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10 essential checks before a long car journey

With the right preparation, long car journeys can be something to look forward to. Here’s our guide to making long trips as enjoyable and stress-free as possible.

Whether it’s to visit relatives, go on holiday or travel for work, a long car journey is something many of us do regularly. As with most things, preparation is the key to making sure that everything goes smoothly.

Here are our top 10 pre-journey checks to help you drive more safely, avoid unnecessary breakdowns and make that long trip a little bit easier and a lot more enjoyable.

1. Tyre pressures

The correct tyre pressure is essential to making sure that your car can brake, grip and steer properly. Even one over- or under-inflated tyre can have a big impact on how your car drives.

Many modern cars feature a tyre pressure monitoring system that alerts you if the pressure is  incorrect. If your car doesn’t have this, use a tyre pressure gauge (these are inexpensive and widely available) to check the level  before you set off on a long journey. You can find the right tyre pressure for your car in your handbook and usually on a panel just inside the driver’s door. Topping up with more air at your local garage is easy, with most pumps allowing you to set the required pressure first.

2. Windscreen wipers and screenwash

Driving with a dirty or smeared windscreen is frustrating and can also be dangerous. Check your windscreen wipers for wear and replace them if needed. Don’t forget to also make sure your screenwash is topped up sufficiently so you can keep your windscreen clean throughout the journey. Don’t forget that this can be as much of a problem in summer as in winter, as squashed bugs and pollen can make a real mess of your view.

Also look out for any chips or cracks in your windscreen. If you find one, you should get it fixed as soon as possible. Small, easily repaired flaws can grow rapidly into big problems if ignored.

3. Oil Level

Oil is absolutely vital in keeping your car’s engine running smoothly. Running out could cause costly damage and leave you stranded – which is the last thing you want when you’re a long way from home!

Traditionally, every car came with a dipstick to allow you to check the oil level  yourself. Many modern cars no longer have dipsticks, but instead use the car’s computer to monitor the oil level and display it on the dashboard. You should check your car’s handbook  to see if this is the case. If your car doesn’t automatically alert you when your oil is low, use a dipstick to check that it hasn’t gone below the minimum level and top it up before your drive. Be careful not to put in too much oil either, since that’s also not good for the engine.

4. Lights

Fully functioning lights are essential for safe travel, not just so you can  see clearly but also so that other road users can see you and know your intentions. Before a long journey is a good time to check your headlights, indicators and brake lights. 

You’ll need a helper for this since you can’t see any problems from inside the car. Have the helper stand at the front of the car while you turn on each of the lights in succession – main beam headlights, dipped beam and indicators. Then have them stand behind the car while you apply the brakes and select reverse gear (with your foot on the clutch if it’s a manual) to check the brake lights and reversing light. You might be able to replace any faulty bulbs yourself but it’s more likely to be a quick, low-cost job at a garage.

5. Engine coolant

Coolant keeps your car’s engine healthy by regulating the temperature of the cooling system. Many newer cars have a closed cooling system so do not need topping up. 

With older cars you may need to check the level yourself and top it up if necessary. You can see the fluid level in a reservoir in the engine bay. If it’s close to, or below, the marker for the minimum level, you’ll need to top it up.

6. Tyre tread depth

Worn tyres can seriously affect your car’s handling, braking and safety as a whole. Before a long journey, check that your tyre treads have a minimum depth of 1.6mm across the central three quarters using a measuring gauge. If your tread is between 1.6mm and 3mm, consider replacing your tyres before your trip. 

Every Cazoo car is checked to make sure its tyres have a minimum tread depth of 2.5mm across at least 80% of the tyres’ width. This is well above the legal limit of 1.6mm. You can read more about Cazoo car quality here.

7. Fuel level

Most people are keen to get on the road and make good progress, but filling up with a tank of fuel at or near the start of your journey could save you time (and reduce stress) later on. Knowing that you’ve got a full tank gives you peace of mind and could stop you having to drive around an unfamiliar location towards the end of your journey, desperately hunting for a fuel station.

If you have a plug-in hybrid or electric car, make sure it’s fully charged before setting off. Some also allow you to set a timer to pre-cool or pre-heat the car while it’s charging. It’s worth doing this because it reduces the amount of battery power you use once you start moving.

8. Emergency supplies

Pack anything that may be useful in an emergency if you were to break down. A red warning triangle is highly recommended in order to alert other drivers of your presence and it’s always worth keeping some spare clothes and snacks in the car in case you get stuck somewhere for a while. If you’re driving in Europe you may need to pack a few other items: For example, you are required by French law to have two warning triangles, a reflective jacket and a first aid kit in your car when driving in France.

9. Driving mode

Many newer cars offer a range of driving modes that allow you to change the engine, braking and sometimes even suspension settings to suit different needs. For a long journey, you might want to select an ‘eco’ driving mode to help you get more miles per gallon (or charge), for example, or a ‘comfort’ mode to make the trip as relaxing as possible.

10. Have your car serviced regularly

The best way to make sure your car is ready for a long journey is by having it regularly serviced. That way you know you’ve done everything you can to keep it running efficiently and safely. Many cars will remind you with a message on the dashboard when a service is due. If in doubt, check your car’s handbook or service record to see when its next service is due.

If you want to be sure that your car is in its best possible shape, you can have a safety check carried out on your car for free at a Cazoo Service Centre.  Cazoo Service Centres offer a full range of servicing, with a three-month or 3,000-mile warranty on any work we do. To request a booking, simply choose your nearest Cazoo Service Centre and enter your car registration number.

If you’re considering upgrading your car to get better fuel economy, a more enjoyable driving experience or a more comfortable ride on long journeys, use our search function to find one you love, buy it online and then have it delivered to your door or choose to collect it from your nearest Cazoo Customer Centre.

We're constantly updating and adding to our stock. If you can't find one within your budget today, check back soon to see what's available or set up a stock alert to be the first to know when we have any cars that match your needs.

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