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How do you know whether your car will make a long drive?

I have a '98 Saturn SL with 130,000 miles on it and I want to drive it from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, CA (about 600 miles). Now, I have had no problems out of this car and I replaced the radiator about a year ago but my parents are convinced that my car won’t make the drive. I have no idea how to tell whether my car will make a long drive and no one seems to have any answers for me. So, what should I be looking for to assess whether my car will make a 600 mile drive?

Are there any fluid leaks?
Is the Check Engine Light lit up?
How would you describe the condition of the tires?
Has the car been maintained at least as well as the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule specifies?

Until you give us some relevant details, your question is like asking a blind man to describe The Mona Lisa.

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Sorry! To answer your questions:

No fluid leaks, no check engine lights going on, tires have been replaced in the last 6 months and are in good condition, oil recently changed, and I plan to head over to Jiffy Lube and get any forgotten things checked out.

“I plan to head over to Jiffy Lube and get any forgotten things checked out”

Well, that may just put a bullet through your plans.

Instead of a chain-operated establishment that employs barely-trained kids who are forced to rush cars in and out far too quickly, I strongly suggest taking the car to an actual mechanic.
The folks at quick lube places are not always able to perform an oil change without doing major damage to your car, and they are surely NOT mechanics.

A real mechanic will frequently be able to spot developing problems before they become serious.
By contrast, the kids (and the manager) at J-lube will try to upsell you on things that may not even be necessary, while simultaneously overlooking actual problems, simply because they are NOT mechanics and are not capable of diagnosing or fixing mechanical and electronic issues.

Yep skip Jiffy. If you didn’t have a problem before, you’d have one after. Pick a regular shop. 600 miles is nothing though. Used to do that every week with 500K miles.

Why not change the oil yourself? It won’t take long and you can get a couple of meals from the money you save on the way to LA. And that stuff about Jiffy Lube? Some are bad, some are good. I happen to use one that is good. I don’t let them change any fluid that is not generic. For instance, they can’t change my Accord transmission fluid. I know they won’t use Honda trans fluid and my car requires it. Other than that, they have done a good job for me for almost 15 years.

The car should be fine as long as it is not making expensive noises, oil pressure’s OK, no leaks, good tires, all oil levels are correct. 130,000 is not too many miles to be dependable. Even a brand new car can leave you by the side of the road with a breakdown. Prepare for it by carrying the basics; cell phone and car charger, drinking water, a warning triangle, maybe flares, a first aid kit and good walking shoes.

Leave early, easy acceleration, 60 mph max, you can drive anywhere you want.

Odds are it will be fine. Especially since LA is only 400 miles from San Francisco, maybe 500 if you take the more scenic 101. How much do you drive this car? Do you drive at least 50 miles/week? Your car is far more likely to break down in 10 weeks of ordinary driving than on a trip to LA. Nothing is easier on a car than cruising down the freeway at a fixed (reasonable) speed. Even if you did happen to break down, it’s not as if I-5 or 101 are remote roads through the Amazonian rain forest. Both are very heavily traveled and patrolled by the CHP. If you had a breakdown you’d never be far from services. A AAA membership wouldn’t be a bad idea and it might reassure your parents. Hint enough and maybe they’ll pay for it. But chances are you’ll be just fine. Your parents are probably remembering road trips of their younger years when there always seemed to be a flat tire, frayed fan belt, or burst radiator hose. On a properly maintained car (not by Jiffy Lube) those are all quite rare now.

From the sound of it, the car should be fine… but don’t EVER rely on Skippy Lube for ANYTHING. Their business model is to take untrained, unskilled kids, give them some basic instructions on how to change oil, then require them to do in to as many cars as possible as fast as possible. Very, very dangerous business model. We routinely have people write in who have had their engines or trannys ruined by Jiffy Lube.

Even at a good, reputable, independently owned and operated shop, you should always check your fluids for proper level and check for leaks when you have them changed before leaving the site, and to the extent you possibly can you should always check all work out to see that it was performed and nothing obvious was omitted. Always before leaving the site. No reputable shop will take offense to this, and any reputable shop will be sincerely grateful if you DO discover an oversight. Honest shops will WANT to correct any mistakes immediately. Even the best make errors.

For your trip, I used to commute 600 miles each week, often in old cars. Take a AAA card, a cell phone, and a credit card for any emergencies and relax. For a car that’s been properly maintained, 600 miles should be no problem. Anything that might happen is likely to be minor, like perhaps a dead battery from leaving the domelight on, or a flat from driving behind a tractor-trailer full if construction debris dropping the occasional nail every few miles. This stuff is all easily correctable. Have the car checked out by a reputable shop before leaving, but then don’t fret over the things that MIGHT happen. 99% of the things we fret about never actually happen.

Oh, and take your time, stop and rest periodically, and drive carefully and safely. Remember that the car can do everything right, but you need to too.

Now for the fun part. Have your parents offered to pay for a rental car for you? If so, it might be a chance to try out a new buggy!

Generally, you know if your car can make a long drive if you have been using it for daily commuting oven a years time or so with no problems other then routine maintenance. If it hasn’t given you, nor do you expect it to give you problems with daily commutes, it’s fine on trips as well over a similar number of miles. If you wonder if it will start one day or have to keep replacing fluids or have poor tires and repairs you keep putting off, it’s a breakdown ready to happen.

"How do you know whether your car will make a long drive?

600 miles? long drive? just do it.
you’ll talk about it years later at cocktail parties.

why are kids so unadventurous these days?

“Leave early, easy acceleration, 60 mph max, you can drive anywhere you want.”

I don’t know where you live, but trying to drive under 60mph on I-5 through the Central Valley would be almost suicidal.

As for the question posed by @tats‌ , any reasonably well-maintained car should make that trip easily. Make sure the belts and hoses are in good condition, tires properly inflated, and fluids full and clean. And take it easy going up the Grapevine.

Some problems are unforeseeable, but if they do crop up on this trip they probably would have happened in the next 600 miles of driving around your area anyway.

Go. Live life. Have fun.

600 miles is not a long drive. Checking everything that is suggested is a great idea and should be done prior to any trip. A 16 year old Saturn may be hiding a surprise. At least you are not going to break down in the middle of death valley.

A couple of months ago, I took a 6700 mile trip with my Saturn that had 267k before the trip. I have always done the regular scheduled maintenance, well most of the time anyway so the only thing I did before the trip was an oil change that was about due and made sure the tire pressure was good.

As ar as speed goes, be sure to keep it under a 103 mph, Saturn’s don’t like to go over that, as I found out on a lonely highway in Texas, but no harm done, it just shut down until I got back down to 70. Then I got back up to 80 and kept going.

Have fun on the trip. Oh, and drive carefully.

Just get a auto club membership. Really, having the thing break down is just a PITA, not a disaster. A disaster would be a snapped tie rod or something, so get a mechanic to give it a look-over in all the “likely to kill me areas”: brakes, steering, and fuel.

Agree, nothing is 100% sure, not even airline travel!

But the odds are the car will be OK; it’s only 2 tanks of gas! We have an AAA card, cellphone and credit cards when we travel. Last mechanical problem on the road was in 1977 when a spark plug wire burned on our 1966 Buick.

Correction: We had the water pump fail on our 1984 Chevy Impala on a trip through the Rocky Mountains in 1992. This event was unpredictable and unpreventable and could have happened to a much newer car. The AAA card served us well!

My thinking is that your folks just don’t want you to go to LA.

Stay away from Iffy Lube. There are too many horror stories, right here on this website. Here’s one:

Get the car checked out by a good reputable mechanic. Click on the MECHANICS FILES link at the top of this page to find one near you.

You should have seen some of the cars I took long drives in. If they ever quit I could have junked them on the spot. Your car is so much newer.

The answer to “How do you know whether your car will make a long drive?” is that I don’t know. I increase my odds by getting things fixed as soon as I notice symptoms and by keeping up with maintenance. My car is 16 years old and has 260,000 miles on it. I take it on 450 mile round trips about once a month.

Every car owner, no matter how new the car is, should have a plan in place for handling flat tires and breakdows. My breakdown plan is to have my car towed to the nearest national chain shop and find a motel room nearby. My auto insurance includes towing reimbursement coverage, so I don’t bother paying an annual fee for roadside service. I change my own flat tires. In fact, I carry two spare tires (a small emergency spare tire and a full size spare tire), a small floor jack, and a 12 volt compressor, along with the stock jack and a box full of tools.

If you’re not the kind of person who does her/his own maintenance and repairs, you might be better off with an auto club (like AAA) membership.

Not everyone needs an auto club membership, but everyone should have a plan.