The summer holidays are finally here, which means families are flocking to the beach or to other picturesque destinations for a much deserved break. Many people choose to book a staycation in the UK, either heading to the coast or driving to an idyllic countryside camping spot. If you’re planning a getaway with the family in the car, then it’s important to be prepared for all eventualities.

Before any road-trip or long journey, it’s important to thoroughly check your vehicle. There is nothing worse than waiting for hours to be rescued for a fault which could have been prevented. If you’re planning a long car journey anytime soon, make sure you follow these vital car checks before setting off. It will only take around 15 minutes and could save your holiday.

Whether you have a short one hour drive or a long journey across the border to another part of the UK, accidents happen. It’s critical to ensure that the vehicle is as safe as possible before setting off on your holiday, but also take steps to make the journey as comfortable as can be.

What could possibly go wrong?

When planning the annual family summer holiday, you rarely plan for the worst. Many people presume it’s less stressful holidaying in the UK as you cut out the airport and the flight, and don’t have to worry about a language barrier – but that’s not always the case! Should something bad happen to your main mode of transport, your holiday could be cut short before it’s even began.

Driving to your holiday camp or destination could be plain sailing, but there’s every chance it may not be. It’s not just keeping the kids entertained in a confined space that you have to worry about either; it’s what’s happening on the roads along the way. We all know that the British summer isn’t famous for being sunny, so you may experience heavy showers or even storms during your journey. If you’re really unlucky, you may even have to deal with flash flooding depending on your destination.

Adverse weather is always something to plan for, whatever time of year. Then there’s the possibility of a maintenance issue, such as a flat tyre or an unknown breakdown. Would you know what to do in this situation far from home? Are you a member of the AA or do you have reliable breakdown cover to support you and your family?

Getting your car regularly serviced and doing general maintenance checks before setting off can reduce the chances of getting stuck on the hard shoulder of the motorway, or on a rural country road.

Here are some top tips for preparing your car for long journeys this holiday season.

Don’t over-pack

Firstly, don’t think because you don’t have an airline-style luggage limit that you should take as much as you can cram into your car. It’s tempting to stock up on food and drink in addition to clothing and camping or activities gear, but overloading the vehicle could put you in danger. Handling is affected by the weight in the car, and overloading a small engine car can increase stopping distance and impact acceleration. You should also never block the rear view by piling up items in the boot. Pack lighter and you’ll also benefit from more efficient fuel usage.

Vehicle checks

As with any long journey, it’s important to carry out some basic vehicle checks before setting off to ensure the safety of the car. Check the tread and air pressure of the tyres – it’s usually a good idea to stop at a garage and pump up the tyres when you fill up the tank. Other things to check include the screen wash, oil and water levels and that all of the lights are in working order. The engine coolant is really important in warm temperatures, as it prevents the vehicle from overheating, so make sure this is at the right level and keep an eye on the temperature gauge. Get into the habit of making these general vehicle checks before setting off on any long journey.

It’s essential you have enough oil in your engine for a long journey, otherwise it will overheat. Check it while the engine is cold with the dipstick, and top up if necessary.

There are two things to check with the tyres – the tread and the pressure. Tread depth below 1.6mm is not only illegal, but also dangerous. If you think a tyre could be nearing the limit, get it changed at a garage when you set off. Tyre pressure should also be checked, as if incorrect you’ll cause needless wear and tear and burn more fuel.

Speaking of tyres, you don’t just need to check the four attached to your wheels. Double check you have a spare tyre kept in the back, and that the tyre and hack fits your car. You never know what could happen on a long journey!

Get a family member to stand in front of the car and then behind the car as you go through all of the lights – indicators, brake, low and full beam etc. Don’t set off on a journey unless they are all in working order.

Make sure your washer bottle is full, as you need it to clear your windscreen. You don’t know what whether you’ll experience on your trip, and you always need a clean screen for safe driving.

Check your coolant level is correct before setting off. If it’s a little low, you can top it up with water, but if you want it done professionally with antifreeze then head to your local garage.

Make sure you have the correct fuel level for the journey you are making – you don’t want to make any needless stops and you never know where the next petrol station will be.

Emergency kit

You should always prepare for the worst case scenario – what will you do if you break down or are involved in a road accident? You should carry safety equipment for you and your family, including a torch and high vis jackets in case you need to wait by the side of the road. A first aid kit is also a good idea, along with blankets and bottled water. There’s nothing worse than being stranded somewhere you don’t know without supplies!

Service the air-con system

Hopefully the sun will be beaming down on your vehicle, but this can me long summer road trips uncomfortable. To keep the whole family cool and calm for the duration of the journey, you’ll likely need the help of air conditioning. Air-con systems in vehicles are complicated and need regular coolant checks to stay in working order. If there are any leaks or the system needs topping up, your air con will blow warm instead of cool – which is not ideal for the summer months! To ensure you get a nice icy blast when needed, head to your local garage for a re-gassing service which will guarantee a reliable and efficient air con system all season.

Plan your Route

Finally, you need to plan your long journey well to make sure you stay safe on the road. If you are not confident on certain roads then avoid these, and check whether there will be any heavy traffic (on bank holiday weekends for example). Will you use a sat nav system or have someone reading a map and helping you? Don’t try and wing a long car journey.

Stay safe this summer getting to and from your chosen holiday location, with Windmill Garage’s top tips for summer road trips. If you want to make sure your vehicle is up for the job, visit us and our skilled mechanics will check your car over and put your mind at ease.

Stay safe this summer getting to and from your chosen holiday location.

Preparing your Car for Long Holiday Journeys