The holiday season is when we’re more likely to set out on a long trip – unless you’re a grey nomad, in which case you’ll probably wait for quieter times. Taking the car means you can stop where and when you want to. You don’t have to share with people you don’t know and you have transport when you get to your destination.
As with any major undertaking, preparation is the key to making sure everything goes smoothly.
Here’s how to ensure your car is in shape.
Check your lights
Have someone sit in the driver’s seat and operate the lights. Check that they all work: headlights (high and low beam), fog lights (if fitted), daylight running lights (if fitted), indicators, brake lights (including high level if fitted) and the number plate light (you’d be amazed how many forget this little item). If you find any lights aren’t working, it’s relatively easy to replace them yourself, but if you aren’t confident to do so, get your dealer to do it, or ask if your local auto parts store can do it for you.
Tyres get hot at high speed, but if your car looks like this, we’d recommend taking a rental
Check your tyres and tyre pressures
Visually inspect your tyres for any cracks or bulges in the sidewalls. Check that the tread depth is sufficient.
Here’s a tip: if the tread doesn’t reach the platypus bill on a 20-cent piece inserted into the tread, there’s less than 3mm and it’s time for a replacement. Sustained high speed puts additional stress on tyres. Inflate your tyres to the pressures indicated in your owner’s manual or on the placard usually found in the doorjamb. And don’t forget to check the condition and pressure of the spare. If it hasn’t been done for a while, have the wheels aligned and balanced.
Check the battery
Have a mechanic test your battery, or ask at an auto part store or car battery retailer, either of which will usually do it for free.
Check your fluids
Cars need oil, so check that the oil level is to the max and that the oil filter has been replaced recently. If it’s an automatic, check that the automatic fluid is topped up and doesn’t smell burnt (a sure sign of trouble).
Road grime builds up on long trips, so replace tired wiper blades
Check your wiper blades
On a long trip, your windscreen can collect more road grime than on short trips at home, so check that your wiper blades are in top condition. If your wipers shudder during use, or leave smears or streaks, it’s time to replace them. Even if they seem okay, cracks and tears reduce their effectiveness. Many auto parts stores will install them for free while you wait.
Check your washer fluid
Before you set off, ensure the bottle is full and add a reputable windscreen washer additive – water alone won’t be as effective. Just be sure that you’re topping up the washer bottle and not something else (such as the brake fluid reservoir or radiator overflow tank). The washer bottle on modern cars is clearly marked and often has a blue cap. If you aren’t sure, check your owner’s manual.
Get your entertainment sorted
If you’re travelling with children, prepare a portable DVD player with their favourite entertainment or games. Download your favourite music to your phone, laptop or mp3 player and make sure you know how to pair it with the sound system, or, if you prefer, download your music to a USB.
A mobile phone can show you the way, and let you call for help if you need it
Be properly equipped
A mobile phone (and a charger for it) is about the best insurance you can carry. It is also prudent to carry a torch, first-aid kit including painkillers and travel sickness tablets, fire extinguisher, warning light or reflective triangles, jumper leads (although you need to take care when using these in a modern vehicle) and suitable clothing (including hat and gloves) in case you get stranded in adverse conditions. You may also consider carrying a hi-vis vest to make yourself more visible to other motorists if you have a roadside problem. And here’s another tip: find your car’s spare key and take it with you in case you lose your primary key, and keep it in a separate place.
Trust someone else
If you are a member of one of the motoring associations, your membership usually includes roadside assistance should a problem arise. Check that your motoring association membership is current, and that roadside assistance will be available where you are travelling. Also, many new cars now include roadside assistance in the purchase price (check if it’s still current – roadside assist ranges from one year to as much as seven years, but it won’t help you if yours has expired).
Maps work where mobiles often don’t, and you can see the bigger picture
Take a map
Even if you’re relying on GPS, it pays to carry a map or road atlas – Australia has some notorious mobile blackspots. Consider when and where to schedule rest stops and don’t overestimate your daily mileage goal. Older drivers in particular are susceptible to fatigue, so don’t drive longer than two hours without a stop. And if you’re heading somewhere remote, plan where to refuel. If possible, avoid peak hour in any cities you have to traverse.
Go online and research
Trawl the internet for interesting things to see, both on the way and when you get to your destination. Check out restaurants (and other people’s opinions of them), attractions (and how much they cost), side trips and day trips and accommodation, if required.
Pre-packed snacks can save time and money
Pack some snacks
Stopping for a meal on the road isn’t always convenient and can get expensive, so pack some favourite snacks in resealable bags. If you’re car proud, avoid crumbly, flaky snacks, and don’t let snacking distract you from the road. Carry bottled water.
Not everyone takes credit cards, so carry some cash
Be prepared to spend
Naturally, you’ll take a credit card, but some places are cash-only, and in more remote areas it can be difficult to find an ATM, so take some spare cash along.
There’s so much to see and do on a road trip, so don’t rush it. Take your time to smell the roses. And drive safely, so that you can enjoy the destination and come home safely again.
Paul Murrell is a motoring writer and creator of seniordriveraus.com, which specialises in “car advice for people whose age and IQ are both over 50”.
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