CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Long Trip, Small Car

Making a one way trip from Grand Rapids, MI to Tacoma WA in late June/early July. After 5 years of driving I’ve put 41k miles on my Chevy Aveo, the farthest I’ve driven it at one time was 100 miles and then back the next day.

With side trips along the way, Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore will be putting around 3k on it in less than 2 weeks, so 3 questions-

1) Other than oil change/tune up, checking brakes and hoses, is there anything else that should be checked?

2) I have never driven in the mountains and will have to go through the Rockies to get there, will an Aveo be able to make and anything I should know before trying?

3) Am I nuts to try this and should I just sell the car and use the procedes to rent a pick up or SUV instead?

Your Aveo will do fine. Plenty of small cars make it up and down mountains daily.

If you did the 30K service, you are pretty much ready for the trip. I would check on tire rotation status and ensure my oil change will make the trip within the estimated miles.

You haven’t told us the model year of your Aveo, but based on, “after 5 years of driving”, I surmise that the car is a 2005 model. If this is not correct, please feel free to correct me.

Anyway, your best source of information regarding maintenance is your Owner’s Manual which should be–hopefully–sitting in your glove compartment. Almost all maintenance procedures have both an odometer mileage value and an elapsed time value, such as…“every 5,000 miles or 5 months, whichever comes first” or “every 7,500 miles or 7.5 months, whichever comes first”, or…

Thus, regardless of the mere 41k on the odometer, you also need to think about the passage of time when it comes to maintenance. Specifically, I am thinking about the timing belt on the poorly-engineed engine of the Aveo. It is supposed to be replaced at–IIRC–60k or 5 years, whichever comes first.

Has the timing belt been replaced? If not, you are skating on thin ice–so to speak–if you want to take this little car on an extended trip.

Regarding, “tune-up”, you will have to tell us what this service included. Because this terminology is non-specific and can include many items or only a few items, we have no idea of what your mechanic’s “tune-up” consists of. (The term “tune-up” went out the window some time shortly after the disco era.)

This car should be able to be driven in the mountains–as long as you are not afraid to give it a lot of gas on the way up, and as long as you are willing to shift down to a lower gear on long downgrades. Otherwise, you will be a traffic hazard on the way up, and may risk losing your brakes on the way down.

No, you are not “nuts” to try this, provided that the car has been properly maintained, and that you are prepared to drive it appropriately.

How about giving us a full rundown of this car’s maintenance record, rather than throwing out non-specific terms like, “tuneup”?

Am I nuts to try this and should I just sell the car

Not a fan of the car and would look for any excuse to sell it. But, if you do like the car go for it. I took 2000 mile trip in my old SAAB 96 two stroke; so anything’s possible.

The car will handle the trip fine. It is not a 90 mph car, so stay around 65 mph and you’ll get over the mountains OK. On a very steep uphill you may hear the car downshift to a lower gear, but that’s normal.

If you don’t know how to check your oil level, have someone show you how. On long trips I like to check my oil level every morning before I start the car and set out for the day. If the car uses a little oil that is fine. You can buy a quart and keep it in the trunk if you find the oil level is getting down close to the bottom “low” marker on the dipstick.

There really isn’t a tune-up in the way there used to be. You just change spark plugs when it’s called for in the owner’s manual. I’d just add to check the tires and make sure the coolant is OK.

Check any engine belts. At 41,000 they should not be bad, unless there is a problem. So, better check them in case there is a problem. If you don’t know how, try to find a friend who knows how, it’s easy enough.

Have you done all of the maintenance listed in your owner’s manual on schedule so far? You need to start by telling us that. Given the limited miles that you drive, you might be on the severe service schedule, in which case I hope you’ve been following that.

If you still have the original battery, you could consider replacing it soon if money isn’t too tight. It’s probably approaching the end of its life.

Does your car call for brake fluid replacement periodically? Since you’ll be in the mountains, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have fresh brake fluid (without the water that it picks up over time) in there. Speaking of brakes, make sure you use engine braking on long downhills.

Don’t forget to check the air in your spare tire.

You will be fine. Change the oil b4 you go