Holidays are coming Ė 10 essential car checks you can do yourself before you set off

Kwik Fit | Thursday 14th July 2016 3:07pm

car wing mirror

With summer just around the corner many of us have already begun painstakingly planning every detail of our annual holiday. Yet one part of the trip is often overlooked.

Holidaying in the UK is having a bit of a boom at the moment, be it because of security fears in some overseas areas of tourism, Brexit, or simply the increasing price of foreign holidays during the school holidays. It shouldnít come as too much of a surprise as we have many beautiful regions right on our own doorstep. However, with Visit England reporting that 74% of domestic holiday trips are made using your own car rather than flights, trains and buses, what is surprising is that many motorists admit they do not make basic checks to their vehicle before embarking on a long journey.

Making sure your car is ready for the road should be essential and here are 10 simple checks you can do yourself that could be the difference between getting to your holiday destination as planned or sitting by the roadside waiting for recovery.

1. Check your coolant levels

Adding new coolant to engine

Coolant or antifreeze not only protects your engine from extreme cold temperatures during the winter months, its high boiling point also removes excessive heat from the engine which is essential on a hot day if you want to avoid breakdowns, especially when idling in motorway traffic. To check your coolant level locate your radiator reservoir under the bonnet (refer to your vehicle handbook if you donít recognise it) and make sure the coolant level is between the min and max lines. If you need to top up, make sure you select the right one for your car. For more info see our previous blog about antifreeze.

2. Don't leave without your car jack and locking wheel nut key

Car jack in boot of car

Make sure both items are in the car before you set off. If you pick up a puncture on your journey and have to stop, you may be able to put the spare on yourself but only if you have a jack handy. In addition you wonít be able to remove the wheel if you donít have the locking wheel nut key to hand. Itís worth noting that a recovery vehicle wonít be able to take the wheel off either without the key so the best they can do is to tow you to a nearby garage, further delaying your trip. So make sure you take your wheel nut key with you and store it somewhere safe and easily accessible.

3. Check your dip stick for oil

Checking dip stick

Oil is the lifeblood of your engine, providing lubrication for the moving parts inside the engine while also cooling and cleaning these parts so that your car continues to run smoothly. Without oil, your engine would very quickly seize up, causing you not only to break down but be faced with a hefty repair bill for replacement parts. To check your engine oil, locate your dipstick underneath the bonnet and make sure the oil level is between the two min and max markers at the end of the dipstick. Your vehicle handbook may come in handy to locate the dipstick but itís usually easy enough to locate and can be identified by the ring pull (often yellow/orange in colour) coming out of the engine. Top the engine oil up if need be but be sure to use the correct type of oil recommended in the handbook.

4. Refill your screenwash bottle

Windscreen washer reservoir

Easily overlooked, the screenwash reservoir doesnít have an endless supply so make sure you top it up regularly and before a big journey. Screenwash is essential for removing dirt, muck and squished insects from the windscreen and running out on a long trip could leave you with difficulties seeing the road as more dirt builds up. It may be tempting to fill the reservoir with plain water to save a few pounds but we recommend using a premixed screenwash available at most service stations. Not only do they include cleaning agents that cut through grime, the ingredients of screenwash also includes coolant so that it does not freeze and expand in the pipes and washer bottle if left during winter.

5. Check your tyre pressure on all tyres including the spare

Checking tyre pressure

This oneís important not only to prolong the life of the tyres but to make sure you and your family stay safe on the road. You should be checking your tyre pressure every month or so anyway but make a special effort to check your pressures before leaving on your holiday. Underinflated tyres are a major cause of tyre blow outs which, if travelling at high speed when it happens, could cause a fatal accident. But even tyres that are slightly below the recommended tyre pressure can affect your braking distance and reduce the life of your tyres by wearing unevenly.

Check your vehicle handbook for your recommended front and rear tyre pressure. Air is available on most garage forecourts or you can check your tyre pressure yourself at home using a digital tyre inflator. Alternatively, pop down to your local Kwik Fit and weíll top up your air for you. Oh, and donít forget the spare; all tyres lose pressure gradually over time regardless of whether they have been used or not.

6. Check your tyre tread for wear

20p test on tyre tread

While youíre checking your pressures, make sure you also check the tread depth on all tyres to make sure they are legal and safe, after all, you might think it's your brakes that help you to stop but itís your tyres that are the only part of the car that are in contact with the road so make sure they have suitable tread to grip the road and come to a prompt stop. The legal limit in the UK is 1.6mm of tread across the central ĺ of the tread around the complete circumference of the tyre. You can use a tread depth indicator to measure this but if you havenít got one of those simply grab a 20p piece and stand it up in the tread groove as shown. If you can see the outer edge of the 20p piece then itís time to replace that tyre. Most tyres also have tread wear indicators moulded in the tread groove. When the rest of the tread wears to the same level as the indicator, it means you have reached the legal tread limit.

7. Check for tyre cracking and bulging

Tyre sidewall with crack damage

Tread wear and pressure arenít the only things you should look out for when examining your tyres. You should also check the overall condition of the tyres before heading out. Older tyres and tyres that have been exposed to a lot of sunlight can be prone to cracking. This is because UV light oxidises the rubber in the tyres which causes them to lose their waxy properties and dry out and crack. Meanwhile potholes and curbs can also take their toll on tyres and persistent impacts can cause the tyre sidewall to bulge and weaken.

Check your tyres regularly for any anomalies such as cracking and bulging in both the tread area and sidewall. If you are at all unsure about the condition of your tyres, contact your local centre for tyre care advice.

8. Make sure all your lights are working properly

BMW with Kwik Fit number plate

You might need someone to help you with this one but make sure all your lights are working including headlamps, brake lights, reverse light, indicators and internal cabin lights (you never know when you may need to stop to read the map!) are working by testing all lights before you set off. Replacing bulbs varies from one vehicle to the next ranging from dead simple to an awkward Rubikís style puzzle. If you are having any issues, pop down to your local Kwik Fit where we can fit new replacement bulbs saving you the trouble.  While on the subject of lights, if you are taking your car to the continent for your holiday, it is compulsory to fit headlamp beam converters to your lights in most countries in mainland Europe so that you do not dazzle oncoming traffic with your lights. Failure to do so could result in an on-the-spot fine of Ä90 Euros (about £77).

9. Turn on windscreen wipers and check wiper blades

Rain on car windscreen

You canít trust the weather, especially when holidaying in the UK so a good effective set of windscreen wipers are a must to ensure you can see the road clearly. Wipers are probably the least hardy part of your car and will inevitably become damaged over time. Check the blades for any splits in the rubber edge which could prevent the wiper from clearing water or leave streaks in the line of view. Donít neglect your wipers just because you are expecting good weather, wipers are essential even on a hot day to clear grime and bugs from the windscreen.

10. Switch on the air con

air con unit on dashboard

Ok so itís not the end of the world if you leave on your holidays to find the air con not working like it used to but it sure can make the journey unpleasant on a long journey in hot weather. If you havenít used your air conditioning since last summer, test it before you go as itís not unusual for the air con system to develop a fault and blow warm air if not used for a long period of time. Also, air con gas permeates through the system over time so you may just need a recharge available at most Kwik Fit centres.

If you have any doubts whatsoever about prepping your car for summer, bring it into your nearest Kwik Fit and we will check it over for you free of charge. Our trained technicians can advise on any maintenance required, either now or in the near future so that you set off on your summer holiday with complete peace of mind. Pop into your nearest Kwik Fit centre today.

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