How To Prepare Your Car For A Road Trip

Your Road Trip Checklist

Before taking a road trip, it pays to get your car checked over by a mechanic to make sure it’s in sound condition and won’t break down by the roadside. However, if you’re running short on time, check out this video for the things you need to check before departing safely:

Here’s a list of the checks you can perform yourself before you hit the road:

Check Under the Bonnet

1. Check all the vehicle fluids.

Park the vehicle on flat ground and wait a few minutes after the engine has been switched off so that your readings will be correct. Check the transmission fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, coolant, engine oil and windscreen wiper fluid. Top up any fluids that are low to the appropriate level.

Look After Your Engine Cooling System

Driving with low coolant is very dangerous as it can cause overheating. When your car overheats, the engine could be severely damaged and require costly repairs.

If you ever see the temperature gauge of your car creeping up, you should prepare to take action. If the car is overheating, but you are stuck in traffic, turn the car heater on full with windows down to help remove heat from the engine. You should pull off the road as soon as you can to allow the engine to cool down, and get the vehicle checked by a radiator specialist before continuing to drive.

Checking the coolant and the cooling system could save your trip from disaster. Here’s what to do:

How To Check Your Coolant:

  • Visually inspect the engine coolant level in the overflow tank. The coolant level should be between the ‘low’ and ‘full’ marks.
  • Never try to open the radiator cap when the engine is hot, as the cooling system is pressurised. If the coolant level is low, ensure the engine is cold before topping up the coolant.
  • Check the hoses, following the instructions below.
  • If the coolant level is significantly low, have a technician check your cooling system for leaks before you leave.

These checks may seem like a hassle now but doing them could save your trip from potential disaster.

2. Check the engine oil. If it looks black on the dipstick, or its been more than six months or 5,000 km since your last oil change, you should consider changing your oil and oil filter before the long drive.

3. Check the belts and hoses. Belts need replacing if they are loose or worn. Make sure that you also check the engine cooling system hoses for cracks or leaks.

4. Check the air filter for dust build-up and clean or replace it if required.

5. Check the car battery. A lead-acid car battery typically lasts around 4 years. If your car battery is old, get it tested and replaced before you leave. Signs that the battery needs replacing include slow starting, or the headlights getting dim at idle.

man checking engine to make sure car ready for a road trip

Check Outside the Vehicle

6. Check wiper blades to see if they need replacing.

7. Check tyres for even wear and plenty of tread depth. Check air pressure using a tyre gauge, and remember to check the spare tyre as well. The owner’s manual or a sticker inside the car door will show the correct air pressure for your tyres.

8. Check the lights, signals and horn. Replace any globes that have blown.

Inside the Vehicle

9. Check that your emergency roadside kit is complete. Some ideas of what you should include are:

  • Blanket
  • Non-perishable food
  • Torch (with fresh batteries)
  • Duct tape
  • Jumper cables
  • Poncho or jacket
  • Lighter
  • Tow rope
  • Reflective warning triangle
  • First aid kit
  • Basic tool kit
  • Tyre sealant
  • Spare fuses
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Spare bottle of engine oil for top ups
  • Coolant
  • Clean rags
  • Funnel for topping up fluids

10. Check that your car air conditioner is working. In summer, a road trip with a faulty air conditioner will be rather unpleasant. If there’s a problem with your car air conditioner, you’ll need to book into a licensed technician to have the air conditioner repaired.

11. Make sure you have a copy of your owner’s manual inside the car, as well as your roadside assistance club membership number.

12. Remember to have items to entertain your passengers, particularly if you are travelling with children. Audiobooks, a tablet and music to listen too will help make the journey more pleasant.

Be Confident Your Car Is Ready For A Long Trip

Starting your road trip preparation a week before you leave gives you enough time to get any problems you might find fixed before you go. Remember that you can purchase replacement windscreen wipers, fluids and car batteries from your local Natrad.