The summer holidays are beckoning, and with them brings the prospect of long car journeys, sharing the roads with millions of other drivers hell-bent on getting from A to B as quickly as possible and our vehicles themselves with children who think a good way to pass the time is another round of ‘Are we nearly there yet?’.
This year, with more people holidaying in the UK and fuel prices climbing inexorably higher, it’s set to be more expensive and more miserable than ever.
Veterans of these annual trials will have learned their own tricks to stay safe, sane and solvent on the roads. Here are five to get the rest of us started.
Before you pack the car, empty it. Unless you have too much time on your hands, it’s highly likely that your footwells and boot will be full of hidden treasures/junk. Either way, it doesn’t need to be there. It takes up valuable space, weighs the car down and contributes to the general sense of chaos associated with summer holiday driving. Give the car a once-over and a clean – you’ll thank yourself for it and you’ll improve your fuel efficiency too. If you have to store things on top of the car, a roof-box rather than a roof-rack will keep you nice and streamlined.
When it comes to packing, spend a little while making sure the things you’ll need – or might need – are accessible. Otherwise you’re only going to have to unpack and repack again in the middle of a journey, and possibly on the hard shoulder (that spare wheel you’ve never needed, and is now hidden under an untidy pile of bags and boxes…). Keep snacks, drinks, games (for the children), blankets and so on where you can reach them. Again, you’ll thank yourself for it when a request for a biscuit or favourite teddy doesn’t entail a fifteen-minute interlude at the side of the motorway.
That’s you and the car. Although you’ll probably want to limit your fluid intake while driving for obvious reasons, dehydration is uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst – it compounds tiredness and saps concentration. Keep a bottle of water or your favourite soft drink to hand. If you’re driving at night or for long distances, stock up on energy drinks to give you a boost. If you’re tired, stop at the nearest services: it’s not worth pushing on. Grab a coffee, a blast of fresh air, a half-hour nap, or all of the above – whatever’s going to get you to your destination safely.
For the car, you’ve got four fluids to keep topped up. Check oil, coolant and windscreen fluid before you go. If you’re on a long journey and will need several tanks of fuel, it can be worth doing some research before you leave to target the cheapest petrol stations.
3. Check the tyres
Always make sure your tyres are in decent condition and pumped up to the right level before a long journey. Good tread and correct pressure improve the car’s handling (and therefore safety) and fuel efficiency. And you can find yourself on the wrong end of a very hefty fine if you’re stopped with worn tyres.
Bear in mind that the tyres on a fully loaded car will need to be at different pressures than under normal circumstances. If you’ve checked them recently, don’t assume that they’ll be ok. There should be a note with the right pressures for front and back tyres somewhere obvious – often by the petrol cap or at the base of the driver’s seat, inside the door.
4. Keeping cool
A hot car is an uncomfortable car. Hot children are miserable children. Hot drivers are grumpy drivers. You get the general idea. On the off-chance the sun deigns to shine, be prepared. Have a windscreen shade ready so you’re not stepping into a sauna after a break. Remember that opening the windows will make a big difference to your fuel efficiency, especially at high speed. And don’t put the air conditioning on if the windows are open – you’re just cooling the entire outside world, and that’s also bad for fuel consumption. Once the car has cooled down, try turning the air-con off – you may not need to have it running continuously. Buy stick-on mesh screens for the back windows, to filter out the sun and stop the children getting burned. (Up front, you’ll need to rely on sunscreen.)
5. Be nice
Lastly, spare a thought for all the other people in the same position as you. Keep that two-second gap from the car in front. Indicate before you pull out, not when you’re already halfway there. And please, stay out of the middle lane unless you’re overtaking. Pay it forward: if you act nice to other people, they’re more likely to act nice to others too. Spread the love. We’re all in this together, after all.
Many thanks to www.BreakerLink.com who suggested these tips.