13 Essential Car Checks to Do Before Setting Off on a Long Drive
Summer is here, and with many of us taking to the road for getaways, it’s important not to hop in the car for your trip without checking that your vehicle is ready for the journey.
We’ve put together the 13 essential checks for your car before you hit the road…
Coolant, also known as antifreeze, not only protects your engine from extreme temperatures; it can also actually help remove heat from the engine – essential on a hot day or if your journey is particularly long.
To check your coolant level, first turn off your engine, then ensure that the coolant level is between the minimum and maximum markers.
Check Your Tyres
Properly inflated tyres, with the correct tread, are imperative for your car’s efficiency and your passengers’ safety.
Tyres with low tyre pressure are more likely to have a blowout if travelling at speed, and they affect the efficiency of your car too, so it pays to have properly inflated tyres, as well as making the car safer.
Your car’s required tyre pressure figures should be in your handbook or written just inside the car door.
It’s also important to ensure that the tyre tread is correct. This should be at least 1.6mm around the circumference of the tyre. If you pop a 20p piece into the groove and stand it up, you shouldn’t be able to see the outer edge of the coin. If you can see the edge, it’s time to change your tyres – regardless of whether you’re going on a long journey or not, this is the legal requirement.
Don’t Forget the Spare Tyre
On long journeys, it’s best to be prepared, so also check the pressure and tread of your spare tyre – it’ll be no good if your main tyre runs flat and you have no tyre to replace it.
An important item to have in your car before setting off, a car jack will help you if you get an unexpected puncture or flat.
As well as the car jack, it’s important to check you have your wheel nut too. Without it, you won’t be able to remove a wheel – nor will a recovery service. Stow it away in a safe compartment of your car, so it’s not loose and rolling around.
Ensure that You Have Enough Engine Oil
Crucial for a smooth journey, oil provides lubrication for the moving parts inside the engine, whilst also cooling and cleaning them, so your car continues to run smoothly. Without it, your engine will likely seize up.
To check and change your oil, locate the dipstick under your bonnet and, with the engine off and cool, check the level is between the ‘min’ and ‘max’ markers.
The Windscreen and Wipers
A small crack in your windscreen can quickly become a much bigger problem if not properly seen to. To avoid this, simply take a close look at your screen – any scratches or cracks bigger than 10mm mean that you’ll need to have your screen replaced or have the damage filled in with resin.
Properly working wipers are also imperative for your visibility, so check yours are not damaged and smearing your windscreen rather than clearing the rain – particularly important considering British weather!
The Windscreen Washers
This is often overlooked before long journeys, but it’s very important that your windscreen washer fluid is at the correct levels, or you could find yourself needing it part way through your journey. If you can’t remove a smear from your window instantly, it can seriously impair your vision. Not only does windscreen washer fluid clear your screen, it also acts as a coolant, so the pipes don’t freeze if the washers are not used during winter.
To check your windscreen washer fluid, locate the cap (usually blue) under the bonnet and refill with water and/or washer fluid.
Make Sure All Your Lights Are Working
Whilst this is important for any length journey, it’s a crucial step to take before heading on a long drive.
Do a thorough check of all the lights, including headlamps (full beam and dipped), reverse and brake lights, indicators, fog lights, internal lights and any lights on your dashboard.
If any are not working, you’ll need to get these fixed immediately.
If your long journey includes a trip to the continent, it’s mandatory to fit headlamp beam converters, so you don’t dazzle oncoming traffic with your lights.
Whilst this is entirely make- and model-dependent, generally speaking, steering becomes heavy if the system isn’t working to its full potential. If you’re about to go for a drive, particularly a long drive, take a few minutes to check that the power steering is working properly – it will keep you and your passengers safe. Here’s how:
Turn off the engine and pull the steering wheel to one side. With the pressure still on, turn on the engine. If the power steering, or power-assisted steering, is working properly, the wheel should move slightly.
If you think there is an issue with your power steering, take your vehicle straight to a garage before you consider a long drive.
If space in the boot allows, consider having a small, travel-size toolkit in your car, holding all essential items, such as screwdrivers, wrenches etc. You never know when this might come in handy, particularly if you break down.
First Aid Kit
It’s a good idea to have a first aid kit in your car at all times – you can’t predict when it might be useful. Keep it in your boot – that way, if you ever need it, it’s always to hand.
Blanket and Snacks
Whilst this isn’t an essential part of your car, it important to pack for the unexpected. If you breakdown in bad weather or at night, your car can get cold quickly, so keeping a blanket in your boot is a good idea to keep warm. In-car snacks are also important to keep your energy up during long drives, as well as if your car breaks down and you get hungry.