Holiday Road Trip – But Are You Ready and Your Car Ready?
It’s the holiday season and recently the stay at home holiday or holiday in the UK has risen in popularity as difficult times mean that many of us can’t lash out huge sums on exotic foreign holidays. It also means that for millions of us that we are possibly going to embark on the longest journeys we ever do in our cars.
Just loading your luggage in the back, jumping in the driving seat and setting off is not going to be the right start to your holiday as you need to think it out and plan ahead to ensure your holiday doesn’t turn into a nightmare. With that in mind, we thought we might take this opportunity to make some suggestions to help you and your family get where you are going, have a great time and arrive back home safely.
There are two parts to this, the first and most obvious is the car you are going to use for the trip and secondly, the other really important part is you, the driver……
We take a look at what you need to do and what you need to check as you plan your journey and offer you some suggestions that will hopefully ensure you will have a happy and safe time away and arrive back home without any horror stories to tell your friends & neighbours.
Looking at your car first, it needs to be both safe and reliable and if you have any doubts about that, you really must get it checked over before you go. We spoke to a number of car dealers locally to find what they offer so that you’ve got some peace of mind.
Our local Ford dealer offers a “free” 20 point “health check” where they do a visual inspection of pretty much all the important things such as tyres, lights, electrics, oil levels, anti-freeze levels, brakes, wipers, washers, exhaust system, clutch, steering & suspension and they look for leaks or any other potential problems and lets face it, this is a pretty good offer, as you would only be asked to pay for any work that you agree needs doing and other than that its completely free.
Other dealers we spoke with do “summer holiday” checks which vary in price between £10 – £30 and as well as the inspection and tests they carry out, includes topping up oil levels, water levels washer levels etc. Particularly ask them to check the cars clutch if you are going to be pulling a caravan or trailer.
Clearly, if your car is close to needing its next service, it makes sense to get it done early, so you know everything is OK. Don’t forget, if something goes wrong when you are away from home, or if you find yourself broken down by the side of the motorway, its going to cost you stacks more than it would have done back at home and of course at home you can arrange it at your own convenience, rather than being forced to wait for hours with your family beside the road somewhere until a break-down service arrives, finds he cant fix your car and ends up towing you to a garage.
Fact is to ignore this is a false economy, and if work needs doing, well it needs doing…..simples!
If you are capable, of course, you can do these checks yourself, but with free deals or perhaps just a small cost, you can get the experts to check it over and it might just be the best few quid you ever spent.
It would be prudent to join a breakdown service such as the AA, or RAC, because they will take care of you should the worst happen and if your trip is into Europe, you need to ensure you’ve got cover for that as well and of course, some arrangements to repatriate your car back to the UK in the event of a non-repairable breakdown.
Don’t forget, in Europe, the rules are different and you have to carry certain things by law, such as a red warning triangle, spare bulb kits and first aid kits and of course, your headlamps must be adjusted because you will be driving on the other side of the road. Rules vary country to country and you should go on-line and check out what applies in any countries you will be passing through
One often forgotten tip:- Make sure you know where your locking wheel nut is and that your cars jack works and if your car doesn’t have a spare wheel, make sure your tyre inflation device is working.
If you are towing a caravan, you need to take special care, as often, caravans sit around for months on end without being moved, so check that the tyres are in good condition and have no cracking. Check that the brakes actually work and as long distance towing can cause the brake fluid to get hot, or even boil, it might be a good idea to have the brake fluid changed prior to your journey.
It might seem obvious but check all the lights work on the back of the caravan and ideally, take some spare bulbs with you.
This isn’t all hog-wash, as you see cars broken down all the time by the side of the road and that’s what you’ve got to avoid at all costs, because if your car does go wrong, at the very least its going to spoil your holiday, at worst it can cost you thousands to get your car fixed.
Loading Your Car
Don’t think because you might only be in the car for a few hours, that bunging everything in as best as you can will do as this absolutely wrong and if you are involved in an accident, can cause the death of you, or your passengers.
Just think on this, a laptop, or even one of the kids toys could be responsible for killing you, as at just 30mph, they could catapult forward from the back of the car, hitting the front seat passengers at a weight equivalent to around 50 times there actual weight and of course, the faster you are travelling, the harder these things are going to hit you.
Plan the way you are loading your car, with the heaviest items in the boot. Keep heavy stuff as low down as possible and ideally, close to the back of the seats and if you have an estate car, try and fit some kind of dog guard, or protection net between the boot and the passenger compartment so that nothing is going to enter the front of the car in an accident, or under very heavy braking,
If you have a roof rack, or roof box, putting heavy stuff into the box might not be the best idea, as it could change the cars centre of gravity which increases your chances of the car rolling over in an accident. The other thing to remember is that a top heavy car will adversely affect the vehicles handling and of course braking performance will be reduced and stopping distances will be longer, because of the heavier weight of the vehicle.
If you are carrying bicycles in a bike rack on the back of your car, make sure they don’t unduly stick out past the sides of your car as it’s easy to forget if they do and can make overtaking to say the least “interesting”.
So you are happy with your car, what about where you are going? Have you checked it out? If you have satellite navigation well this is all made so much easier as you can simply pop the post code or address into the sat-nav and follow its instructions. Well maybe, but maybe not. Sat Nav systems take you the way they calculate is best for you, but in fact, its not always the best and whilst they try to offer you things like “quickest route” or “shortest route”, there is no substitute for a bit of local knowledge. For example, we often make a 400 mile trip to Cornwall and we have tried all the logical routes and made the trip using sat-nav several times, however we know use a route that’s longer in miles, but its almost 2 hours less in time and certainly not one that’s been suggested by any sat-nav we have tried.
So ask around, see if any of your friends of colleagues has made the trip. Take a look at Google maps or some other similar program so you can visually see the route you intend to be driving on. Perhaps go into the RAC Route Planner and play with the alternatives. Preparing your route is paramount. Even if you don’t have sat-nav, things like the RAC Route Planner will allow you (free of charge) to print off very detailed turn-by-turn guide that will get you there as well as any sat-nav and because they are dedicated to your journey, they are really easy to follow and far less complicated than any road atlas and as a bonus, your passengers might enjoy following the trip and knowing exactly where you are for most of the journey.
Decide on the time you are going to leave for your trip. OK, it might not always be possible to pick your own time, but if you can, it can also save you time and stress as it puts you on the road at the time when there is the least traffic around. Not only is it less stressful, it’s safer as more accidents happen at peak times on busy roads.
Clearly driving at night means there is less traffic around, so you can make much better progress. However if you are going to do that, it cant be a snap decision as its going to disrupt your normal sleep pattern if you are batting down the M4 at a time when for 364 days of the year, you are normally asleep, chances are, your body is still going to want to go to sleep. So, driving through the night means you simply must get some ‘proper’ sleep in before you leave and its also an idea in the nights before you go, to get to bed a little earlier so that you are not tired.
Remember, in our minds, its dark, it’s the middle of the night, you are sitting in a warm comfortable seat, with little ventilation and that’s the perfect conditions for the sand-man to tap you on the shoulder and make your eyes begin to close and you need to avoid that at all costs, so keep the vehicle well ventilated, drink plenty of fluids and if you feel even the slightest bit tired, pull over and grab a few minutes sleep.
Take plenty of provisions with you for the journey such as sweets, drinks and perhaps even an energy drink, as all these will help you stay focused.
If you are towing a caravan the journey is obviously going to take longer and if it’s your first caravan trip, load your caravan onto the back of your car and drive it around a bit, so that you can get used to towing. Also, when planning your route, try and make sure your destination is caravan friendly, and avoid as many small or minor roads as you can.
In closing, you have to plan for the unexpected and put as many safeguards in place as possible. Just because some company car drivers are able to do 100’s of miles everyday and never have problems, it doesn’t mean you wont, particularly if a long journey is not something you undertake regularly.
Have a safe trip and a great time and we hope our advice was of use to you, or at the very least, gave you food for thought.