Taking a trip to Colorado

I’ve got a 2004 Ford Explorer V6 4x2 that has lived it’s 84K-mile-life in mostly flat Texas. This summer, I’m planning on taking the family to Denver and other parts of Colorado, including some extensive driving in the mountains. What maintenance should I make sure I get done, what should I get checked, before we go?



I would consult the maintenance schedule that came with the owner’s manual and make sure everything is up to date.

For mountain driving I’d pay particular attention to the vehicle’s brakes. If they are questionable, now would be a good time to have them replaced.

Just a tip: Do not use “overdrive” in the mountains if you have an automatic transmission. Take a digital camera and a video camera. Don’t miss Estes Park just north of Denver.

There’s really nothing that you shouldn’t already be doing. Make sure all scheduled maintenance is up to date, especially for the transmission fluid, coolant, and brake fluid. Check that you have decent life left on the brakes. Make sure the fluids are all at the right level. Check the air in your spare tire. Perhaps you’d want a mechanic to take a quick look at your belts and hoses, although these days they usually last a long time. If you’ll be traveling in remote areas and you’re still on your original battery, you could consider replacing it proactively, since you probably won’t get much more life out of it.

Remember to downshift and not overheat your brakes when coming down long hills.

If you drive at elevation, the air is thinner, so it may be a little slower to move, but it should do fine.

Thanks everyone for all the great advice! I am more or less up to date on my maintenance but I’ll make sure I’m a little “more” before I leave, paying special attention to the transmission fluid, coolant, brake fluid, hoses, belts, tires (including the spare) and battery. I just got new brakes about three months ago, so I should be good there.

I do have auto transmission; is turning off the overdrive sufficient coming down or should I also downshift?


Downshift to second gear. You’ll see what I mean when you start down one of those long, steep grades. Take it easy and don’t over-rev the engine. Enjoy the view.

The natives say “You haven’t seen the mountains until you’ve seen the BACKSIDE of the mountains”. Do you plan to go on mountainous back roads, logging roads, or fire roads? If not you will have no problem with two wheel drive. If you intend to go “off road” Jeep rentals are available by the day in most areas.

IMHO Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are too commercialized and crowded. We prefer the western slope, Durango, Silverton, the narrow Gage railroad between them, and Ouray. Up Corkscrew pass and down Engineer pass was a good 53 mile day long Jeep trip out of Ouray.

Are you going anywhere in particular?

You should definitely downshift on steep downgrades, but there’s no reason to just drive around with the overdrive off all the time (unless you’re towing). The transmission will know when to downshift on uphill grades,

Well, my wife is attending a convention in Denver for a couple of days but we’re taking the week to do the tourist thing in the region, and I definitely want to spend some time in the mountains. Nothing in particular planned yet.

Do nothing, huh? I will disagree. You need to make sure your cooling system is top notch. I would have it flushed and the thermostat and hoses changed. I also would have the transmission fluid and filter changed, plus I would make sure the brakes have plenty of wear left on the pads. Might as well do the plugs and filters at the same time. Mountains will put severe loads on these systems and its no fun to have problems in the mountains.

“Summer” in the high country means “August”…There is a whole lot of nothing between Dallas and Denver so take some amusements for the kids…Cell-phone coverage is spotty on the two-lane roads, which is the only way to get between Texas and Denver…Try to avoid travel on weekends, that’s a good time to stay put somewhere…

Same precautions you’d take for any long trip. Get the tires, suspension, brakes, and cooling system checked. Make sure the spare is OK and that the jack, jack handle, and lug nut wrench are in the car. If you know how to use tools, throw a basic set of tools, some wire, an LED flashlight and a roll of duct tape in a cranny.

If you are going to venture off the interstates, carry a couple of blankets (It gets cold at night at altitude even in August) and a couple of gallon bottle of water from the grocery store. If you don’t have a cell phone, buy a Trakfone at the drug store and make sure it works.

and especially the coolant system,including the hoses

Check that old poster with the woman hitchhiker holding the Colorado sign. Anybody who was a teenager in 1970 knows which one.

Shucks, you could spend the whole week in Denver, and not see it all, if you like being around people. There is lots to see and do. Since you would kill a day just driving to the western slope, plan on a few of your days in the Colorado Springs area. Just west of the city you can drive your Explorer up Pikes Peak (Elev 14,110’). You’ll come down parts of it in LOW. Book a night or two at Woodland Park or go up to Criple Creek and lose a few bucks gambeling. Don’t plan to find a room there though. Too few and too expensive for what you get. Rampart Range road out of Woodland Park is gravel, but well maintained in Summer. You can take it to highways that will lead you back to Denver, or circle thru Deckers and go back to C-Spgs. The gold camp road, out of Victor, south of Cripple Creek, is built on an abandoned railroad bed. It’s gravel too. It will take you back down to C-Spgs thru beautiful scenery most tourists never see, and spit you out in back of the Broadmoor Hotel. I’ve driven both those roads in a variety of 2-wheel drive cars. Canyon City has a very neat wood planked, one lane, suspension bridge over Royal Gorge about 1000’ below. It was built in 1929, but has been well maintained, so you can still drive across it. You can book a white water rafting trip through the gorge too. It’s a neat area. I spent many summer’s weeks in that area as a young man.

And now a story. My wife was always the least “back seat driver” I ever met (until the kids started driving). I took her to Colorado Springs on our honeymoon nearly 30 years ago. Highway 24, going west out of the springs, is a four lane with the up hill lanes on one side of Ute Creek and the almost invisible downhill lanes on the other side. We flew out and rented a K-Car. (Remember those?) Going up the mountain I was passing cars on blind curves. She never said a word… until we got to Chipita Park and the four lanes united. Then she said “Oh, it’s a four lane”. Poor girl thought I was trying to kill us both.