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Preparing For The Summer Road Trip

Christmas and New Year are just around the corner, which means that the summer holiday season is finally upon us. This doesn’t just mean that this will be my last post here for 25016 (not sure what my fellow Private Fleet bloggers will be doing, though!). It also means that a lot of us are thinking about the big summer road trip. A lot of us take our annual vacation at this time of year, and still more of us travel to stay with the relatives for Christmas – I know my in-laws are on the road heading towards my place as I write this. The main intercity and interstate roads get a lot busier as people start doing a Chris Rea (i.e. driving home for Christmas) and as others head off for a getaway.

OK, there’s all the usual road safety things to be aware of, such as fatigue, irritability after being cooped up in a car with hot, grumpy kids for hours on end, increased police presence on the road as they clamp down on speed, etc. and ping you for being just the teeniest bit over the limit and slapping you with a hefty fine right before Christmas, etc. etc.  I’m sure I’ve written about this in the blogs of Christmas past.

However, in order to have a safe and relatively happy road trip, you need to prepare the vehicle as well as packing your bags.  The last thing you want is for a holiday to be ruined or for plans to be put out by an unscheduled stop somewhere thanks to a breakdown or your car giving up the ghost. OK, in the case of a holiday road trip, this may mean you end up discovering a wonderful new little place to stay that you wouldn’t have discovered if your car hadn’t blown something in the middle of nowhere, but if you’re trying to get to the rellies in time for Christmas, breaking down is a pain.

To avoid unnecessary hassles, it’s wisest to give your car a bit of a once-over before you start out.  What exactly do you check?  The following will be a good start:

Tyres.  Have you got enough tread on all tyres, including the spare?  Is the spare in good condition or is it just sitting in its place in sad condition, forgotten after the last time you had to change a flat?

Lights. What with the cops all trying to make up for having to work over the Christmas period by playing Let’s See How Many People We Can Book, it’s best not to give them an excuse. It’s also best not to have something malfunctioning on a car that could lead to a nasty situation.  Check that all your lights are working – all of them.  It might also be a wise idea to make sure that you’ve got some spare bulbs for your particular vehicle stashed away in the glovebox (and maybe a fuse or two). You never know when a light’s going to go on you and leave you stuck at the relatives’ place with all the mechanics closed and the one that is open on Boxing Day not having something suitable for your model.  I’m not making this last one up, as it happened to some of our tribe when they were staying at our place a few years back. And it was pouring with rain for days and they had lots of kids but couldn’t get a spare light for the Mitsubishi Grandis … (thank goodness for the local swimming pool!).

Cooling system. Come on, you know that it gets hot here in summer. Very hot.  Make sure that all the fluids are topped up in your vehicle before you set out.

Windscreen wipers. Make sure that the blades are in good nick so they can actually get the windows properly wiped, whether you’re driving through a patch of rain or whether you need to get the smashed moths and pollen off the windscreen.  Don’t forget to top up the window washing fluid while you’re at it.  The insides of windows can also be a problem, so stash some wipes in the glovebox – you’ll find that you use these for more than just cleaning the insides of the windows, too.

Trailers and caravans. Yes, it’s time for the caravan’s annual outing, so it may have been a while since you gave it some mechanical attention.  Make sure it’s road legal and that it’s got a spare tyre in good condition as well.  Don’t forget to make sure that the drawbar is properly lubed up.

Tow rope. I have lost count of the times that the other half has decided to do a little off-roading to find a good picnic spot but has ended up getting stuck.  Off-roading when we owned an Isuzu Bighorn was all very well, but wasn’t quite so good when it happened in the Ford Fairmont .  We’d have never got that car out of the sand without a good rope (thanks to some passers-by who did have a 4×4), or at least it would have been a long and difficult process of shoving sticks down and pushing and… but that’s another story.  Make sure you have a good tow rope stowed in the car.  You never know – you might be the one who has to tow or rescue someone else.

Most importantly of all, don’t forget to relax and enjoy the trip as much as the destination.