Many people don’t bother to do any extra checks to make sure their car is up to a road trip. But any journey outside your normal daily limits should mean running through a checklist – especially if you’re going to be travelling through areas where very few businesses are open.
Prior to departure
Tyres: Check air pressure of your tyres, including the spare. Under-inflation is a leading cause of tyre failures and blowouts.
Warnings lights: Ensure there are no vehicle warning and reminder indicator lights on and that any outstanding vehicle services have been performed.
Checks: Ensure all weekly checks recommended in the owner's handbook have been performed:
Batteries: Weak batteries can lead to breakdowns, possibly at the worst time and place.
Brakes: An expert inspection can determine whether brakes are functioning properly with full braking capability.
Windshield wipers: Old or worn windshield wipers can lead to poor visibility.
Headlamps: Properly aimed headlamps are a must for optimal visibility.
Oil: Change the oil and filter at recommended intervals to minimise engine wear and reduce the possibility of internal damage. Check the owner's manual for recommended intervals.
Fluid levels: Improper fluid levels (coolant, oil, power steering, transmission, brake fluid and even washer solvent) can negatively affect vehicle performance, durability and safety.
Belts and hoses: A broken belt or ruptured hose can cause costly engine damage and travel delays.
Wheel alignment: Maintain correct front and rear wheel alignment. Incorrect alignment makes the wheels drag, which increases fuel consumption and causes uneven and premature tyre wear.
Restrain loose items: Whenever possible, stow articles in the luggage compartment. Perhaps consider, if driving a wagon, fitting a cargo barrier to avoid loose objects entering the cabin. Check load capacity in the owner's manual.
Mass distribution: Loading the vehicle changes the handling of the vehicle. After loading, be sure to take time to become familiar with the feel of the vehicle.
Warnings: Ensure there are no vehicle warning and reminder indicator lights on.
Towing: Check wiring, lights and towing hitch tyres and pressures (trailer tyre pressures should be higher than car tyres around 40PSI). Make sure caravans are loaded correctly, placing most weight forward of the trailer axle to ensure there is sufficient weight on the tow bar. This reduces sway.
On the road
Do not speed: Stay within the speed limits at all times.
Power naps: Try to avoid driving at times when you would normally be sleeping. If tired or fatigued pull over and sleep for 15 to 20 minutes.
Share the driving: If your passenger or passengers are licensed, share the drive. Change drivers at least every two hours.
Safe distance: Leave a minimum two second gap between your vehicle and the one in front. If towing, driving four-wheel-drive or if it's raining increase to a four-second gap.
Time: Accept that during the holiday period it may take a little longer to get to your destination.
Child occupant safety
Back seat: The back seat is the safest place for children of any age. Where possible install the child restraint in the centre rear position.
Child seats: Remember to use the child seat for all journeys, however short. A baby is not safe in your arms. Even in a minor crash, collision forces may tear the child from your grip. Where legally allowable, you may install a forward facing child seat in the front seat (without a side impact airbag), but always move the passenger seat as far back as possible.
Child restraints: Fit child restraints properly. Follow instructions and make sure the capsule or child seat is firmly fitted, with minimal sideways or forward movement on the car seat. Don't use a child restraint that's been in a crash. The protective structure could be invisibly damaged. Every trip, make sure that the child restraint harness is properly adjusted, checking that only the thickness of two fingers can be inserted between the harness and the child's chest.
Child safety: It's never safe to leave children in cars, particularly in summer when temperatures inside a closed car can quickly rise to more than 60C. Leaving windows open a little does not reduce the temperature enough.
Concentrate: Make sure you keep your child occupied on long journeys (with soft toys, music and stories). A bored child can distract the driver, fiddle with buckles and wriggle out of position.
Assistance: If you require assistance in the fitting of child restraints, contact your local state roads authority or auto club such as RACQ.
(Source: GM Holden and Murcotts Driving Excellence)