Pre holiday car checks

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So you’re about to head off on your holidays and have a long drive ahead. What precautions should you take to make sure your journey is smooth and trouble free?

Before you set off on what will possibly be your car’s longest journey of the year, it makes sense to set aside a little time to make sure your car is in tip-top condition.

Service

If your car is due, or overdue a service, make this a priority. Not only will you stand less chance of breakages, a freshly serviced car is also more likely to be more efficient.

Basic servicing such as changing air filters, and spark plugs can be achieved with simple hand tools and is within the grasp of people with even basic mechanical skills.

Handy parts and tools

Oil

Even if your car isn’t due for a service, it’s diligent to give it a good check up. With the car parked on a level surface, and after the engine has been off for a few minutes, pull out the dipstick, give it a wipe with a clean cloth, then place it back in the tube.

Make sure it’s properly seated, then remove it and check the level. If it’s not at ‘max’, top up with the correct grade oil (check your handbook if you’re unsure) via the oil filler neck.

Handy parts and tools

Coolant

The last thing you want on a long journey is to find your car's overheating in a traffic jam!

Have look in the engine bay to make sure your coolant is topped up. The ‘header tank’ or coolant reservoir will be have min and max levels indicated on the side.

Check that yours is at the max level. If it’s not, top up with the correct coolant (again, check your handbook if you’re unsure); although if it’s only a small amount you can get away with tap water.

If it’s right down to, or below the min mark you may have a leak as it’s a sealed system, so very little liquid should escape. It’s well worth diagnosing the leak before setting of on a journey just in case. On cars without a header tank, you can remove the radiator cap and make sure that the coolant is at the top.

Expert tip

Never remove the header tank or radiator cap unless the engine is cold. You’ll risk having boiling water gushing out otherwise!

Handy parts and tools

Screenwash

When did you last check your screen wash? You’ll find the reservoir, and filler neck in the engine bay – the filler will have an image of a windscreen on it – but always check if you’re unsure. You don’t want to be putting screen wash in the wrong hole! We’d advise buying concentrated screen wash and diluting it yourself.

If you buy ready to use fluid you’re actually paying for them to add a load of water! While you’re at it – what state are your wipers in? If they’re past their best – it’s time to fit replacements.

Handy parts and tools

Brake fluid

While the brake fluid system is sealed, so no fluid should ever escape – as brake pads wear down the level of fluid will drop. If yours had gone below, or is near to the min mark we'd advise checking the condition of your brake pads, and possibly adding a little more brake fluid.

Remember that topping up with fluid to counteract worn pads will result in fluid spilling out of the reservoir unless some is removed when new brakes are fitted. Just bear than in mind.

Handy parts and tools

Tyres

Absolutely the most safety critical component on the car – never overlook the tyres before a journey. Check the tread is at least 1.6mm, that the tyre has worn evenly across its surface and that there are no bulges, or damage to the tyres. Tyre pressures are important too – and if the car is fully loaded you may want to increase them by a couple of PSI.

The handbook will have details of the desired pressures for different driving conditions – and some cars have a sticker indicating the direct pressures either inside the petrol filler flap, or inside the driver’s door shut. You can either check the pressures at a garage, or by buying a tyre pressure gauge.

Handy parts and tools

Lights

Make sure they all work! It’s not uncommon for people to drive for weeks with a failed bulb (particularity at the rear) as they simply never check them until the MoT flags up an issue.

So have a walk around the car while an assistant operates the lights. Don’t forget the number plate bulbs!

Handy Parts and Tools

Radiator fan

If you’re not in the habit of sitting for long periods of time in traffic jams, your radiator fan may seldom have needed to come on. Inactivity isn’t good for car electronics, so it’s worth testing yours.

With the engine hot, leave it idling (you may want to apply light throttle, say to 2000rpm, to speed up the process) until you hear the radiator fan kicking in. It will be fairly loud and noticeable with the bonnet up. If it’s not working, get it fixed!

Air con

Are there any niggling issues with the car? Does the door catch sometimes stick, is the central locking playing up? Does the car sometimes struggle to start when hot? Get these, and any other issues sorted before going on a long trip – the last thing you want is for it to fail permanently leaving you stranded in a service station on the M4!

Attend to jobs

Driving somewhere hot? Lucky you! But have you checked your aircon works? Give it a good blast on the coldest setting, and unless it’s icy cold, you may need to have it re-gassed.

This should cost under £50 and is worth doing, not just because you’ll have nice cold air, but also because leaving a system low on gas can actually damage other components, and cause seals to dry out and leak.

Travel and touring

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