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How to prepare your car for a long drive

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Cars allow you to do more than just get from A to B – they mean you can go on day trips, drive through villages and towns you might never have seen otherwise and go to places far away from where you live, all within a matter of hours. Perhaps you want to take grandchildren to the beach or you fancy a trip to a National Trust stately home. Wherever you wish to go, it’s important to check that your car is up to the journey before embarking on your adventure. Firstly, you must make sure that you’re insured to drive the car and that the car insurance policy is up to date. Secondly, you should make some basic car checks before setting off.

What to check in your car before a long drive

The checks listed below should be carried out before a long drive to ensure that the journey goes as smoothly and safely as possible. Read on to find out what to check and how to do it.


Tyres are one of the most important things you should check, as they’re the only part of your vehicle that is in contact with the road. This means they need to be in good condition and up to the task of a long drive.

Firstly, you should visually inspect each one to ensure the tread depth is suitable and that they aren’t too worn down. The legal minimum tread depth for tyres in the UK is 1.6mm, so make sure your tyres have at least this much tread. You should also look for signs of wear, such as cracking. To check that the tread is OK, you can do the 20p test. Take a 20p and place it into one of the treads in the tyre. If you can see the border around the edge of the coin, then your tyres are likely too worn down to drive on and you should look to get them replaced. You can repeat this test on all four tyres and in different places – some tyres can wear down more in one place than another.

If you notice some cracking on your tyres, this isn’t necessarily anything to worry about. This can happen over time or if the vehicle is regularly parked in full sun. As long as they’re only surface cracks, you should be fine to drive, but you should look to get these checked and perhaps invest in a replacement in the near future.

Finally, you’ll need to check the tyre pressure. You can do this by removing the air cap on your tyre and inserting the air nozzle over it. You’ll hear a hissing noise as the air from the machine boosts your tyre pressure. Once the hissing stops, your tyre is at the correct pressure and you can screw the cap back on. This can be done at a local petrol station, so do this at the very beginning of your journey.

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Coolant is really important as it prevents your engine from overheating. On a short drive in winter, your engine likely won’t heat up fully, however on a warm day and when you’re driving for a long time, the engine can become very hot. Coolant removes any excess heat from your engine, so you should make sure that it is topped up. Find out more about how to check your car’s coolant level here.


Just as an engine needs coolant to cool it down, it also needs oil to keep it lubricated. You can check the oil using the dipstick provided in the oil compartment under the bonnet. First, ensure that the engine is cool enough to touch. Then, lift the dipstick out and wipe it down using a rag or piece of kitchen roll. Try to get as much oil off the stick as you can. Next, insert the dipstick back into the oil, leave for a few seconds and bring it up. You should have a clear view of where the oil comes to on the dipstick, and it should be between the maximum and minimum markers. If you have too little oil, you should top it up. RAC has a handy guide on the topic which you can view here.

Windscreen wash

In order to drive safely, you need to be able to see clearly. A dirty windscreen can impair your vision and compromise your driving, therefore you should check that the windscreen washer fluid is sufficiently full before taking your car on a long drive. You might need it to clear flies, bird poo and other dirt off the glass that can accumulate during the trip.


Another important check to make is your lights. You should ensure that your headlights, brake lights, reversing lights and indicators are working correctly. Ask another person to help you do this to speed the process up. They can walk around your car as you turn the lights on and off.

Last minute checks

Finally, there are some other checks you may wish to make that aren’t necessarily for your car but for you to help ensure you have everything you need for a long journey.

If you’re planning on using a sat-nav to help you reach your destination, be sure to set it up before you go. You may also want to ensure you have everything you need, including snacks and bottled water.


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