Automotive Inspection Checklist

How to Inspect Your Car Before a Long Trip

Taking a long road trip is without doubt one of the greatest ways to enjoy a break from work, but the fact is that long road trips are also the time when many latent faults or defects on cars make their appearance, which can ruin a long-planned holiday in a matter of minutes. To help avoid this happening to you, we have compiled a list of ten items that should be checked before you leave on your trip.

Check the Tyres

Check Tyres

Your life depends on your tyres, so before you leave on your trip, check the tyres for the following:

  • Check the tyre tread depth with a proper tread depth gauge, and replace tyres that are approaching the minimum depth. Severely worn tyres wear faster the more they wear down, so to avoid blow-outs, be safe, and err on the side of caution by replacing tyres that are not perfect.
  • Check tyre pressures when the tyres are cold, and ensure you have a pressure gauge with you to check tyre pressures while you are on your trip.
  • Check the entire circumference of each tyre for cuts, bulges, or spots of uneven wear, and do not forget to check the inside walls of the tyres for similar signs of damage as well.
  • Check the spare wheel for proper inflation, and overall condition. Inflate if necessary, or replace it if it is worn.
  • Have the balancing of the wheels checked before you leave to extend the life of your tires, but also to make driving long distances more comfortable.

Check the Cooling System

Check Cooling System

Most road side break downs occur because of defective cooling systems than for any other reason, so to avoid nasty surprises, check the following:

  • Have the condition of the coolant checked by a competent repair shop to determine the effectiveness of the anti-freeze component of the coolant. Most anti-freeze compounds remain active only for 12 months at most, which means that if you have not replaced the coolant in a while, the coolant you do have may not be providing adequate protection against overheating and corrosion.
  • Check the entire cooling system for signs of leaks, and repair all leaks before you leave. Being stranded a thousand miles from home because of engine overheating due to coolant loss is no laughing matter, so play it safe, and have all leaks repaired.
  • To be safe, have all radiator hoses replaced if they are older than about three years, because over time, they harden, and become more susceptible to rupturing.
  • Check the radiator for signs of damage, and replace it before you leave if you find any sign of impacts by stones or other road debris. Damaged radiators can start to leak at any moment, so do not rely on the fact that since it has not leaked before, it won’t start to leak on the trip.

Check All Drive Belts

Check Drive Belts

The only way to properly inspect drive belts is to remove them from the engine, but this is often a task best left to a repair shop because of the difficulty involved. If your drive belt(s) are more than about 18 months old, do not even bother checking them. The best thing to do is to have them replaced before you leave on your trip.

Most engines today have only one belt that drives all ancillary, which means that if it fails, you lose the power steering, the alternator stops working, but worse, the water pump stops working as well, which is the very last thing you want or need to happen at any time.

Check the Battery

Check Battery Voltage

If your battery is more than two years old, have its condition checked by a competent battery dealer. Check for the following:

Check the electrolyte level, and have it topped up to prevent damaging the plates.

  • Check the battery’s ability to accept and hold a charge. The last thing you want on your trip is for your battery to die in the middle of nowhere. Battery failures can happen without warning, so if there is the slightest doubt about the condition of your battery, replace it- doing so could save you lots of money in towing charges, or repairs to electrical systems that were damaged when the battery died.
  • Check the battery terminals, and have them replaced if they show evidence of corrosion by battery acid.

Check the Brakes

Check Brakes

While the brakes may work perfectly now, you cannot be absolutely certain that they will last until you return from your trip. Book an inspection at a reputable repair shop, and have them check the following:

  • Thickness of brake pads and brake linings. Pads should never be allowed to wear down below 25% of their original thickness, so replace them if they are approaching minimum thickness. The same goes for brake linings; worn pads and linings can over heat, which can cause brake fade, or worse, brake failure.
  • Check the system for brake fluid leaks, and especially the seals on rear wheel brake cylinders. Replace all dubious parts, since your life, and those of your passengers depend on the reliability of the brake system.
  • Check brake discs and drums for signs of excessive wear, cracking, fracturing, scoring, or discoloration as the result of overheating. Replace all brake parts that are less than perfect.

Check All Lights

Check All Lights

It goes without saying that all lights should be in perfect working condition, not only so that you can see where you are going, but also that other drives can see you at night or in conditions of low visibility. If you have HID or LED headlights, make sure the self-leveling and cleaning systems work to prevent blinding oncoming traffic.

Check the Exhaust System

Check Exhaust System

Exhaust gas is extremely toxic, so before you leave on your trip, have the exhaust system checked by a competent exhaust fitment centre to ensure there are no leaks that could allow exhaust gas to enter the passenger cabin. Also have all hangers, brackets, and attachment points checked to ensure the system will not come adrift over bumpy, or uneven rural roads.

Check the Transmission

Check Transmission

After engine overheating, automatic transmission problems cause more break downs than anything else. So before you leave on your trip, have the transmission serviced professionally, even if you are not currently experiencing problems.

Long trips are a severe test of automatic transmissions, especially if most of your driving is in the urban environment, where the transmission often does not work through its full range. The relatively small amount you spend on a transmission service now could save a fortune in towing, storage, and repair costs later on.

Check the Steering And Suspension Systems

Check Suspension

The only way to inspect steering ans suspension systems is to have the car put on a hoist, so it can be checked from underneath. So before you leave, book an inspection with a reputable repair shop, and have them check the following:

  • Check all attachment points to see there are no loose, or under tightened bolts and nuts.
  • Check all protective rubber boots for damage, and replace any components on which damaged rubber boots could have caused ingress of water, dust, and dirt, even if there is currently no excessive free play present. Free play will develop in time, and chances are it will happen during your trip.
  • Check all shock absorbers for correct operation, and that they do not leak oil. Your car’s handling depends on how well your shock absorbers work, so replace them if they are less than perfect.
  • Check the condition of all brake lines, and replace those that are not perfect- the last thing you want at any time is for the brakes to fail because a brake line ruptured.

Have Your Car Serviced

The best preventative measure you can take is to have a major service done on your car shortly before you leave on your trip. Doing this will ensure you have fresh oil in the engine, and that all the filters are new. During this service, also make sure that the brake fluid is replaced if you have not had it replaced during the previous two years.

Over time, brake fluid becomes contaminated with water, which has a serious effect on how well the brake system works. This also a good time to have the wheel bearings serviced or replaced if they are noisy, and do not forget to have the U-joints in the drive shaft lubricated or replaced if you have rear wheel drive vehicle.

Also have all door locks, hinges, catches, and latches lubricated and checked for correct operation, and check that all power windows work properly, and last but not least, have the wiper blades replaced, even if they seem to be fine.

Enjoy your trip!