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Person pouring anti freeze into car with snow in background

10 vehicle checks to make before a long journey

Getting your vehicle into tip-top shape is the best way to guarantee your journeys go according to plan whether you are heading to the coast, countryside, city or somewhere outside the UK.

During periods of inclement weather the RAC often sees an increase in breakdowns due to heat or cold.

In winter the most common cause of breakdowns is battery-related. In summer there are often breakdowns due to cooling-related faults, whether it is faulty cooling fans or a lack of coolant.


Before setting off for your long journey you should check:

1. Oil and coolant

Check oil and coolant levels using the instructions in the vehicle's handbook. It may well be worth getting the cooling system checked by a garage.

2. Battery

Battery problems are the reason for more RAC call-outs in winter than anything else. Car batteries need replacing every few years, according to usage so make sure you get yours checked at your car service. RAC has a guide about checking and maintaining your battery.

4. Wiper blades and screen wash

Check all wiper blades for wear or tear, check the windscreen washer fluid level and that washer jets are adjusted correctly and are not blocked. It is advisable to use screen wash additive as this helps to keep the windscreen free of dirt, particularly the winter road grime caused by road salting and gritting which can cause visibility issues. There is also the risk of a frozen windscreen which is another reason to ensure you use a proper anti-freeze screenwash.

5. Fan belt

Get the fan belt (also known as the auxiliary belt) checked regularly by your garage.

6. Lights

If you're driving to mainland Europe make sure all exterior lights comply with the legal requirements of the country or countries you are visiting. Visit RAC's Driving Abroad section.

7. Tyres

Check the condition of your vehicle's tyres, including the spare if you have one, for correct pressures and legal tread depth. The current minimum legal tread depth for cars and light commercial vehicles (up to 3500 kg gvw') is 1.6mm and you risk a fine of up to £2500 and three penalty points per tyre. Here's RAC's guide to checking your tyre tread depth, or watch this video.

8. Jack, wheel brace and spare wheel

Make sure you know whether your vehicle is equipped with a jack, wheel brace and spare wheel, especially as many new vehicles are now issued without a spare. If they do have them, ensure are in good working order. If locking wheel nuts are fitted, make sure you know where the locking key is. If you have a spare wheel it might be a good idea to practise changing it. Also, don't forget to check the pressure of the spare when you check the other tyre pressures on your car. If your vehicle doesn't have one, ensure you are familiar with the tyre repair kit in case you need it or, if that is daunting, make sure you have adequate breakdown cover.
9. Warning lights

Ensure all dashboard warning lights operate correctly. If not, consult your owner's handbook or call your local dealer.
10. Spare keys

It's advisable to keep a spare set of keys in a safe place (not in the vehicle) should you lose your main set or lock them in your vehicle.