximately the same temperature. If a group of fins is dramatically cooler this means that there is minimal or no flow/cooling, which should be occurring, in this area. It’s time to visit the local radiator repair shop for rework.

Next, you should take your vehicle to anyone that sells vehicle batteries. They will typically do a battery life test of your battery at no charge. It is my experience that most batteries seem to fail within 3-6 months after the end of warranty period. If you live in a part of the country that can get below zero in temperature then a battery with a higher cold cranking amp rating is recommended. I also recommend that you should consider replacing the battery cables with their 6-volt equivalents. The larger wire gauge will allow more current to flow to the starter. This lower wire loss gives a faster motor rotation. This faster turning can often start a large motor that turns over very slowly when cold.

Under-body checks:

First, before you do anything, carefully block the front and rear tires so the vehicle can’t roll. Verify these blocks are working by attempting to push the vehicle in both forward and reverse directions. I like to additionally place a tire and wheel under the vehicle body. This gives extra protection for anyone under the vehicle should a jack fail.

Background – Things under a vehicle tend to become a dirty tan color. Look for any darker colored path. The dark stain, if found, indicates something is leaking or worn.

Jack up each tire in sequence. Spin each tire and listen to the sound. You will hear a bearing rolling sound. You should not hear any rubbing or scraping noise. You can repeat the test on the other side of the vehicle to verify if something needs attention. If one side is quiet and the other side has a noisy scraping sound then you have caught a problem.

You should check the brake pad, or brake shoe, thickness on both the front and rear. It is common to need to replace the front brakes three times for every two changes of the rear brakes.

Jack up each tire in sequence. Carefully rotate each tire back and forth in approximately one fourth turn segments. Verify that all universal joints (“u-joints”) turn without delay. Worn joints will exhibit a slight hesitation before moving during rotation direction changes. Next attempt to pull/push each u-joint from side to side. There should be no side motion possible. Rotate the u-joint 90 degrees and repeat. Do this test at all u-joints.

Attempt to pull the top or bottom of the tire sideways. No motion should occur. Any motion is an indication that the ball joints are excessively worn. Replacement is slow. It is often faster, thus less expensive to replace the individual control arms.

Have someone rotate the steering wheel in approximately 90-degree arcs. Verify that all steering parts move together without delay. Slight movement delays at each change of direction indicate worn parts. Replacement is needed.

Items En Route:

I/we believe that the mantra “two is one and one is none” applies here. Here is how we reduce risks;
1. We have traveled the planned route and know some items to watch for.
2. We carry both state maps and a topographical
3. We requested a AAA “Trip-Ticket” guide to the route last year.
4: I listen to several state Highway 511 updates monthly. Dialing a telephone area code and then 511 will almost always get you road condition updates without any cost.

Note: Some mountain highways may close during the winter. Verify that all roads that you plan to use are open.

We plan expected fuel usage at 10 MPG. We expect to actually get closer to 15 MPG. We plan to carry enough fuel such that we don’t have to stop at service stations. I found out that my employer uses rubbing alcohol as part of the product cleaning process before shipment. I suspect this may be a standard practice. These 5-gallon containers are thrown away after emptying. I got some containers, over a six-month period, simply by offering to remove them. I will fill these with fuel and discard them during the route as they are emptied.

The wife has planned and prepared all meals for use during the trip. The result is lower stress for her and faster human fueling stops.

Personal Note: We have found that road travel speed minus 10 MPH matches the overall distance and travel time spent in motion. This allows us to do the what/where/when travel planning and to match the actual fairly close.

The wife serves as co-pilot during the trip. We use the maps and the GPS to advise on upcoming road changes. We also listen to the weather channel stations to get timely updates. We are also listening to both national and local news.

We have equipped all towing and towed vehicles with mudflaps. This addition reduces risk of rock damage to anyone following behind a vehicle. The flaps also tend to reduce the dust cloud raised by the vehicle.

If you plan to travel on graveled roads be aware the rocks in the road material come in two versions: 1.) River rock – smooth rounded surfaces which is easy on tires and 2.) Crushed rock – This rock has fairly sharp edges. This will tend to cause tire failures. You can check how sensitive your tires are to “sharp” by looking at the number of plies. This tire construction rating can be found molded on the tire sidewall. I recommend that stop periodically. Examine what your tires are traveling on. Slow down to reduce tire stress on rough gravel. How many spare tires do you carry?

I strongly suggest talking with someone local about how the nearby gravel road surface(s) change during all seasons. I know a tricky local location on a gravel road. One spot has a clay base under the gravel. Every year at least one vehicle slides into the ditch at this location. Waiting for a tow truck to arrive can often be a long wait if not close to a tow. The cost will also be very expensive.

I carry a 30-foot plastic 30,000 rated tow cable and a handy-man jack. We personally haven’t needed these yet. Several families have been very grateful when we came along the road and pulled their vehicle back onto the road.

I strongly suggest practicing how to fully load each vehicle. This avoids both the delays from both “Is XYZ going” and “where/how” should it be packed. The first items to be loaded should be all first aid kits and fire extinguishers. Just how long is the loading now delay?

An Aside, In Closing

Something that I have never seen presented anywhere is what did you do about any property that you store in you vehicle? I recommend that you do fo your car the same as you do for your house:  Have someone use a phone camera to take LOTS of pictures for all rooms and buildings. Ask your insurance person what their SOP is to determine damage replacement. Don’t be surprised if they say “Here is a blank piece of paper. Write down each item along with cost and age”. Image if you said “Rather than attempting to remember everything here is a collection of pictures to provide firm evidence of what is / was present”. I recommend you copy all pictures to several DVD discs. You should keep a copy. A copy should go to an out of state relative. Offer to keep a copy of their DVD. A copy should be kept at your work. Are you concerned about “sensitive items like guns”? I encrypted those pictures so that they are available only if specifically needed. The encryption also keeps anyone snooping from knowing what critical items you have.


  1. A side note on your bug out vehicle lifts suspension tire size etc.

    It’s easy to think I’m going to lift it to the sky and put 40 inch tires on it and long travel suspension components that way I can drive through rivers and crawl over mountains and be unstoppable.

    In short to make the biggest meanest “mall crawler” ever.

    Or to say “I’m gonna add 400 horsepower” and hot rod my way around.

    In truth

    What you need to have is a vehicle that can go faster than you possible solutions over a bit more rougher terrains. One that can quickly and reliably get you to a safe place.

    For example, I have a new to me 2002 [Ford] Explorer. My biggest mods planed is 32-33 inch tires and any lift (body lift) I need to put them on…. That’s it keeping the center of gravity as low as possible keep my cornering speed higher.

    Mods to the drive train will be lower axel gear ratios electronic lockers and that’s it.

    I won’t be changing spring rates unless I need to for the load I regularly carry.

    Stock is actually a highly researched balanced set up made to be as safe as possible and as reliable as possible. There are things you can do to go above and beyond this but by in large you are looking at percentages of increase … And you don’t feel percentages you feel effects.

    Take your vehicle off the road learn it learn it’s limitations learn it’s strengths and you will be much better equipped with minor mods than someone running a homemade monster truck.

    Some universal truths on what to add to your vehicle for bug-out vehicles.

    Trucks get a construction style camper or a load-bearing tonneau that you can add extra storage on top of.

    SUVs put your cargo in square boxes add tie-down points. Put a cargo van style cargo shield behind your last occupied seat just in case.

  2. Something else…. Look into replacing your windows with poly carbonate. It is much harder to beak. You can apply films to it like window tinting that make it scratch resistant. As well as tinting on the inside.

    You can also buy it with those coatings already on it. There should be local glass shops that will shape it to match your original auto glass , which came be used to lower the price of install by trading to the installer… Or selling original on Craigslist or eBay.

  3. Where Traveling Mechanic says “use a water hose”, Do NOT Use a Pressure Washer. You can completely bugger the structure with too much pressure. Also, better check if your air compressor blows oil along with the air. They can, especially old ones, and I made that mistake once and the dust I was trying to blow out of the radiator fins turned to crud that was twice as hard to clean.

    Has anyone ever tried using “Slime” or other pretreat in your tires, and gotten a good result? My most recent car has a compressor and a slime container in lieu of any kind of a spare, but I know some folks use it in their bike tires to good result and wondered if it might be worth a shot as a preventative?

    1. Slime works on small holes, but a highway tire will become out of balance. Don’t use it as a preventative in a highway tire, but I would use it to fix a flat if I did not know, or did not have a professional grade tire plugging kit. It is useful as a preventative in ATV tires. Using about a gallon of the stuff, it managed to seal 2 old and badly weather cracked ATV tires I did not want to replace. It can work wonders, but I would need a tire plug to fix larger holes. Unfortunately, it is often not easy to plug tires.

      The best assurance is to carry two spare tires. I have read that using an inner tube with lots of slime in it can seal up bullet holes, and is the next best thing to having run flat tires. I suppose it might be possible, but I could say with some confidence that gashes to the side wall and small punctures could be sealed. Tire plugs do not work well, or at all when the puncture occurs on the sidewall. If it is a highway vehicle, installing tubes would add a layer of protection and may prevent leaks if there was damage to the side wall. If you expect to take fire, then I would install as much slime in the tube as I could afford, and attempt to fill it up.

      1. Tunnel Rabbit–I’ve been reading your posts and blogs for years and I think you would have the answer I’m looking for. I was asking for help with comm. advice specifically ham radio base and accessories. I know almost nothing about comms. My sister is starting to study for ham test. I’m in the hills (about halfway up a hill) needing equipment for up to 50 miles as the crow flies. Have power, backup power, and handhelds (per your blogs). Want to buy a ham base while there’s a decent supply chain.We think 100W. Sorry I don’t know. Tried to do the homework online looking at Yaesu, Icom, etc. My brain just glazed over…Help! Thanks in advance.

  4. More spare tires. Your car may have a cheap doughnut tire and these are more prone to failure than normal tires. If possible replace that with a full size tire and rim. As a minimum I would carry two spares and four would be optimal. This does not have to be expensive. Go to a junkyard and ask for tires still mounted on rims to fit your car. Reject any with worn tires or damaged rims. Sometimes you will have to buy them separate and get them mounted yourself. Well worth the effort.

    You are thinking you don’t need to do this because you rarely have a flat and besides there are repair shops everywhere. True! Very true today, but will it be true in a bug out scenario. When I drive to Alaska I carry two “extra” good spares. There are repair shops on the Alcan but they are far apart.

    Two extra spares take up a lot of room in your trunk. Plan ahead and buy a roof rack. You don’t need to carry the extra spares everyday just when you go on a long trip through remote areas OR when you bugout. Check that you can get two tires into the roof rack. Typically one fits well but the other has to lean on the first one. Make sure each tire is securely and individually tied down. Also if you have a car, especially a small car it is likely that you can easily put the tire in the roof rack. But if you have an SUV or a 3/4 ton truck/van those tires weigh as much as a teenager. So you will need to find a way to get them onto your roof. A step stool, extra help/muscle, a loading dock.

    1. If you aren’t using your vehicle for towing you can get or have made a recieved mounted spare Tire rack that will hold as many as you want. Even for a passenger car.

      You could also mount a spare Tire rack to the front of your truck via a front hitch Mount.

      Tires don’t weigh too too much so you could put on your roof rack too

      I’ve seen guys in the desert with dually and or Baja fenders mount thier spares on the side of the bed behind those too.

  5. Another thought regarding weather on your route: get a couple of handheld Ham radios and program them with each of the NOAA stations along your route. This will make sure you have everything in place and you won’t have to try and figure it out as you go, like I did on a road trip a couple of years ago. You don’t need a Ham license to do this, because you don’t transmit – only listen. Stations along alternate routes can be written down and stored with the radio. I think most of these stations are on the 2m band, so a Baofeng is suitable and cost effective.

  6. Well done article . I will add that I carry a 8×32 pair of binoculars on the dash to see trouble far away . I will also add that yes I will keep the lenses clean on my headlamps and tail lights , but I also carry black Gorilla tape and would reduce the area of the headlamps and tail lights and cover completely the side clearance lights and reflectors.
    I will leave the vehicle dirty and spray down the license plate area with sugar water so all dust and bugs will stick to it . This will help defeat the licenses plate reading that law enforcement adores and the plate reflectivity . It should be noted that I always traveling with my snitch ( Mobile Phone) in a EMP pouch and I deliberately have no built in GPS in my 2019 vehicle .

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