Your route is planned, accommodation is booked, bags are almost packed and you’re counting down the days until you set off …
Before you get any further, ask yourself— are you due for a service? If your car is currently due for a service or will rack up the kilometres to be due for a service while you’re away, then it’s time to book your car in ASAP. The best thing you can do to prepare your car and to avoid a breakdown, or additional wear and tear, is to service your car before any big trip.
If your car is serviced and you’re ready to go, we’ve put together an easy to follow checklist to ensure your car is safe and ready for the long road ahead. To make life easier you can also watch our Chief Mechanic, Elvio complete a basic once over on a car prior to heading off in the video below.
Tyres are the most important component between you and the road so it’s crucial they are in optimum condition. Tyres are often the most overlooked part of the car, but they are the key to smooth handling, road safety and fuel efficiency.
- Check your tyre pressures: Tyres should be inflated to the manufacturer’s recommendations, although we recommend over-inflating them by 5-10psi each, as this will improve your car’s handling and fuel consumption. You can easily do this at your local service station.
- Check tyre tread and wear pattern: Make sure your tyres have plenty of tread and that they’re not showing any unusual wear patterns, which could indicate an alignment problem.
- Check spare tyre: Check you still have one and remember to check all the same things on your spare.
It’s easy to forget to check your lights, especially the ones at the rear of your vehicle. Not only are your lights a key safety feature of the vehicle, in many cars, but brake lights also act as a warning symbol to your car that it’s unsafe to drive, so other electrical components of the car start to slow down or stop working. You may need to enlist someone’s help to complete this one.
- Brake lights: Either enlist someone’s help or back your car up against a wall, window or roller door and look for the refection to ensure they’re working correctly.
- Headlights, blinkers, licence plate globes, interior lights: For the rest, simply turn on your ignition or start your car and then turn on each respective light. You can either ask someone else to check, get out of the car and check yourself or check for their refection.
Fluids in your car are incredibly important. For example, oil in your engine is the fluid that keeps everything operating smoothly. Over time, your engine will lose oil, and if it runs out completely, it will seize, which is just about as bad as it sounds. Worst of all, repairing a seized engine is a very expensive undertaking that could have been avoided completely with regular oil checks. The same goes for checking up on your engine’s water levels. The water in your car’s vehicle circulates around the engine and helps to keep it cool. With no water in the system, your car runs the risk of rapidly overheating, which in turn can cause engine damage.
- Check and top up windscreen washer fluid or water.
- Check and top up oil and water: Your owner’s manual will describe where to check your oil and water levels. Note the engine must be cool when checking and topping up.
- Clean your air-conditioning: If you haven’t used your car’s air-conditioner for at least three months (such as during winter), it’s important to clear it out before a trip. After long periods of disuse, bacteria and dust start to build up. You’ll want this cleared out before you have to breathe it in during a long trip. The simplest thing to do is to turn on your car and run the air-conditioner for a few minutes each day for three to four days before your trip.
You don’t want a flat battery on your trip. So unless you’ve just recently replaced your car’s battery, there are a few simple checks you can do to ensure longevity
- Age of battery: The first and easiest thing you can do without lifting the bonnet is to know the age of your battery. Check your records and know roughly when it was last replaced, if it’s been three years or more, you really should have it replaced prior to your trip.
- Connections: If your battery is not due for replacement, you can do a quick check of the battery connections. If your battery is not inside a sealed unit, simply check the terminal connections to ensure they’re tight. If not, they’ll need to be tightened with a spanner.
- Rust/corrosion: Check the battery connections for corrosion. They should not be showing any signs of rust or white corrosion marks. If they are, you can fix this with a simple clean using bi-carb soda, hot water from your kettle and a wire brush.
- Bad wiring: Do a visual check of any wires leading to your battery and check for any spots where the covering is worn. If there is any wear and tear on the wires, you should ask your mechanic to replace them.
This is probably the trickiest area for a novice to check. However, a blown hose or broken belt is one of the most common causes of a sudden breakdown. If you’re really not confident about doing this check, ask someone who is or ask your local mechanic to do a quick check. And remember, even new and well-maintained cars can experience this problem in the middle of a highway
- Hoses: There are various hoses in your car, such as the vacuum, windshield and engine coolant hoses. You won’t necessarily know what these are or where they are. However, you should be able to look under the bonnet and do a visual inspection of anything that looks like a rubber hose. If a hose appears old, worn or cracked, it is probably due for replacement and needs the attention of your mechanic.
- Belts: Similarly, there will be multiple belts in your car such as the v-belt and serpentine belt. These look just like a rubber belt and will be wrapped around pulleys in your engine. Again, you should do a visual inspection and check if any belt appears old, worn or cracked. If so, your mechanic will need to replace it before you head off on your trip.
- Wipers: Visually check both the front and rear wipers, make sure they are not worn or cracked and that they are making proper contact with the windshield. You should also give them a clean to ensure they are giving you good visibility. You can easily clean your blades by wiping them down with a damp cloth.
The more you haul, the more money you’re wasting. If you live an active lifestyle, and especially if you have kids, you may find that a lot of odds and ends accumulate in the boot of your car and on the floor in front of the back seats. Before your trip, clean out your car and get rid of any unnecessary items. Excess stuff will weigh your car down, which decreases fuel efficiency, adds drag to your car and causes excess wear on your tyres and engine. Who wants to travel for hours in a messy car anyway!!
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Remember, whilst you might think your car feels and sounds fine to head off for a long road trip, it might not be. If you’re planning to travel more than two hours one way, it’s really important to take 10 minutes to give your car a quick check over before you hit the road, as nothing takes the fun out of a road trip like a breakdown… or worse, having to be towed!!