Here I am in my garage doing my 8 quick vehicle checks before leaving on a road trip.
So you are heading off on a road trip. No matter how long you are going for, and the type of vehicle you are driving, before you hit the road it’s really worth your while to take 15 minutes to do eight quick vehicle checks. Why? Because there is nothing worse than breaking down and having to be towed because you ignored checking your vehicle before you left. I always undertake 8 quick vehicle checks before leaving on a road trip. I am no mechanic, but these checks help to maintain my car and provides me with confidence that it won’t break down when I hit the road. And here are the quick vehicle checks I do.
Why Check Your Car Before Leaving on a Road Trip?
Although you might think your car feels and sounds good to drive, it may not be! If you are planning to head off on a long road trip, it really is worth your while spending some time checking your car. The last thing you want is for your engine to overheat because it is not being cooled properly. Or have parts seizing up because of lack of oil! So undertake a few quick vehicle checks that will give you the confidence that your car is performing OK and is alright to go on a road trip. Even if it is a rental, and you would expect these things have been done, there is no harm is still doing them. When you have confidence in your vehicle you should have the confidence that your road trip won’t be hindered by unforeseen problems because you didn’t do these few essential checks. Without further ado, these are the checks I do on my vehicle before embarking on any long road trip.
Check the Oil Level of Your Vehicle
The first quick vehicle check I always do is to check the oil level. Oil is required in your car engine to keep all the parts lubricated and moving smoothly without overheating. Over time, the oil can break down and wear out – and so becomes less effective at keeping parts lubricated and cool. If you don’t have enough oil, parts can heat up and worse, seize up and stop working. So a simple check of the oil level can help your car keep going.
It is easy to check the oil. Lift the bonnet, take the top off the oil and take the level out. Wipe the level with a cloth or tissue and place the level back in the oil, wait a second or two, take the level back out and see how much oil is present. Read the reading – it should be above ‘minimum’. If you need more, put more in.
Every car needs oil and the type of oil needed for your car can be found in the owners handbook. If you are buying or hiring a car, the owners handbook is essential reading.
Check the Water and Coolant Level of Your Vehicle
The next important vehicle check is to the check the water and coolant level of your vehicle. The water and coolant in your engine keep the engine cool. If the engine became too hot it would stop. While water does help to keep your engine cool, it works way better with coolant. Why? Because water boils faster and at a lower temperature than coolant. You need the right level of coolant so it keeps your engine cool and keeps it from overheating.
To check the water and coolant level, look at the markings on the side of the plastic overflow bottle connected to the cooling system. The level should be between the ‘low’ and ‘high’ markings on the side. If the coolant level is low, add the appropriate amount of coolant.
Check the Water Level in the Washer Bottle for your Windscreen
While driving, you need a clear and unimpeded view through your windscreen. If you have a windscreen that is streaked with bugs, bird poo, mud, road grime or other gunk, you might miss seeing something dangerous. Having the appropriate level of water and washer fluid in your windscreen wiper bottle is imperative to wash your windows while driving.
Check the level and fill if required. Don’t overfill though. When your engine is going the water heats up and can overflow.
Check your Tyre’s Pressure and Tread
Another very important vehicle check on this list of vehicle checks is to check your vehicles tyres. Having the right tyre pressure helps you to brake properly and aids in fuel efficiency. If your tyre pressure is too low, it can distort your tyre’s footprint. Meaning, when your car’s tyre contacts the road the wear and tear on the tyre can increase dramatically – which means you will need to get new tyres more regularly.
On the other hand if your tyre pressure is too high, it can keep your tyres from having enough grip on the road – which can lead to the car ‘moving’ when it passes over bumps and potholes. To ensure a smooth ride, have the appropriate tyre pressure.
To check the tyre pressure, firstly find out what it is from the handbook and then get a tyre pressure reading. If it is too high, let some pressure out and if too low, simply put some air in.
TIP: Best to check the oil, water, coolant and tyres when the car is cool. Also, check and inflate your tyre pressure when the tyres are cold. You get a more accurate reading if you do. And don’t forget to check your spare tyre.
Also check the tyre tread. New tyres usually have a tread of 8-12 mm. The more tread you have, the better your tyre grips the road. In Australia the minimum standard amount of tread your tyres should have is 1.5mm. If it gets to this low you need new tyres and if you drive a car without any tread – apart from being plain dangerous – you can be fined.
Are Luggage Racks, Trailers and other Towables are Secure?
There is nothing worse than driving off and something falls off or out of your vehicle. Before you take off, ensure everything is secure – luggage, roof racks or boxes, bike racks and anything you are towing. You don’t want things moving around and making thumping noises.
Check your Vehicles Lights and Indicators
Driving without lights and indicators is just plain dangerous – and illegal. If driving at night ,you need to see the road. And without indicators other drivers don’t know what you are doing. So a quick check of these should be added to your check list.
Check your Emergency Road Side Tool Kit
Lastly, but not least, check your emergency road side kit. If you don’t have any, I would suggest you get some. Though you can’t pre-empt what might happen during your road trip, it is wise to have some tools that will enable you to fix minor problems. And even if you don’t know how to use them, hopefully someone may stop and help you. Some things to have include, but are not limited to:
- Vehicle Owners Manual
- Jumper Leads
- Spare tyre, jack, tyre lever, pump and tyre gauge
- First aid kit – in case you hurt yourself during repairs
- Tool kit that can have things in it like – Work gloves, Vice grip, Socket, spanner and shifter set, Screwdriver with changeable bits, Regular and needle-nose pliers, Spark plugs, Light globes and fuses, WD40, Electrical Tape, Rags or an old towel, Parachute cord or rope, Extra fluids (small bottles of oil and coolant) for topping your vehicle
- Water – for your vehicle and yourself.
Get Road Side Assistance
Joining, or updating roadside assistance is a good idea. You don’t know when something might happen and road side assistance can come to your assistance. Most, if not all of Australia’s road assistance work in conjunction with each other so if something happens in one state you should be able to get help in another. Recently I blew a tyre while driving to the Blue Mountains from Sydney in Australia. My roadside assistance is currently with RACV. I rang them and NRMA Roadside Assistance came to my rescue.
TIP: When packing for your road trip, pack a blanket as you never know when you might need to sleep in your car.
Check What You Might Be Towing
If you are towing something like a caravan or trailor or boat it is wise to check these also. Check the tyre pressure and add air if required. Check connections to your vehicle work and that lights and blinkers work when connected. Ensure everything is secure as with the wind created when driving you don’t want anything flapping around.
Is Your Vehicle Ready for a Road Trip?
Finally, I cannot recommend enough doing these eight quick vehicle checks before hitting the road. Of course, they do not replace a full car service but they can help to keep your car in good condition for your road trip. I do them before any road trip I undertake and I hope you do too. I would hate to see you on the side of the road somewhere! Happy road tripping.