How To Prepare Your Car For A Road Trip

A road trip is the perfect way to travel, but to save yourself from trouble while you are away it is worthwhile checking some basics on your car before you leave. Give yourself time to do the checks and to also have time if you do discover a problem. It is all very well packing and setting off, but 1000 miles into a trip you really don’t want a minor problem becoming something major. It is also worth thinking about the weather conditions, extra distances driven and the weight from luggage and passengers that may put a bigger strain on your car.

hand holding a spanner prepare your car for a road trip

What Should I Check on my Car Before Going on a Road Trip?

To prepare your car for a road check make sure you check the following:

  • Oil
  • Coolant
  • Tyre Pressure and tread depth
  • Lights
  • Washer fluid
  • Breakdown recovery, insurance, tax and MOT
  • Packing the car


How to Check Engine Oil

Oil lubricates your car engine and keeps all the moving parts working efficiently. Without sufficient oil the engine may seize up or some parts may wear out more quickly. Oil levels are checked quickly and easily using the dipstick test.

  1. Make sure the engine is cool and the car is parked on level ground.
  2. Pop open your bonnet and find the dipstick. If you aren’t sure where to find this your user manual will show you exactly where to find it. If you have a modern car the oil check may be electronic and you won’t have a dipstick or need to do this check.
  3. Once you have found the dipstick, pull it out and with an old rag or cloth wipe off all the oil. There are two marks showing the minimum level of oil and maximum level of oil.
  4. Once clean, put the dipstick back into the holder. Push it all the way in, leave it for a moment to allow the oil to coat the surface and then remove it again.
  5. Look at the level of oil on the dipstick. If it is halfway between the maximum and minimum then you don’t need to do anything. Below halfway then you need to add oil.
  6. If the levels are low you need to find out the type of oil needed from the user manual and find the oil cap. This usually has the picture of an oil can to help identify its location.
  7. Remove the oil cap and add small amounts of oil, checking the dipstick each time. Too much oil can damage the engine as much as not enough oil.
  8. Once the levels are between the maximum and minimum then the dipstick and oil cap can be replaced before closing the bonnet.

Checking the Coolant in Your Vehicle

Coolant works in both hot and cold weather. On a hot day it will remove heat from your engine, essential if you are stuck in traffic. It is an easy check to prevent an overheating end to your journey and road trip. On cooler days it will prevent the water in your car from freezing, expanding and causing problems. The coolant is a special liquid that is sometimes referred to as anti-freeze. Anti-freeze and coolant are two different things although the coolant usually contains anti-freeze to ensure the coolant continues to work is colder conditions.

  1. Ensure the engine is cold and pop the bonnet.
  2. Find the coolant reservoir. It is a clear container, sometimes with coolant on the cap. If you aren’t sure check the user manual for the location and the type of coolant needed.
  3. Look at the markings on the side of the coolant container and the level of the liquid within the container.
  4. If the levels are between high and low then nothing needs to be done.
  5. If the levels are at the low level or below then coolant is needed.
  6. Cover the cap with a rag and gently remove. If the engine is warm a build up in pressure can result in a dangerous fountain of hot coolant which needs to be avoided.
  7. Pour coolant into the reservoir until it is comfortably between high and low levels. Do not use water or anti-freeze as these will cause damage on their own.
  8. Replace the cap and close the bonnet.

Tyre Checks – Pressure and Tread

Tyres are essential for a safe journey as well as fuel economy. They are also something that you are legally responsible for. A worn tyre tread below 1.6mm can result in a £2500 fine for each illegal tyre so it is something that must be checked.
Tyres should be inflated to the correct pressure. This may be different if you are travelling with a loaded car to normally running around. Most cars have a sticker on the inside of the fuel cap door or on the inside of the drivers door giving the correct pressure levels. With inadequate tyre pressure breaking speed and corner handling may be affected as well as the comfort for the driver and passenger.
Tyre pressure can be checked at any garage using the air machine. These are self service to both measure and top up your tyres and usually need a £1 coin.

  1. If it is a paid machine insert coins and set the pressure to the levels shown on the door rim or in your user manual.
  2. Remove the valve dust cap from the tyre valve and attach the pressure gauge to the tyre valve stem.
  3. Push the gauge down the make sure it is an accurate reading.
  4. Check the displayed pressure against the suggested values.
  5. Inflate or deflate until the required level is reached, checking the levels as the pressure changes. This is usually achieved by pushing the ‘trigger’ on the handle of the pressure hose.
  6. Replace the dust cap.
  7. If you have had a low pressure warning light on you may need to reset the light within the car dashboard.
  8. Using a tool or 20p piece check the depth of the tread on each of your tyres. Anything less than 1.6mm is illegal and the tyre needs to be changed.


Lights are essential to make you visible to other road users. In some countries such as Iceland, lights should be on at all times. They should be clean and working fully. Before heading out on a road trip get someone to check that all indicators, brake lights, reversing lights and headlights are working. These can be easily replaced if any are faulty.
If you are driving in Europe and your car does not have inbuilt beam adjustment then you may need headlight beam deflectors which are easily fitted.

Washer Fluid

Washer fluid is essential to keep the windscreen clear. If you are driving anywhere off road or dusty then this becomes even more essential. Dust and mud can build up on the windscreen reducing the view of the road ahead. The washer fluid can be topped up using windscreen wash fluid or if you are desperate water. In winter months this should be diluted with anti-freeze.

  1. Ensure the engine is cold and pop the bonnet.
  2. Find the windscreen wash reservoir. It is a clear container, sometimes with a squirting water symbol on the cap. If you aren’t sure check the user manual for the location.
  3. Look at the markings on the side of the container and the level of the liquid within the container.
  4. If the level is below the level line or the neck of the container then it needs topping up
  5. Cover the cap with a rag and gently remove.
  6. Pour washer fluid into the reservoir until it is cup to just below the maximum level or the neck. If it is during the winter months then always make sure anti-freeze is included in the fluid.
  7. Replace the cap and close the bonnet.

Breakdown recovery, insurance, tax and MOT

If you are taking your own car on a road trip as opposed to a hire car then you need to make sure that you are covered. Whilst all of these things should be in place make sure they are not going to expire or need renewing while you are away. This is really important of you are going for an extended period. It may not be possible to auto-renew and could prove an unnecessary headache while you are away.
If you are driving abroad always make sure you are covered on your car insurance and that you have breakdown cover that can get you and your car home. You also need to make sure that you have your documentation to hand at all times so it can be checked if needed.

Loading your Car for a Road Trip

Packing the boot for a road trip

To ensure safety and make the most of the space available it is best to plan what you are taking and have it all available as you start to pack the car. Place the heaviest items towards the centre of the car in the back of the boot space and have lighter items and those that you may need such as waterproofs nearer to the top.
Don’t pack anything above the headrest level. Beyond this will restrict rear visibility and if you brake suddenly may see items fly forward hitting passengers.

Packing A roof Box For a Road Trip

A roof box can make all the difference for a roof trip. It will free up space and make travelling more comfortable. If you do use a roof box make sure you remove it when it isn’t being used to save on fuel. It is best used for soft, light items such as rents, sleeping bags and pillows. On a longer road trip placing the camping bits in the roof box means that if you are not camping one night you don’t have to touch it and if it is raining or wet the tents are not inside the car making everything damp.

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