Road trip van parked in forest trail

For road trippers, car checks are a vital part of ensuring your vehicle survives the trip. And yet they can often be the one bit of preparation that is forgotten. Eager to get on the road, many are quick to head out without looking under the hood. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from over five years of solo travel and vanlife, it’s to always be prepared. Travel is a learning curve and the best way to become a good traveller is to learn quickly from your mistakes. That means wising up when things go wrong and seeing what you could have done to prevent it.

We’ve all had our fair share of travel calamities and I’ve definitely had quite a few when it comes to road trips. But the most important thing is to keep your sense of humour when these things happen. Accept that things can always go wrong and you can only be so prepared. The more you can adapt and pick up skills you can use the next time you travel – the better. So because I know I’m just as guilty of doing this. I wanted to share this post on the simple car checks you can do before a road trip.



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Sunset over lake, road trip Western Australia

My worst road trip experiences:

That time the wheel fell off

Driving Australia’s West Coast with a group of travellers, from Perth to Darwin. It was no small road trip with over 4,000km to cover. My friend had taken her car for a service and check-up before the trip to ensure it was safe. But the garage must have forgotten to screw on one of the bolts for the wheel. We were driving along the highway when she noticed something was wrong. Then suddenly the wheel fell off and the whole car was lop-sided. Thankfully they had been pulling over to park at the time so no-one was hurt. But it could have been very dangerous, and it was expensive to get towed and fixed.

When the engine went up in smoke

An ex-boyfriend was driving up the West Coast to meet me in his van so we could drive the rest of the way together. But spookily, around the same area where the wheel fell off for my friend, his van suddenly broke down. He was stuck on the highway with the engine billowing black smoke. Now only did he have to get towed back to the town. But he ended up having to trade his van for a car! We still finished the road trip and loved that car.

The trip that stopped before it started

I planned a road trip across Bulgaria with some friends and we had just picked up the hire car, parking it on the street. We went to get a bite to eat and returned five minutes later to see our vehicle was clamped. Luckily the fine wasn’t too bad but we did end up wasting a lot of time.

Read: 15 reasons you should road trip across Bulgaria

Breaking down on the M25

This one was hilarious but a total pain in the arse. I had just spent a weekend in Brighton with an ex-boyfriend and we were on our way home. It was a hot day, and we had the top down in his convertible as we cruised down the M25. We couldn’t hear the noise at first but after a while we noticed the grinding, scraping sound of metal and we had to pull over. When I looked under the car, the entire exhaust had fallen down and was dragging under the car. It was a mess, a long wait for recovery, very expensive and still three hours from home on a bank holiday. Not ideal.

Western Australia road trip cars

So how can you prevent this from happening on your next road trip? Be smart, be organised and follow this checklist I’ve created. It features all the things you should check on your vehicle before any long journey. Spend a bit of time doing this before each trip. It could save you hours of standing by a windy motorway waiting for the AA man to show up after his Sunday roast.

Top car checks to perform before a road trip:

Get it checked

Car checks don’t all have to be done by you. Get a second opinion if you don’t know enough about cars. Schedule regular check-ups for your car or van. Make sure you get any concerns looked at. Don’t like the sound of that noise? Have it checked before you go.

Basic maintenance

Top up the fuel, the oil and even things like brake fluid and window washing liquid. Make sure your brake pads are still okay. Check the tyres have enough tread and if they need topping up.

Make sure your insurance is valid

You’d be amazed how many people are driving on the roads without insurance. So make sure you have a comprehensive insurance that covers you for all situations. This includes third party damage, and if you’re doing any off-roading or parking in unusual spots.

Switch it off

Don’t leave your lights on! This can run the battery down very quickly so be careful to check the inside lights when loading or unloading the car. If you leave the doors or windows open because of the heat then turn all lights off. Always make sure the engine is fully off and don’t let your battery run down.

Give your tyres the once over

Check the rubber for any bulges or tears, drive carefully and avoid broken glass. Also, make sure the tread is still within the legal requirement. If you’re planning on off-roading, be sure your tyres can handle it! Pack chains if you’re driving in the snow.

Don’t forget your emergency box

Always pack for emergencies. On long trips it is smart to pack a torch, first-aid kit, blanket and some basic tools. Plus water and extra snacks in case you get stuck somewhere. Whether you break down, crash or simply get stuck in a mega traffic jam, it’s always good to have supplies.

Choose reliable navigation

If you’re planning a long trip, it can be helpful to have a navigation system. Don’t just rely on your phone unless you’re sure you’ll have coverage everywhere. Garmin are good if you’re looking at getting a Sat-Nav. But it does help to keep a back-up map in the car in case of emergencies.

Don’t overpack the car

Extra weight of overpacking places extra strain on the vehicle and can use a lot more fuel. Pack smart and find ways to reduce the amount you take. If you’re road tripping long-term and have a roof rack full of stuff – arrange it carefully to be as streamlined as possible. Trust me, it makes a HUGE difference to how much fuel you consume.

Plan your journey before you go

Be smart about your travel times. Avoid hitting traffic or rush hour and you could save a lot of fuel and wasted time. Travelling late at night or early in the morning is great, open roads and not a soul in sight.

Most importantly, once all the checks are done. Relax and really enjoy every second of your trip! Make it the trip of a lifetime. Even if things do go wrong, it isn’t the end of the world. It just means another funny story to tell afterwards. The most important thing you can pack when things do go wrong is perspective. Take a deep breath, take care of it and then sit back until you’re on your way again.

What was your worst road trip experience? Can you think of any other important car checks before a road trip? What was the best road trip you ever did?