It’s a good idea to do a few checks on your car before embarking on a long distance drive. This will ensure that you will arrive at your destination safely and on time.
Tires keep your car in contact with the ground. So it’s vital that they are in good condition. Worn tires will give you less grip on wet roads and the tyre may experience hydroplaning, whereby the tyre rides upon a layer of water instead of coming in contact with the road. This causes a loss of steering input and may cause the car to skid.
To prevent that from happening, make sure your tires have enough thread. You want tyre threads that look like these:
And not like these:
Must have done too many burnouts and hard brakings. This was the condition of my tires when I changed them. I was already experiencing hydroplaning and lack of traction on wet roads. I didn’t know it was that bad. I really got a shock when I saw this.
Radiator water level
The water in the radiator keeps your engine running at a proper temperature. Too little water and your engine will overheat. High engine temperature may indicate lack of water.
Make sure the engine is cold before opening the radiator cap. Do not open it when the engine is hot or you might get a spray of hot boiling water. If you must open it when it’s still hot, put a wet rag over it and open slowly. Top up the water until it overflows.
Oil keeps the engine lubricated and keeps friction to a minimum. Without oil, the engine will wear out very fast and the excessive friction may cause an overheat. That’s why we must always make sure that the oil level in the engine is correct.
This can be easily checked by using the oil dipstick. Take the dipstick out, wipe it dry with a clean tissue, put back the dipstick and take it out again and read the oil level. It should fall between L and F. Mine is actually overfull so you see the whole stick covered in oil. Not exactly recommended, but doesn’t do any harm.
The battery plays an important role in the modern car. Without the battery you will not be able to start your car if you have an automatic transmission. So to prevent yourself from getting stranded in the middle of nowhere, always keep track of the condition of your battery.
If you own a maintenance free battery, there’s no battery fluid to top up. You just have to use the SOC (state of charge) indicator to determine if your battery is in good condition or not (refer to the photo above). Your battery manual will usually tell you how to do that.
If you own a conventional battery, you must always make sure that the battery is filled up properly. You can damage the battery if you let the water level fall too low.
If you use your car regularly, brakes shouldn’t be an issue. Be aware when brakes become spongy or when the pedal travel increases. This may mean a defective master cylinder or lack of fluid. Also if you hear metallic noise from the brakes, it may be time to get the brake pads changed. They may be worn down already.
Tyre change equipment
If you are going to be traveling long distances, you don’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere with a flat tyre. Make sure you carry your spare tyre, car jack and tyre iron with you. This will ensure that you will be able to continue your journey in the (hopefully) unlikely event that you get a puncture. Or you can always opt for run flat tyres which will cost you more, but you won’t have to change them if they get punctured.
An alternator is a generator that generates power while the engine is running. It supplies power to the different accessories in the car and also charges the battery. A dead alternator will eventually lead to a dead battery. A dead battery will lead to you getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. So it’s important to ensure that your alternator is always working, especially on long drives.
This check requires a voltmeter. Connect the voltmeter to the battery with the engine off. A good battery will give you a reading above 12v. In the picture below, I’m getting around 12.43v.
Next, with the voltmeter connected, start the car. The voltage of the battery should increase over 13v. This is because the alternator is now supplying power and charging the battery. If you get the same reading, or just a small increase (less than 1v), then it’s time to get the alternator serviced.
The above are the recommended items that you check before you start a long journey. The list is not exhaustive and it may change from car to car. But paying a little bit of attention to the inner workings of your car will save you time and money and expensive repair bills!