Check Your Car Before a Road Trip
Planning on going on a road trip soon? Before you do so, you should check your car to make sure that it is in good condition and running smooth. This will help you to drive safe and avoid any breakdowns or mechanical issues. Then you'll be free to just roll down the windows, turn on the radio and enjoy the open road! Don't forget the coffee!
- Check the fluids in your car. Checking the oil, coolant, brake fluid and windscreen wash levels may help you avoid an accident or an unnecessary breakdown. Also check the levels for the clutch fluid (often the same as brake fluid) and power steering fluid (if fitted to your car). Refer to your owner's manual to see where fluid reservoirs are located.
- Check your air pressure. These should be printed in the owner's manual or a sticker on the body where the driver's door shuts. The pressure marked on the side of the tire is the max, which must not be exceeded. Also, don't forget to check your spare tire pressure. Often neglected, not doing so will turn a bad time into a worse one if the spare is unusable.
- Get the Change the Oil in-Your Car before you leave if it's almost time for a change. A long trip can put additional stress on your motor. Don't think that adding extra oil by yourself will work like an oil change, because that does not get rid of the sludge from old used oil. You may not realize this due to the fact that you are continuously adding new, cleaner oil which makes it appear as if it is clean oil. When changing your car's oil, you must always replace the oil filter at the same time.
- Check Your Car Tire Wear by using a penny or tread gauge. Ensure you have at least 1/16th" or 1.6mm tread left. If the tread is less than 1/12" or 2.5mm, consider replacing your tires for very long journeys as they will wear down more quickly. Tires heat up on long trips which can cause blowouts on worn out tires.
- Check your car's air filter. A plentiful supply of clean air to your engine improves the vehicle's performance and efficiency. Also check and change your car's cabin (pollen) filter if it has one, as these are often ignored in services and, if worn, adversely affect the quality of air in the cabin.
- Wash your car. At the minimum, clean the windows of your car for the best visibility. Also check the condition of your wiper blades and replace them if necessary.
- Check to be certain that all lights and signals are functional on your car. You may need the help of another person for this. Sit in the car, turn on each light or signal and ask your friend to tell you if it is working or not. Replace bulbs as necessary. Also consider carrying spare bulbs on a road trip (at least one for each light eg. headlights, indicators, tail lights, reverse lights). Changing bulbs (especially front) can take time in modern cars, so don't leave this to the last minute if bulbs need changing.
- Occasionally, lights may not work because a fuse needs replacing. Consider checking your headlights alignment (using a white garage door or inside a garage) and adjusting the alignment if it is incorrect as poor headlight alignment will reduce visibility at night, especially on unlit roads.
- Ensure that you have all emergency equipment inside your car, and that everything works properly. Emergency equipment includes: an up-to-date map, cell phone, spare tire (alternatively a puncture repair kit, although this is not ideal) and emergency tools (e.g. flashlight, screwdrivers, pliers and an adjustable spanner). Although usually absent; flares, medical kits and fire extinguishers may come in handy in worse-case scenarios. Carry a reflective warning triangle if traveling in a EU member state as these are mandatory. If you are traveling from a right-hand drive to a left-hand drive country, then look to see if beam deflectors for your headlights are mandatory (so other road users are not dazzled), for example traveling from the UK to mainland Europe or from South Africa into another African country.
- You can get most commercial oil change facilities to do all of this for you at a (semi) reasonable cost.
- Clear out trash or unnecessary "junk" from your car. Nothing spoils a road trip like the smell of stale french fries that fell under the seat.
- If you feel that you would be unable to use the toolkit mentioned above, ensure you take a flashlight and medical kit anyway as these will be of the greatest use for all.
- If you are driving into remote areas ALWAYS ensure you have plenty of fuel in your tank, plenty of bottled drinking water, and ensure that someone knows how long you expect be gone.