There’s something wonderful about a long family road trip and the unbridled sense of freedom and adventure that it brings. Heaven knows we need some relief after the two years we’ve all had.
That carefree spirit of abandon won’t last long should you suffer a breakdown. They say your next road trip is only as good as the checks you carry out before it – actually they don’t, but should – and you know what? They’re right.
Indeed, a long drive is only a good idea if you’ve first taken the proper time to prepare your car. Without doing this, you are risking costly or even dangerous breakdowns, and even if nothing is wrong, checking your vehicle first gives you the peace of mind that you need to truly enjoy the journey.
Because let’s be honest; the last thing you want to be doing on a family road trip is sitting by the side of the road, waiting to be towed, with the kids bawling, the partner sighing and stomachs all round rumbling.
Banish the threat of this scene from your mind at once; here’s how to prepare your car for a family road trip with 6 IDEAL checks.
Check Your Tyres
Tyres are one of the first things that you should look at prior to embarking on an adventure, especially if you haven’t driven for a while, as the pressure might have changed without your noticing. Even the safest family cars can suffer breakdowns due to worn out or deflated tyres.
Best make some checks, then, before setting off. First, test the pressure either with a home gauge or a pressure machine at a garage or petrol station, and add more if necessary. Then, look at the tread. If your tyres are noticeably bald, bulging or otherwise deformed, they need to be replaced as a matter of urgency.
If you’re not yet tired of tyre talk, then check out our deep dive into wheel health for more tips and tricks.
Take A Look At Fluid Levels
A quick look under the hood will tell you if you have enough oil, brake fluid and screen wash. If not, top up now before you start your journey.
You should also check the anti-freeze mixture, since this tends to accumulate silt over time, impacting on the efficiency of the cooling components.
The engine oil, gearbox and differential also require a quick assessment; consider an update of oil before embarking on a road trip, particularly for the engine. Fluid perishes the rubber components within the system, so you should make sure you are regularly checking this, too.
Also be sure to inspect your fuel filter, making sure it’s clean; should the petrol have sat for a lengthy period, it could need changing. While you’re down there rooting around with your clipboard out, have a look for signs of unexplained fluid; there’s always a reason for it and, if left, it could get much worse.
Test Your Brakes
The easiest way to test your brakes is by using them. Before moving off, press your foot down gently on the pedal; any sense of sponginess or of them being loose should alert you. When you’re driving, pay attention to how well your car brakes, even trying an emergency stop in a quiet area; your vehicle should feel firm and pull up without veering drastically to one side or the other. You should also listen for any scraping or squeaking which could be signs that your pads are wearing out.
Check The Lights
Again, the best way to check your lights is to look at them. Park up, put the hazards and lights on and walk around your car to check each light, or ask someone else to help you. You could also use reflections in shop windows. If in doubt, stock up on some spare bulbs.
To put it simply; if your car’s battery is on the blink, it is going to be a stressful trip. Batteries with a five-year warranty can prematurely decide to fail well before that warranty has expired, so you should always keep on top of the renewal date.
Batteries dislike inactivity and whilst you may have had it on a trickle charger, if there is the slightest reluctance from the battery to turn the engine over, then you should consider getting it checked. If the battery is under warranty, it is well worth taking it to the supply store to put your mind at rest.
Fill Up With Fuel
Fuel prices vary hugely in the UK, with pumps closer or within busy cities, tourist destinations or motorway service stations tending to be more expensive. Do check out an extensive list of locations with the highest petrol prices before visiting a tank, and consider downloading an app which tracks geographically the best places to fill up.
The Bottom Line
After these checks and inspections, it’s time to hit the road. The world, or least Britain, is your oyster! Oh, one more thing actually; check out our 7 tips on planning the perfect family road trip.