How to prepare your car for a road trip

James Foxall
Written by: James Foxall
Posted on: 30 June 2016
  • Cat sitter arranged
  • Plugs turned off
  • Swimming trunks packed
  • Passengers loaded

Now all you have to do is set off on your road trip, right?

Well not quite. You might know where you’re going. But if you don’t check your car before you leave, you might not actually get there.

We frequently only use our cars for short journeys around town or low-speed commutes. Long trips cruising at motorway speeds can prompt problems if you’ve been neglectful of basic maintenance.

Here are five tips to ensure that you arrive at your destination stress and trouble-free…

1. Have the correct paperwork for driving abroad

Breaking down in the UK can be a major hassle. Breaking down abroad can be financially disastrous, as having a broken car returned to the UK can result in a huge bill. So wherever you’re going on holiday, it’s worthwhile sorting out breakdown cover before setting off.

Equally, if you’re venturing onto the European continent ‑ even if it’s just for a long weekend – you need to have valid car insurance. Even comprehensive UK insurance usually reverts to being third party in Europe. And while you can arrange insurance for your car, that may not cover its occupants if they need medical attention abroad. Whoever your car insurance is with, read up on your policy carefully.

2. Inspect your car’s tyres before a road trip

Filling up car tyres

Filling up car tyres

As your only contact with the road, it’s important that your tyres are in tip-top shape.

First, make sure they’re at the right pressure. Tyres without the right amount of air in them will at best cause your car to drink more fuel, at worst overheat and explode at speed.

Check the depth of the tread, too. The legal minimum is 1.6mm but road safety experts say you should change them when the tread is down to 3mm.

Finally, inspect each tyre for lumps and cuts. Either can be a weakness and may cause an unexpected blow out.

3. Check under the bonnet

Like people, cars need to stay topped up with fluids.

Consult your car’s handbook to find out where the oil dipstick is (some vehicles have electronic oil measurement systems) and the location of the brake and coolant reservoirs. Oil is the engine’s lifeblood. So pull the dipstick out, wipe it, and put it back in… when you pull it out again, the oil should be between the minimum and maximum lines.

Both the brakes and coolant levels should also be between the min and max markers. If they’re not, top them up yourself or get them topped up at a garage.

Checking the engine oil level

Checking the engine oil level

4. Fill the washer bottle

The more miles you do, the dirtier your windscreen will get. And that’s where your windscreen washers come in.

While you’re under the bonnet checking the oil, fill the windscreen washer bottle using a dedicated mixing fluid. If you’re going somewhere cold, ensure you increase the proportion of screen wash to water to prevent it from freezing.

5. Look up the local laws when driving abroad

If you’re driving abroad, it’s worth reading up on the laws you’re required to comply with. For example, if your car doesn’t have a GB sign on its number plate, it’ll need a separate GB sticker.

And you should carry at least one reflective vest in the car’s cabin. It’s also sensible to have a vest for every occupant. If you’re going to France you should carry disposable breathalysers with you. And it’s illegal to drive in Europe with defective headlamps so it’s worth having a set of spare bulbs.

Legislation changes depending on the country you’re in, so read up on the rules for driving in different countries.

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