All across the country, as the temperature rises, the eyes of Australians start looking further afield, outside of the cities and onto the open road.
The summer holidays are such a traditional time for a driving holiday that even our cars can probably sense its coming. As the heat ticks out of them at the end of another sweltering day’s commuting, perhaps they also dream of being parked by a beach soaking up a sea breeze for a week or two.
And yet, while many of us prepare ourselves for the warmer months with new swimmers, a review of our eating habits or increased visits to the gym, we too often forget to think about preparing our vehicles for what is often their biggest endurance test of the year.
That’s why, if you’re about to set off on a summer road trip, it’s a good time to give your car a once-over to make sure it’s as ready for the journey as you are.
Sustained driving time at 100km/h or more obviously runs your engine for longer at constant revs, and that means oil, coolant and other fluids need to be up to the job, and perhaps even more vital that your tyres are in good shape.
The best thing to do is to check when your next service is due, and if it’s even close you should book the car in for one to make sure it’s running at 100 per cent. Failing a service, there are some basic checks you can perform yourself before hitting the road.
Probably both the most important and most often overlooked part of our car’s wellbeing, and your safety, it’s important to remember that those four small patches of rubber that contact the road at any given time are what’s keeping you on the straight and narrow.
Tyre pressures are very important because your tyres can only perform at its optimum grip levels when it’s carrying the amount of air that its designers intended.
Check the tyre pressure placard fitted to your car, or your owner’s manual, and if you’re going to be loading up for the big trip be sure to look at the figure suggested for travelling with the maximum number of occupants.
Incorrect tyre pressures can lead to an unbalanced car and can also confuse your traction control and electronic stability program software, because they work by measuring the speed of wheel rotation, and wheels rotate differently at different pressures.
Tread is also obviously vital so be sure to check how much you’ve got, and if you’re even close to the wear markers, definitely get new ones before any long journey. And never scrimp on rubber; if it only saves you once a year, etc.
And finally, be sure to check your spare tyre as well, if you have one, because if it’s flat it’s not going to save you when you get one.
It’s another area that’s all too often overlooked, but remember that it can rain in summer, too, and if your wiper blades are smearing your windscreen now, they’ll be even less effective at highway speeds.
Changing your wipers isn’t the hardest job in the world, and you might be very thankful if you do encounter a storm.
Just as you and your family need to keep the fluids up in hot weather, your car needs to be topped up for a long journey, so now’s the time to check your oil, brake fluid and coolant levels (and even the bottle where your windscreen-spray comes from, while you’re at it).
If you’ve been needing to top any of these up regularly, now’s the time to go and get things checked, because a long trip will soon exacerbate any underlying problems with oil or coolant usage.
Clean it, properly, and not just the outside, because a clear field of view is vital, particularly at night. It’s amazing how rarely people go to the trouble of cleaning the inside of their windscreen and while it doesn’t get smashed by bugs as often as the outside, it can still become gritty and fogged up from day-to-day use, so give it a good wash.
Check all your lights and indicators to make sure they're functioning and be sure to go somewhere a bit darker one night to be sure that your high beams are still operating at full functionality. Most of the year you don’t even use them, but a late night journey will quickly make them feel vital, particularly because we all live in the land of kangaroos, and wallabies, and wombats and so on.
Most importantly of all, do look after yourself; don’t drive too far when you’re tired, because fatigue is one of our biggest killers, particularly for people who don’t drive long distances often.
Enjoy the journey, and the holiday, and have a safe and wonderful Christmas season.