Expert approved: car safety checks for long journeys

If you’re heading on a long road trip, there are several simple steps you can take before you leave home to ensure your journey is as smooth as possible.  

As with most things, preparation is key, and spending a few minutes carrying out these vehicle checks can save you a lot of time and money in the long run – and, most importantly, help to keep you safe on the roads.

So, before you head off, here’s a list of our top pre-journey checks* that will help you drive safer, avoid any dreaded breakdowns and make your journey more enjoyable. 

*Approved by Automotive expert, William Deary from GTG.

  1. Windscreen wipers and screen wash

Keeping your car windscreen clean is essential, especially from a safety point of view. Dirt, smear and chips can obstruct a driver’s vision, so it’s important to keep on top of this on a regular basis. Check your car screen wash level in the tank under the bonnet and top up when necessary with a good-quality screen wash product.  

Of course, this is important all year round – from cleaning away the snow and grit in winter to dealing with the bugs and pollen that can smear your view in summer. Check out our step-by-step guide to cleaning your car windscreen and windows here.

Also, look out for any chips or cracks in your windscreen – you should try and fix these as soon as possible as they can develop into a much bigger problem later down the line.

As for your windscreen wipers, they will need replaced from time to time due to splits and cracks. You’ll notice they’re on their way out if the blades are sticking and squeaking, or they may not clear away the rain as effectively and leave streaks. If this is the case, you should try and change them as soon as possible. If left, they can break off and leave you with only one working wiper, which is both dangerous and illegal.

Looking for tips on how to change your windscreen wipers? Check out our step-by-step guide here. You can also explore our range of wipers on our website.

  1. Engine oil

Oil is vital in keeping your car’s engine running, and if left at low levels, it can lead to a breakdown or catastrophic engine damage. Typically, you should check your oil level once every couple of weeks; doing so will keep you updated on your engine’s performance and can keep you ahead of any potential issues with your car. However, you might want to do this a bit more regularly if you often travel long distances, as ensuring that everything is working well is a must before any long journey.

Most cars come with a dipstick to allow you to check the oil level yourself, but many modern cars will alert you on the dashboard when your oil is low. 

If you’re unsure what kind of engine oil you need, you should refer to your owner’s handbook, speak to your local Arnold Clark service centre, or check our guide to using the correct oil here.

  1. Engine coolant

It’s equally important to check your engine coolant. This plays a vital role in keeping your car’s engine healthy, as it regulates the temperature of the cooling system.

Found in a reservoir in the engine bay, check if the fluid level is close to or below the marker for the minimum level – and if so, give it a refill. This is ultra-important in periods of severe weather – hot or cold – as the last thing you want is a frozen or overheated engine. It is worth noting that any car, whether old or new, needs the correct coolant mixture strength when topping up, which the manufacturer or local Arnold Clark branch (garage) can assist with.

Discover our range of engine coolants here.

  1. Brakes

It goes without saying that brakes are a crucial component of any vehicle, and they must be regularly maintained to make sure they are functioning properly.  Not only are they vital to ensuring your own safety, but also the safety of your passengers, pedestrians and other road users.

And while your annual MOT or service both offer opportunities for a qualified technician to assess the condition of your brakes, you should always be on the lookout for warning signs that tell you your brakes aren't in excellent condition. These signs include squeaking or grinding; a sticking handbrake; a warning on your dashboard and more. Check out our blog for the main indications that your brakes may need to be replaced here.

So, before you head on a long road trip, start by checking the brake fluid level and if low, top it up. Your car’s handbook should tell you where to look in the engine bay, and what fluid is recommended for your car.

Please note: make sure you’re parked on a flat surface so the measurement is accurate. Also, if your brake fluid is dark, you should visit a mechanic to have the fluid changed.

  1. Tyres 

When it comes to your tyres, check for signs of wear and tear, splits or bulges, and of course, tread depth. Worn tyres can affect your handling, braking and overall safety – so it’s important to give them a once over.

Firstly, a tyre pressure check is always a good idea before a long journey. Your vehicle manufacturer will specify the suitable pressure for your tyres in your vehicle handbook or it will be printed in the sill of your driver’s door or inside the fuel tank top. As the driver, it’s your responsibility to keep on top of this and make sure the pressure is checked and corrected on a regular basis – it’s recommended this is done very two weeks as this will help extend the life of your tyres, improve overall vehicle safety and maintain fuel efficiency.

To check your tyre pressure, you should make sure you use a pressure gauge with the same unit of measurement as the pressure guidelines for your car. Then, all you need to do is remove the valve dust cap and place the pressure gauge evenly on the valve stem to get an accurate reading – and then deflate or inflate if required.

As for tyre tread depth, cars – as well as light vans and light trailers – must have a minimum tread depth of 1.6mm by law. However, the advisory depth is 3mm to help with traction and grip. This is to be across the central three quarters of the breadth of the tyres, and it must be the same across its whole circumference.

To measure this, you can use a tyre tread depth gauge, easily available from Autoparts or if you don’t have one of those, you can use a 20p piece. The outer rim found on each side of a 20p piece is around 2.5mm, so if you can see the rim of the coin, the tyre’s tread level may be too low. If your tyre has worn down to near 1.6mm, consider replacing your tyres before your trip.

Looking for more information? Check out our blogs on key tyre safety checks and fuel-efficient tyres.

  1. Lights

Working lights are very important for safe driving – so check they’re fully functioning before you head out on a long road trip. Designate a helper who will be able to check from front and back of the car if your main beam, dipped beam and indicator lights are working, as well as your reversing lights.

You might be able to replace bulbs by yourself, but if not, this is a quick, low-cost fix at a garage. Explore our range of bulbs here.

  1. Fuel consumption

It might sound obvious, but before you set off on the road, make sure you’ve got a full tank of petrol to get you to your destination. This will save you both time and stress and help you avoid having to stop off in an unfamiliar location and hunt for a petrol station. Similarly, if you have a plug-in hybrid or electric car, make sure it’s fully charged before you head off.

However, if you’re worried about running out before you finish your journey, check out our guide for improving your fuel economy. Yes, most motorists want to make good progress quickly, but by adapting your driving style, you can save money at the pumps and increase your miles per gallon. This might involve sticking to speed limits, checking your tyre pressure beforehand and removing any extra weight in your vehicle, like sports equipment and bike racks.

  1. Emergency essentials

Remember to pack anything that will help in an emergency if you breakdown. We recommend a red warning triangle to alert other drivers of your presence, while it’s always handy to keep a water bottle, snacks, a phone charger, warm clothes, a torch, jump leads and even a first aid kit to hand.

Throw all your supplies in a bag and keep them in the boot of your car. You wouldn’t want to be stranded without a few basic necessities, and you never know when you might need them. You can even buy a ready-made travel kit, which comes ready packed with some of the key breakdown essentials you'll need.

  1. Finally…

By carrying out these simple car checks before a long car trip, you should be able to stay on the road for longer and enjoy a smooth journey. However, if a more serious problem arises, we’d always recommend sourcing a mechanic or going to your local Arnold Clark garage.

Of course, the best way to prevent any problems with your vehicle is to have it regularly serviced – this means you’ve done everything you can to keep it running efficiently and safely. You can book a service with Arnold Clark online here.

In the meantime, you can find everything you need to give your car a quick health check on Arnold Clark Autoparts – from washer fluid to engine oil to fresh wiper blades for your windscreen.

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Image credit: Panuwat Dangsungnoen via Vecteezy