Road trips are always fun. Long stretches of tarmac, ever-changing scenery and a good deal of time for man and machine to function as one. Of course, given the state of our roads, there’s always something unexpected you are almost sure to encounter. This, in turn, means that you need to be meticulous when planning the trip. Now, while everybody has their own unique ways to prepare themselves for a journey, to prepare your car, there are some basic points to keep in mind. Here are ten steps you can take before you head out.
Since car tyres take the most beating, it is essential that your car has a healthy set. Check for signs of excessive wear like thin treads, punctures in the recent past and cracks on the side wall. Also check if you have exceeded the manufacturer’s mileage/warranty specifications, which can be found in the car’s user manual. It is also a good practice to check your tyre pressure before you set out.
On long trips, there’s always a chance of a puncture, no matter how good the car’s tyre condition is. In the event of a puncture, a reliable spare wheel also saves you the time of waiting for a mechanic to come to your rescue, especially in remote locations. Keep a check on the spare tyre just as you would for your regular tyres. Inflate it to the recommended pressure, and replace it if left unused beyond the manufacturer’s specified warranty.
Leaks and Hoses
It’s always better to know and fix leaks before hand, rather than having to mend them in the middle of a road trip. The first place to check for leaks is obviously in your parking space. Look out for patches or pools of oil which are a sure-shot sign of a leak in your car’s plumbing. A high engine temperature too could be a sign of a leak. To be sure, raise your car and look for oily residue or rust-coloured stains in the underbody and around flexible pipes near the engine.
Headlights/ Tail-lights, Wiper blades
Car lights not only allow you to see the roads better at night, but also help fellow road users spot you. And hence, it is imperative that you ensure your lights are in top shape. Replace weak and defunct bulbs, and ensure that the lights aren’t foggy/misty before commencing your journey. Ensure that your emergency brake lights and indicators are fully functional. Another overlooked part of the car is its battery, which if faulty, means your lights won’t function with full efficiency. And so, get your car battery’s specific gravity (a measure of the battery’s state of charge) checked.
Partially worn brake pads are difficult to detect. Get a mechanic the check them, and to be on the safe side, carry an extra set of brake pads. A lack of bite in the brakes and a judder in the brake pedal upon being pressed too are signs that your brake pads need replacement. Since most modern cars come equipped with disc brakes, at least in the front, keep an ear out for a squealing sound from the brakes. This could indicate that the brake calliper is rubbing against the brake disc rotor because of worn out brake pads.
Engine oil and coolant
The engine oil keeps the engine components lubricated while the coolant keeps the temperature under check. Both fluids play an integral role in the motor’s working, and need to be checked prior to the trip, especially since coolant levels can drop during long drives.
When taking trips to far-off places, it always helps if you plan the route and your itinerary beforehand. Maps and GPS devices help you better navigate roads, and also allow you to take alternate routes to your destination. GPS services, now commonplace on most smartphones, even allow you to avoid roads with heavy traffic, which is helpful when you’re trying to make good time.
Your car’s registration papers, insurance, Pollution Under Control (PUC) documents, and needless to mention, your driver’s licence should be with you on any long trip. Ensure that all above mentioned documents are renewed regularly and kept up to date, in case you get pulled over for any reason.
Hazard lights and tool kit
In case of an emergency breakdown of your car, hazard lights and a tool kit are must-haves. Both come as part of every car’s standard equipment, and are virtually maintenance free. The hazard lights let others know that your car is malfunctioning, and more importantly, could be critical in flagging down a good samaritan who could help you out. The tool kit is useful in fixing the odd loose nut or changing a punctured tyre, which will save you a trip to the mechanic.
Service Mileage and route planning
Before taking a long trip, check if your car is due for servicing, as this could make a big difference in the way it performs. A service could also fix small niggles in the car that could otherwise get aggravated on the way. Also, keep a list of your car manufacturer’s service stations en route, and the phone numbers of towing facilities, hospitals and taxi services, which will come in handy in case of a breakdown.
While the above mentioned ten steps should get you and your car to your destination without much hassle, it’s always advisable that you practice safe driving, keep a lookout for sudden hazards on the road, keep your seatbelts fastened at all times when in the car, and also ensure that your fellow passengers are wearing their seatbelts too. The rest is all about enjoying the journey.