Stay safe on long journeys with these essential car checks

4 minute read

Grandparents and children together in a car on a long journey

Heading out for a long car ride? Here’s what you should do to prepare for a safe and enjoyable journey.

Sweeping bends, stunning vistas and cosy roadside cafes serving refreshing cups of tea are just some of the joys to be found on the open road.

To make the most of your journey, you’ll want to know your car is in tip-top shape. Here are some simple checks to undertake before you head off. Get them done ahead of time and you can enjoy your road trip worry-free.

 

Check your car insurance

It’s illegal to drive without at least third-party car insurance, so make sure your cover is up to date. If you’re travelling abroad, check your policy first. You may need extra cover – especially if you’re venturing beyond the EU.

It’s a good idea to take copies of your policy details with you, stored somewhere safe in your car or luggage. If the worst should happen, you’ll have everything you need to make a claim.

 

Check your tyres

Give your tyres a visual inspection, looking for lumps, cracks or grazes that may indicate a problem.

The legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm, which is roughly the size of the border on a 20p piece. If you don't have a coin or tread gauge to hand, most modern tyres now have nubs moulded into the grooves, which can indicate wear - if the tread depth meets their level, it's time to get a new tyre.

Remember to top up your tyre pressure, too. This helps you stay safe and improves fuel economy. You can use a portable air compressor at home, or head to your local fuel station and use theirs.

 

Check coolant and antifreeze levels

If you’re driving any distance, especially in hot weather, it’s vital your engine stays at the right temperature. Refer to your handbook to locate the coolant filler cap. It should be accessible in the engine bay.

Check the coolant level when the engine is cold. If it's below the maximum line, top it up with an off-the-shelf coolant – providing your car is compatible with most products. These usually incorporate antifreeze, which covers you for cold weather, too.

Be careful not to overfill the reservoir. Coolant expands as it heats, so car manufacturers allow room in the hopper for that.

Car engine 16.9

Check the oil

With the bonnet open, give your oil a check. Make sure the engine is cool before you pull out the dipstick and wipe it clean with a cloth. Pop the dipstick back into its holster, leave it a few seconds, then pull it out again.

The oil level will display, with a minimum and maximum marker to help you see how much is there. If it looks on the low side, it’s time to top up.

 

Clean the windscreen and headlights, and fill screen wash

Give your windscreen a decent clean with warm soapy water. While you’re at it, clear your headlights and number plates, and check all your lightbulbs are working. Remember, you are legally required to have functioning lights and a visible registration plate.

It’s also worth filling your screen wash. Look for a blue cap (though some models do use yellow) on top of an opaque tank beneath your bonnet. Pour in ready-mixed washer fluid until it starts to back up. Don’t worry about splashes – they’ll soon dry off when you hit the road. 

If you have any doubts about the roadworthiness of your car or are unsure how to make these checks, consult your local garage in good time.

 

Pack the essentials

With your car in good shape, make sure you have everything you need for the journey ahead. A basic first aid kit is a good idea, including hand sanitiser, painkillers, plasters, antiseptic wipes and antihistamine tablets.

Also remember to pack any medication you might need, plenty of water, and a stash of snacks.

Think about anything you need to make your journey smoother. Some people like to take cushions and blankets to improve comfort. Remember to pack any accessibility gadgets and a map of your route. 

All these checks are quick and easy to make. Carry them out before your departure and you can feel confident that you've done everything you can to ensure a smooth journey.

 

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