December is almost upon us, which means in a few weeks many of us will be road-tripping to our favourite holiday destinations. Going on a road trip with the family should be a fun adventure enjoyed by everyone and with a little preparation before you leave home it certainly can be.

Do not wait until the last minute to make sure your car is in road-ready condition, do it a week or two before you plan to leave. That way you will be more relaxed when you do it, and less likely to forget things, or skip things in your rush to be ready. Additionally, if any parts need replacing, you still have enough time to order them on Start My Car and take your vehicle in to your mechanic to have them fitted.

If your car is due for a service, now is the time to book it in. Besides for the obvious benefits of regular servicing, there's nothing worse than sitting on the side of the road with a carload of bored kids and a furious wife, waiting for the roadside assistance guy to arrive, to ruin your holiday.

Even if your car is not due for a service, here a few things I like to check before embarking on a long road trip.


Inspect These Components


Belts and Hoses

Engine belts and hoses are critical components when it comes to keeping your car’s electrical, power steering and cooling systems functioning properly. Have them inspected to determine if any are frayed or cracked. Belts should also be taut, so be sure to verify that they are secure and do not have a large amount of slack. Make sure to have your hoses checked for any leaks or drips.

Do not forget to check your owner’s manual for recommended belt and hose service intervals.


Fluids and Filters

Check the levels of your car’s many fluids. These include the engine oil, coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid and windshield washer fluid. If any of them are low, top them off before hitting the road.

If your car is close to needing its next oil change, it may be worth having it done before your trip. You should also check your vehicle’s engine coolant (also known as antifreeze) tank to confirm it is filled to the car manufacturer’s recommended level. However, keep in mind that even if it’s filled to the proper level, you may still need to have the coolant flushed and replaced if there are floating particles in it or if the fluid is clear. Coolant can also become acidic over time so you may want to have your coolant tank checked for any corrosion. This could cause damage to other parts of the vehicle, such as the radiator or hoses.

Lastly, the engine air filter, which collects dust and debris to prevent them from making their way to the car engine, should be changed out if it’s dirty or clogged with debris. Otherwise, the dirty filter may affect your car’s acceleration performance.


Lights and Windscreen Wipers

Make sure that all interior and exterior lights on your car are working properly and replace burned-out bulbs, as necessary. When you are doing your pre-trip checks be sure to check the operation of your lights; that is the headlights on high and low beam, taillights, brake lights, and front, rear, and side repeater turn indicators. Replace any globe that is not working.

If your windshield wipers aren’t efficiently removing water from the windshield or leave streaks, it may be time for a replacement. Do not forget to check your car’s hooter and air conditioning system, too. If the air conditioner is not blowing as cold as it used to, you may want to have it serviced by a mechanic, especially if you are travelling through the hotter parts of the country (Think Karoo or Northern Kruger in mid-December). It is a good idea to also change the cabin air filter or pollen filter.



Squealing noises coming from your car’s brakes may indicate worn brake pads.  If your car’s brakes are making this sound, or any other odd noises, be sure to have them professionally inspected before you hit the road. If your brake pedal feels spongy when you press it, that may indicate the brake fluid is low. Do not forget to verify the level of this fluid while checking the others, and top it off, if needed.



Tyre inflation may affect your car’s fuel economy. Check the tyre pressure before departing for your trip, preferably while the tyres are cold to ensure they are properly inflated. Do not forget to check the pressure on your car’s spare tyre, too.

While you are at it, you may want to check on the condition of the tyre tread. If you notice uneven wear on all of the tyres, that may mean it’s time for a tyre rotation or alignment before your trip. Your local mechanic or tyre retailer should be able to help with an inspection and recommend corrective action, if needed.

Taking steps to help ensure your vehicle is in good condition prior to a road trip may help you avoid spending your vacation in a repair shop. Remember, if you are uncomfortable inspecting your vehicle or are not sure if something is wrong, consult a professional for help.



What should I carry in my car?

While there are service stations at regular intervals along all the major routes, if you are travelling on more rural roads, or if you simply a “rather-be-safe-then-sorry” kind of guy like me, these are a few items I like keeping in my car for peace of mind.


Spare oil.

Even just a 1L bottle of your manufacturers’ specified grade of oil should be carried. Check your engine's oil every day or so while you are travelling and top it up if needed.


Summer Coolant.

Travelling in the peak of summer with the whole family and baggage on board means your engine is hotter than usual, and the coolant must work harder. Have a spare bottle of premixed anti-freeze/summer coolant and top up the cooling system if needed. Remember to do it first thing in the morning before you start up, and don’t do it when the engine is hot.


Brake and Clutch Fluid.

It is always prescient to keep an extra bottle of brake fluid in your vehicle, so you can top up the brake and clutch reservoirs when necessary.

The brakes’ function in part as a hydraulic system so the condition of the brake fluid heavily influences how they work. The brake fluid is what removes you from the equation of having to exert heavy force when stopping, and instead it allows you to be able to stop a moving car with just a little pressure with your foot.


Windscreen Washer Fluid

Windscreens get smeared with road grime and dirt on a trip, and we use our windscreen washers more often to clean them. Have a bottle of windscreen washer fluid handy. Visibility is critical to safety.


Cloths & Towels

Take a cloth or paper towels to be able to check your oil without getting your clothes dirty, and to clean your windows.


Radiator Cap

I always advocate keeping a spare radiator cap in your vehicle. The humble radiator cap is a critical part of your cooling system. It is an inexpensive part and well worth having spare one on tap. I will never forget seeing a single mom and two young kids stranded on the side of N3, with white smoke billowing out the engine of her Citroen Picasso. While I never ascertained the exact cause, it could easily have been bad seals on the radiator cap.


Spare Fuses & Globes

These are two other components which have become furniture inside of my cubby-hole. I have had trailer globes burn out on me before and fuses blow. It’s always worth having a spare set in your car.


Emergency Kit

An emergency kit is a must have in every vehicle. The Start My Car 24 piece emergency kit 24 piece auto safety kit comes in a carry bag fitted with reflective tape to use as a warning triangle and includes a booster cable, long nose pliers, LED torch, bungee cord, bit driver & 10 bits, electrical tape, tyre pressure Gauge, triangle bag, gloves and cable ties.


Car Fire & Tyre Emergency Kit

Another kit which is an absolute no-brainer. This kit includes a 1Kg fire hydrant, and bottle of Tyre Jack puncture repair foam as well as a complete tyre repair kit should you need to plug a larger hole.


Stay Connected & Entertained

A long trip seems much shorter when all the passengers are entertained. USB and 12V power sockets are a must to keep cell phones and tablets charged. A good cellphone holder is essential if you are using your phone as a GPS. In terms of comfort,  a UV window shade and drink holders go a long away.



Lastly Be Safe Out There



Pay more attention to pre-trip planning. Plan your trip beforehand and research the condition of various roads and dangers such as potholes or free roaming livestock. If you are pulling a boat for example, enquire about the roads to avoid any potential height obstructions such as bridges or tunnels.

Consider weather conditions and be especially careful when driving in fog, rain or on bumpy roads. Allow extra driving time to get to your destination.



Carefully pack the luggage and whatever it is you are carrying so it cannot move around. Loose items become dangerous flying weapons of destruction in a crash, so everything needs to be safely stowed and restrained. Pack luggage in the boot rather than in the cabin, that way it will not be a hazard in a crash. Have a look at our rubber bootmats on sale this week

If you drive a wagon or a hatchback that does not have a boot, secure the luggage with a net.

Refer to your owner's manual to find out the maximum weight of the car when fully loaded with passengers and luggage.



As mentioned, your car will be significantly heavier when you are travelling with the whole family and luggage onboard. It will behave differently to what you are used to when you drive it alone or empty. Acceleration, Braking and Cornering will all be affected by the extra mass. Bear the following in mind:

  • The heavier your vehicle, the longer it will take you to stop.

  • Slow down well before entering corners and curves

  • Allow extra room and take turns wider than normal.

  • Your acceleration is a lot slower than you are used to. Only overtake when you are certain there are sufficient space and time to do so.


Stay safe and have a great holiday!