Avoid a Nightmare Car Journey: Essential Vehicle Checks

The day has finally come. You’ve had this holiday booked since three months ago. You’ve been unable to concentrate at work, your mind occupied all the time of your epic road trip and glamorous destination. And now it’s finally time to be on your way. You’re all packed up and the reservations have been made at your destination. You get in your car and start the engine. Halfway there, you notice your lights aren’t turning on. There’s a strange hissing noise coming from the tyres. Then the battery dies. Your car comes to a halt. Your vacation is ruined.

And then you wake up because it was just a nightmare. You realise that you need to make sure your car is working absolutely perfectly as part of your vacation preparations. Keep the nightmare from becoming a reality by following this guide!

Here’s what you need to get your eyes on.

How are your coolant levels? Your cooling system is made up of a radiator, a fan, a water pump, a ThermostatLab.com, sensors and an overflow tank. Plus a bunch of belts, hoses and clamps that connect them all together. It all works by directing fluid past the hottest parts of your engine then redirecting that fluid out to the radiator. The heat then gets dissipated into the cooler atmosphere. Repeat, repeat, repeat. The coolant fluids are water and antifreeze. If these levels aren’t correct, it could spell disaster for your engine.

While we’re on the subject of fluids, we may as well point out your oil. If your engine doesn’t have enough oil, it can cause a wealth of problems. Among those problems are overheating, unnecessary welding and general self-destruction. While you may be going on holiday to experience those things, you don’t want them happening to your engine. With the car level and the engine cool, get your dipstick and use it to check the oil level in your engine. If you need to top up, do so. Don’t overfill it!

I can’t seem to get off the subject of fluids. You should make sure there’s water in your window cleaning system (as well as the appropriate cleaning chemical). You should also make sure you’re taking bottled water with you. You need to stay hydrated! Surplus water should also be considered, in case you’re left stuck for ages because the car has broken down en route. (I’m aware that this guide is supposed to help stop you breaking down en route, but you still never know!)

Once your battery is dead, everything is dead. Well, hopefully not you. But your car will certainly be dead. You must make sure that your battery is charged and strong. This is one of the few on this list that are actually pretty tricky to verify yourself. You can see it’s working, but it can be hard to tell if it’s draining too fast. You can get a battery check test from most garages and mechanics.

Your tyres should be feeling rock solid. Give them a firm feel with your fingers and a few light kicks. There shouldn’t be any depression of the rubber. If there is, that’s a sign that you’ve lost too much air. You should keep them well-pumped; bring an air pump with you on your travels. It’s not just a flat tyre you need to worry about: a bum tyre is harder for your car to drag along. That means it uses more fuel and the handling becomes less responsive. You should also bring a spare, in case you do get a flat. Something tough with good grip like Bridgestone tyres should do.

Window wipers
This is England. When it rains, it pours. This affects your vision tremendously. You know what else affects your vision? Dead bugs. Long car journeys usually see a few unfortunate bugs flying in front of your vehicle and getting splattered. Your windshield wipers are vital at these points. Make sure your windshield wipers are working perfectly before you leave. You may not think it, but those blades wear down over time. If they become too worn, they start smearing the windshield. It’s recommended that you replace them at least once a year.

You need to make sure your lights are working. Like many things on this list, they don’t only protect you and others around you. They also keep you on the right side of the law. Check every single one of your lights. Your brake lights, your fog lights, dipped beam, full beam, indicators. They all need to working perfectly. Have someone watch you as you turn the lights on so they can verify that they work. If no-one is available, test the lights against a white wall or a shop window at night to see them for yourself.

Your previous fluid checks will reveal to you if some of the levels were off. Let’s say they were. You top them up and everything is fine, right? Well, you also have to wonder why those levels were running low. It’s possible that you’ve just been using your car a lot for a long time and hadn’t been paying attention to those levels. Or it could be a leak. Thankfully, checking for a leak is relatively easy. Look under your car! Keep it parked on a dry bit of ground for a good few hours. Eight to twelve is best. After that, move the car and check the ground. If there’s water, oil, or anything any fluid on the ground, then you’ve got a leak. Get it fixed! The worst-case scenario here is that it’s your brake fluid. It cannot be ignored.

Unnecessary weight
Just like the human body, your car must use more energy and fuel when it has a lot to carry. To maintain the speed you want to get it at, it has to balance out the added weight by supplying more power to itself. Check your trunk and make sure you’re not carrying any unnecessary heavy items. People often stow things like golf clubs and big boxes in the trunk and forget they’re there.

With ubiquitous tracking and mapping software, the ultimate humiliation of this day and age seem to be that of being lost. Get a Satnav or use Google Maps on your mobile to plan your route. You can also make note of rest stops that are on the way so you can stretch your legs every now and then. Keep the blood pumping! You should also consider carrying an old-school paper map with you. Navigational software is notorious for battery consumption, so try not to rely on them for the whole journey.

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