6 Essential Car Checks to Make Before a Long Journey

The holidays are finally here and you’re packing the car for a long-awaited road trip, excited about the adventures ahead. But have you ensured your vehicle is prepared for the journey? Proper car maintenance is crucial to avoid any unexpected surprises or breakdowns during a trip.

We’ll cover basic car checks to make before a long car journey, from tyre safety and fluid levels to emergency preparedness and air conditioning, to keep you cruising smoothly and safely down the road.

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1. Tyre Safety: Pressure, Tread Depth, and Condition

One of the most crucial car checks to make before a long journey is tyre safety. Correct tyre pressure, tread depth, and overall condition are vital for avoiding accidents. Inadequate maintenance can lead to poor handling, reduced fuel efficiency, and even tyre blowouts, which can be disastrous at high speeds.

Tyre pressure check


The correct tyre pressure is essential for optimal braking, steering, and grip on the road. Modern cars have a tyre monitoring system to make this task easier, but it’s still advisable to regularly check pressures with a gauge.

The recommended tyre pressures for your car are in the vehicle handbook or on a panel inside the driver’s door. Don’t forget to check the pressure of your spare as well, as it can lose pressure over time, especially in extremely cold temperatures.

It’s essential to maintain the correct tyre pressure for several reasons. Underinflated tyres can cause excess heat to build up, leading to a blowout, while overinflated tyres can reduce grip on the road and result in uneven wear.

Checking your tyre pressure is easy and can be done at home or in a garage. If you’re using a tyre pressure gauge, apply gentle pressure when placing it on the valve to avoid damaging it. If you need to adjust the tyre pressure, most service stations provide air pumps equipped with pressure gauges. Remember to check your tyres when they’re cold, as driving can cause them to heat up and give inaccurate readings.

Tread depth

It’s essential to check your tread depth as adequate tread depth is necessary for sufficient grip and optimal fuel economy. The legal minimum tyre tread depth is 1.6mm, but most experts recommend a minimum of 3mm for safety reasons.

To measure treads, use a depth gauge or the 20p coin test. Insert the coin into the grooves and check if the outer edge is visible. If it is, this indicates that the tread depth is below 3mm and should be replaced. Check the tread depth on all your tyres, including the spare.

In addition to tyre pressure and tread depth, perform a visual inspection of your tyres. Check for cracks, bulges, or foreign objects embedded in the tread. If you notice any signs of damage, go to a garage for further assessment or replacement of the tyre.

Regular inspections ensure a safe and comfortable drive and improve fuel economy, and a longer tyre lifespan.

2. Fluid Levels: Engine Oil, Coolant, and Brake Fluid

​Another critical aspect of car maintenance before a long journey is checking fluid levels. Engine oil, coolant, and brake fluid play crucial roles in keeping your car running smoothly and preventing issues like overheating or braking problems.

  • Engine oil lubricates the internal components of your engine to reduce friction and minimise wear. Without it, the inevitable damage to the engine would significantly impair its performance.
  • Coolant helps regulate the cooling system's temperature, avoiding breakdowns during hot days or when idling in motorway traffic.
  • Brake fluid is responsible for transferring pressure from the brake pedal to the brakes, ensuring optimal braking performance.
Checking fluid levels on a car
Man looking at the engine of a car

​Engine oil

To keep your engine running efficiently and avoid potential damage, maintain the correct engine oil level. Checking the level is a simple task that can be done using a dipstick or, in some modern cars, through the car’s computer system that displays the oil level.

To check using a dipstick, park on a flat surface and turn the engine off. Locate the dipstick under the bonnet, pull it out, and wipe it clean. Reinsert the dipstick fully and pull it out again to read the oil level. If the level is low, top up with the type of oil specified in the vehicle’s manual.


Engine coolant prevents cars from overheating, especially during hot weather. To check the level, allow the engine to cool down, open the bonnet, and locate the radiator reservoir. The coolant level should be between the minimum and maximum lines on the side of the reservoir.

If the level is low, top it up with the specified coolant type. Remember to exercise caution when opening the radiator cap as the coolant may still be hot even if the engine has cooled down.

Man repairing a vehicle motor
Man in overall maintaining car

​Brake fluid

Brake fluid maintains optimal braking performance and should be checked regularly to ensure it's clean and the level is correct. To check, locate the reservoir (typically found on the master cylinder under the hood), carefully clean the top of the reservoir, then open the top and check the fluid.

If the level is low or the fluid appears dirty, top it up or change it with the appropriate type of brake fluid. Brake fluid has a high boiling point, and using the wrong type can lead to reduced braking performance.

​3. Lights and Visibility: Headlights, Brake Lights, and Windscreen Wiper

Check your headlights, brake lights, and windscreen wipers to ensure they’re in good working order. Inadequate lighting or poor visibility can lead to accidents or difficulties navigating in adverse weather conditions, so it’s crucial to address any issues before hitting the road.

The windshield wiper of a car

​Headlights and Brake Lights

Ensuring your headlights and brake lights are working correctly is vital for safe driving.

To check your headlights, turn them on and walk around the car to inspect them. Press the brakes while a helper stands behind the car to check whether the lights are working. Engage the reverse gear (with your foot on the clutch if it’s a manual transmission) to check the reversing light.

If any lights aren't working correctly, you may need to replace the bulbs which is usually easy, but if you need assistance, visit your local garage or dealership.

Remember to also check your fog lights, indicators, and internal cabin lights to ensure they’re functioning.

Windscreen Wipers and Washer Fluid

Properly functioning windscreen wipers and an adequate level of washer fluid maintain clear visibility. Check your wiper blades for wear by running your finger along the edge and looking for any splits or damage. Test how they operate and look for streaks or blank spots that may indicate it’s time to replace the blades.

To top up your windscreen washer fluid, locate the washer fluid reservoir and check the level. If it’s low, fill it up with the appropriate type of fluid. This will help to remove dirt and squashed insects from your windscreen, ensuring optimal visibility.

windscreen wipers being used when driving

​4. Emergency Preparedness: Spare Wheel, Tools, and Supplies

It’s essential to be prepared for unexpected situations. Carrying a spare wheel and essential tools and supplies can make all the difference when you’re stranded on the side of the road. By being prepared, you can minimize the impact of any unexpected events and get back on the road as quickly and safely as possible.

​Spare Wheel and Tools

Having a spare in your car allows you to handle punctures while you’re on the road. As discussed, inspect the spare wheel and check that the pressure matches that of the other tyres to guarantee a smooth and safe ride in case you need to use it.

Carry the necessary tools for changing a wheel, such as a working car jack and a locking wheel nut key, and make sure you know how to use them.

Man holding a spare tyre

​Emergency Supplies

It’s a good idea to carry a few essential supplies in your car such as a red warning triangle, spare clothes, snacks, water, and any other helpful items such as a first aid kit or a reflective vest. By packing these, you’ll be better prepared to handle unexpected situations, keep yourself and your passengers safe, and minimise the impact so you can resume your journey.

Car driving with focus on dashboard driving modes

5. Comfort and Efficiency: Air Conditioning and Driving Modes

Maintaining comfort during a long journey makes it an enjoyable, stress-free experience. Checking your air conditioning and adjusting driving modes can contribute to comfort and driving efficiency. By ensuring your car is optimised for a long journey, you can focus on enjoying the drive.

Air Conditioning

​Being stuck in traffic on a hot day without functioning air conditioning is unpleasant, so make sure it is working properly before setting off.

Not using the air conditioning system for an extended period can lead to faults developing. Regularly running the air conditioning, even on colder days, can help keep the system in good working order and ready for when you need it most.

​Driving Modes

Adjusting driving modes can help you optimise your car’s performance for fuel efficiency or comfort, depending on your needs. Driving modes typically include settings like Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Off-road/Winter, which alter the engine, brakes, and suspension to accommodate different driving requirements.

Driving modes can be adjusted either through the car’s infotainment system or via a dedicated button on the dashboard. By experimenting with different modes, you can find the perfect balance between comfort and efficiency.

Woman driving on the road
a car being maintained

6. Regular Maintenance and Servicing

Car maintenance doesn’t end with the checks discussed above. Regular maintenance and servicing are crucial for keeping your car in top condition.

Battery Health

Checking your car battery’s health regularly and replacing it every few years can save you from being stranded on the road with a dead battery. To assess the health of your battery, use a voltmeter. The voltage should read between 12.4V and 12.7V. If you notice any signs of a weakening battery, such as a slow start or difficulty unlocking the car with the key fob, it’s time to considerreplacing the battery.

Scheduled Servicing

Scheduling regular servicing for your car is essential for addressing any potential issues before they become major problems. Most cars require servicing every 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. During a service, a technician will inspect the car and ensure that essential components are in proper working condition. By keeping up with scheduled servicing, you ensure your car is running optimally.

Man in uniform repairing an engine


Taking the time to perform essential car checks before a long journey can save you from unexpected surprises and ensure a safe, comfortable, and enjoyable trip.

By focusing on tyre safety, fluid levels, lights and visibility, emergency preparedness, comfort and efficiency, and regular maintenance, you can hit the road with confidence knowing your car is in top condition. So, pack your bags, buckle up, and enjoy the journey!

If you’re on the lookout for a new car that will make those long journeys breeze by, browse our range of new Ford cars to find the perfect model for you.

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