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What you need to check on your car before a roadtrip

August 15, 2023
Car Insurance

Embarking on a road trip can be an exhilarating adventure, offering the opportunity to explore new places and create lasting memories. In Australia, we have some amazing road journeys, whether it be the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, the Red Centre Way in the Northern Territory or tackling The Savannah Way from Cairns to Broome, there are a few things you need to do before hitting the open road. Most people take a lot of care packing their bags for the road trip but often forget to safety check their car prior to hitting the road.  

It is crucial to ensure that your vehicle is in optimal condition to minimise the risk of breakdowns and ensure a safe and enjoyable journey. Depending on your level of car expertise, you may want to have some of the below items checked and verified by your mechanic prior to hitting the open road.  

Inspect fluid levels 

Your car has a lot of different fluids in it to do such things as keep it cool, help you go, stop, steer, and change gears. If these fluids are not topped up with the right stuff, they can stop you from enjoying your trip.  

We recommend that you: 

  • Consult your owner’s manual for the right fluid types and levels.   
  • Check the engine oil level and condition. Ensure it’s at the recommended level and free from contamination. The oil should be relatively clear and shouldn’t have a strong burnt smell. If you oil looks dark and/or smells, it probably time to change it.  
  • Check the coolant level and top up with the right coolant if necessary to prevent overheating. When on the road, water is better than no coolant, but coolant is a lot better than water!  
  • Verify the brake fluid and transmission fluid levels to ensure proper braking and smooth gear changes. 
  • Don’t forget to inspect the windscreen washer fluid to maintain visibility during the trip. Using a windscreen washer fluid will offer superior cleaning to water, but water is better than an empty tank.  
  • Check if there are any fluids on the ground under the car, the best place to check is where you park the car regularly. Any slow leaks will leave evidence on the ground. Should there be any leaks, it is best to promptly take your car to your mechanic.  
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Check your tyres 

Your tyres are crucial for vehicle safety and performance as they provide traction, stability, and control, especially during braking and cornering. Properly maintained tyres help ensure your vehicle’s ability to grip the road surface, enhancing handling and reducing the risk of accidents. If you need help, speak to your local tyre store.  

Here’s some things to do: 

  • Inspect the tyre tread depth to ensure adequate traction, especially for long journeys where road conditions may vary. It is worth noting that once the tread goes below 3mm, the chances of aquaplaning (the loss of traction due to water buildup under the tyre) dramatically increases.  
  • Check tyre pressure, including the spare tyre, and adjust according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. 
  • Look for signs of uneven wear, bulges, foreign objects, or cuts on the tyres, which may indicate the need for replacement. 
  • Consider rotating tyres if necessary to promote even wear and extend tyre life. 

Windscreen wipers 

Windscreen wipers are essential for maintaining visibility in adverse weather conditions by clearing rain, snow, and debris from the windshield. They ensure drivers can see the road clearly, reducing the risk of accidents and ensuring safe navigation. 

What to look for: 

  • Test your wipers to ensure they effectively move the water of the windscreen without streaking by wetting your screen. You can test this either with the windscreen washers or your garden hose on a shower setting. Replace them as needed.  
  • Remember to check both the front and rear wipers.  
  • If you need help to replace the wipers, you can either do this yourself or most auto shops will install them for you.  


The brakes on your car are vital for safety as they enable you to slow down or stop the vehicle, preventing accidents and collisions. Properly functioning brakes ensure control and responsiveness, enhancing overall driving safety. It is important to have your brakes professionally inspected at each service and replace worn pads, discs, or drums sooner than later. Stopping your car safely is vital every day, not just whilst on holidays.   

Here’s some tips on testing your brakes:  

  • Test the brake pedal for firmness and responsiveness. If it feels spongy or requires excessive pressure, have the brake system inspected by your mechanic. 
  • Check for any signs of brake fluid leaks, such as fluid puddles under the vehicle or soft brake pedal feel. 

Check lights and signals 

Your lights and signals help you see and be seen. Burnt out brake lights can be a hazard to those behind you and may increase your risk of a rear end collision. The risk of an accident increases significantly when one or more headlights are not functioning, as it reduces visibility for both the driver and other road users, especially in low-light conditions or at night. Additionally, the lack of functioning headlights may lead to difficulties in judging distances and recognising obstacles, increasing the likelihood of collisions. We strongly recommend that you verify that all exterior lights, including headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn indicators, and hazard lights, are functioning correctly prior to hitting the road. 

Here’s some tips: 

  • Clean headlights to ensure optimal visibility, especially during night driving or inclement weather conditions. If your headlights are starting to yellow, speak to your local auto store about products that can restore the showroom shine.  
  • Replace any burned-out bulbs promptly to maintain visibility and comply with road safety regulations. If you are unsure on how to replace the bulb, your auto store or mechanic can fit these.  

Assess battery health 

A flat battery can be a pain on your holiday. There are things that you can do to minimise the potential delay. Batteries have a limited shelf life and are usually only thought of when your car won’t start on that cold winter’s morning. We recommend that you take care when checking your battery, this can be dangerous.  

You should:   

  • Ensure that your engine is off and put on gloves and safety googles. It is also a good idea to wear a long-sleeved top.  
  • Visually inspect the battery terminals for corrosion. If you see a white, green or blue-tinged substance around the battery, this is corrosion.  
  • Ensure the terminals are securely connected by gently trying to move the leads one at a time. They should be firmly attached without any significant movement. Tighten if needed.   
  • Use a vehicle battery tester to check the battery voltage and ensure it falls within the recommended range. Some batteries feature a built-in window on the top, where a green colour indicates a healthy battery, while black or clear colours suggest that the battery may require charging or replacement. Many auto shops offer free battery testing services. You may want to consider replacing the battery if it’s old or showing signs of weakness to prevent unexpected failures during the trip. 
  • Always use the recommended battery size, type and CCA (Cold Cranking Amps) capacity for your car. An under-powered battery can make it difficult to start your car even if it is fully charged. A modern car uses a lot of energy to run all the systems in your vehicle and your battery is an integral part of this system.   
  • You may want to carry a car jump starter pack with you. If you do get a flat battery, this can get you started so that you can get going.  

Check belts and hoses 

Checking your belts and hoses before a road trip is crucial for preventing unexpected breakdowns. These components play essential roles in the engine’s operation, so ensuring they are in good condition helps maintain reliability and safety throughout your journey. You should: 

  • Inspect any visible belts for signs of wear, cracks, or fraying. Replace them if necessary to prevent sudden failures. All these belts are important, and a belt failure can cause expensive damage to your engine.  
  • Check radiator hoses and other coolant hoses for leaks, bulges, or soft spots. Replace any damaged hoses to prevent coolant leaks and engine overheating. 
  • If you need help changing a belt or a hose, speak with your local mechanic.  

Inspect suspension and steering 

Like tyres and brakes, your suspension and steering are vital components in the safety of your vehicle. If you cannot turn the front wheels or your suspension is not doing what it should, you may have had an accident. We suggest you:  

  • Test the steering responsiveness and check for any unusual noises or vibrations while turning the steering wheel. This is best done at low speeds away from other road users.  
  • Inspect the suspension components, including shocks, struts, and bushings, for signs of wear or damage such as cracks or corrosion. Replace worn components to ensure a smooth and stable ride. 

Review emergency kit and tools 

Should the unexpected occur, having a well-stocked emergency kit will help you solve most of the common issues that can occur whilst on the open road. Ensure that your vehicle’s emergency kit is stocked with essentials such as a first-aid kit, torch, jumper cables or jump starter, tyre repair kit, jack, tyre wrench and basic tools. 

Towing a caravan or trailer 

Like the checks you do for your car, you can also apply to your caravan or trailer. Here are some extra things to check:  

  • Check the hitch and coupling system to confirm it’s correctly attached to your car.  
  • Check that your jockey wheel is in good condition and attached securely.  
  • Secure any loose items in the caravan or trailer that could become projectiles. 

Performing thorough checks on your car before embarking on a road trip is essential for ensuring your safety, comfort, and peace of mind throughout the journey. By following the guidelines outlined in this article and addressing any issues promptly, you can minimize the risk of unexpected breakdowns and enjoy a smooth and memorable travel experience. Remember, a little preparation goes a long way in making your road trip a success.  

Here’s to the road ahead.  

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