There’s nothing more frustrating and disconcerting than your car breaking down on the road leading to your holiday destination. And we’re not even talking about the ridiculous prices asked by some mechanics when abroad, which could easily burn a hole in your holiday budget. We hope these are reasons enough to get your car checked before leaving home!
These cars, sporting endless holiday gear, usually head for sunny destinations, likely to be return trips quickly adding up to at least 2000 kilometres. But since they are mostl used to the daily home-work commutes, your car is suddenly faced with a much heavier load! To avoid any breakdowns during your travels, a preventive maintenance check is certainly not a waste of time.
So what do I have to look out for?
1) MOT (vehicle safety check) and service
First off, make sure your MOT date has not expired or that it won’t expire during your holidays. Then check your car maintenance book to ensure all the regular servicing has been done. It’s important to know when it was last serviced. You’ll have to estimate how many kilometres you’ll be travelling over during the holidays and compare this to the maintenance book to avoid any excess distances. If there is a risk, we highly recommend you take an appointment with a garage and have the appropriate servicing done before you leave.
2) The tires
Tires are the only connection between your vehicle and the ground. A faulty or badly inflated tire can result in premature wear, excessive use, longer braking time and unsafe handling.
It’s very easy and quick for any driver to check the tire pressure. Markers, called treadwear indicators are located inside the tread and indicate the wear level of your tires (the minimum legal depth is 1.6 mm). Once the surface of the tread rubber is level with the indicators, or if the indicators are no longer visible, it means your tires are smooth and thus worn. It is imperative to have them changed as quickly as possible.
Also, inspect the outer edges of the tires to detect any possible problems. Uninflated tires, presence of deep cuts, visible bumps, deformed tire tread: these are all signs of a faulty tire which must be changed immediately.
Tires are working hard when driving over long distances on motorways, but this check is often overlooked. One driver out of two only checks the tires three times a year whereas it should really be done once a month.
So before leaving, check the pressure when the tires are cold, following the manufacturer-specific recommendations: they are given in the maintenance book, on a sticker located inside one of the front doors or inside the fuel tank.
If you are loaded down with luggage, remember to increase the pressure from 0.2 to 0.3 bars compared to the “normal” pressure. And don’t forget the spare tire.
Also, if your alloy wheel rims have lockable wheel nuts, remember to take the corresponding wrench inside the car so that if you do get a flat tire, it won’t turn into a nightmarish situation!
3) The levels: check and adjust
Make sure to never open the hood if the engine is hot due to the pressure => risk of burns
- The level of engine oil
- Make sure your car is on level ground and the engine is cold
- Pull out the dipstick, wipe it and put it in again
- Pull out the dipstick again : the oil level should be between the minimum and maximum markers
- If needed, fill up with the appropriate amount of engine oil
- The level of the coolant fluid
- Make sure your car is on level ground and the engine is cold
- Look at the coolant reservoir
- Ensure the fluid level is between the maximum and minimum markers
- If needed, fill up with appropriate amount of coolant fluid
- The level of power steering fluid
- This is done when the engine is turned off
- Look at the reservoir which is symbolised by a steering wheel logo
- Use the maximum and minimum markers to know if you should add more power steering fluid or not
- The level of the windshield washer fluid
- The windshield washer fluid is located in a tank in the hood of your vehicle
- Before going on a long trip, it is very wise to check there is enough fluid
- If needed, fill up with appropriate amount of windshield washer fluid
4) Shock absorbers
These are the other connection between you and the road. Just like the tires, the state of your car’s shock absorbers can directly influence road handling, and even more so if the car is loaded down with luggage. But the problem with shock absorbers is that it is rather hard to know their degree of wear! This happens so gradually that the driver, especially if driving mostly in urban areas at low speed, will unconsciously adapt their driving to the subtle handling deterioration.
In addition to the progressively erratic driving habits, the worn shock absorbers seriously extend your braking distances.
A visual check can show a leak around the shock absorbers (presence of fatty substances on the shock absorbers).
Please note that shock absorbers are always sold in pairs!
Check all the lights, bulbs and sealed beam headlamps to make sure there are no cracks, breaks or presence of water or condensation. There is really no means to detect when a bulb’s life is over so it’s highly recommended you always have a reserve of spare bulbs with you in the car. Clean the headlights using a cloth then test the indicator stalks and brake pedal while somebody checks that the lighting works from the outside. Don’t forget to also check the hazard lights which are really very important advance warning signals!
6) Vehicle load
A car which is incorrectly loaded is a dangerous car!
Car handling is greatly altered by loads. There are longer braking distances, acceleration becomes progressively difficult and the car vibrates more and more. So why add more problems by loading your car any old how?
Load your car correctly:
- If possible, and to avoid loading your car in a panic right before leaving, try loading your car the evening before.
- Place all the large and heavy luggage as well as heavy objects at the back of the boot. Make sure all essential or necessary items are then placed with the soft luggage, using them as wedges so that nothing moves.
- Never place heavy objects on the parcel shelf. Should you have an accident, they will become hazardous projectiles which could violently hit your neck or the head of passengers.
- If installing a roof box with bars, carefully read the assembly manual provided with these accessories. A roof box should only be loaded with light objects.
They don’t take up too much room and allow you to avoid being foolishly “stuck” on the side of the road:
- A multi-tool
- A roll of reinforced adhesive tape
- A leak preventer product to seal a possible crack in the radiator
- A puncture sealant spray
Don’t forget the warning triangle as well as your reflective vest
All cars must be equipped with a reflective vest and a warning triangle to protect yourself and to protect the life of others when facing unexpected situations.
Make regular stops
Remember it’s not about beating your own personal record … what’s important is to arrive at your destination safe and sound. So, it’s imperative that you make a stop as soon as you feel your eyelids drooping. Today, the first cause of accidents on motorways is not speed, it’s drowsy drivers!
First aid kit
Make sure you have all the essentials in your first aid kit and ensure the expiration dates of the various products are still good.
Check the expiration date indicated on your extinguisher and replace if needed.
Make sure your jack works correctly and check there is a wrench to tighten the wheels (remember to have a lever to make the original wrench longer as it is often too short making it rather difficult to use when the nuts are screwed in tightly).
Think about your insurance and roadside assistance
Can somebody else take the wheel?
You should nevertheless ask your insurance company if you can legally let one of your passengers take the wheel and particularly if young adults who have recently obtained their driver’s licence are allowed.
You are going abroad?
If you are counting on going abroad, make sure that the country (ies) where you are going are listed on your international insurance card. If not, ask your insurance company if you can perhaps purchase a temporary insurance.
To best limit the costs of paying for any breakdowns, remember to check everything that your various insurance contracts actually cover.