Very few things in life are as liberating as driving and there’s nothing quite like a driving holiday. And there has never been a better time for one. Thanks to the pandemic-induced lockdown and safety concerns about the virus, an emerging travel trend has been that of self-driving holidays and road trips. Travelers are still reluctant to fly, and rail and bus services have not been resumed entirely yet, so driving yourself is the one option everyone is left with.
A driving holiday is only fun till the time your car decides to give up on you and bring your journey to a grinding halt, often even without a fair warning. In all the excitement of hitting the road, we often tend to neglect our car’s health. But we must not forget that they too are machines and any machine can sometimes go wrong. That, however, should not keep you from hitting the outdoors in your car. All you need is a little bit of planning and you’ll be more than good to go.
Here’s your check-list for getting your car ready before setting off on that much-awaited trip in this post-COVID world.
Sanitise Your Car
First things first. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces is one of the most reliable ways to prevent the spreading of the novel coronavirus. Your car too has many surfaces which must be sanitised before, during and after the trip. Make sure to clean the steering wheel, shift lever, door handles, and music system buttons or touch screen, Auxillary cable, turn signal stalks, and door armrests, grab handles and seat adjusters.
You can use the same disinfectants that you’ve been using to clean surfaces at home for the last few months. Even basic soap and water would do. However, alcohol solutions, especially isopropyl alcohol is the most effective to clean the interiors of your vehicle thoroughly. You must also keep a surface cleanser or the usual hand sanitiser in a dispenser for on-the-go cleaning. After returning from the trip, you must get your car professionally sanitised at a garage or car wash.
Now let me tell you the basics, which you must always follow before a long driving holiday. Pandemic or no pandemic.
Check Your Papers
Keep a folder of necessary and, most importantly, updated documents. We are talking about your driver’s licence, car registration and insurance papers, and pollution check certificates. It’s advisable to keep a set of photocopies in your luggage. If you’ve hired a driver, ensure he has an authentic DL and driving permit. Some places in India require an Inner Line Permit too. Make sure you have those in place as well to avoid ending up in a soup.
Don’t wait for the last day to get your car serviced and do the needful at least a week before you leave even if your routine servicing is not due. Avoid getting a lube and filter change if your car has not travelled more than its recommended oil-change period. You must also get an under body wash and get things like wheel alignment, suspension, brakes, steering, lights, batteries, starters, fan belts, AC, wipers and coolant properly checked.
Engine Efficiency is Important
Do keep your car company’s helpline number handy so that they can come to your rescue and also help you locate the nearest dealer. Here’s why. The multi-point fuel injection of the engine of your car is usually reliable and efficient but at the same time, it’s also a bundle of microchips and sensors that can’t be fixed by a hammer or a screwdriver. It has to be repaired by a trained mechanic using special diagnostic tools. If your battery or starter fails, it’s difficult to push and start unless the engine is warm.
Don’t Take the Lights for Granted
You simply can’t afford to have faulty headlights because you may be driving at night or traversing through foggy roads. Recheck the headlights at night a couple of days in advance and ensure that the left beam points straight ahead while the right beam points a little lower and to the left, so as to not blind oncoming traffic. Most modern cars have a small wheel on the dashboard to adjust the beam’s height. Learn to use this because when your car is not carrying much weight, the rear sits higher while the headlight beam becomes low. It becomes high when the car is heavy.
Horn OK Please!
Check your horn and the distance its sound travels. On our roads, the horn is a necessity and though you don’t need to overuse it, it needs to be sharp and loud.
The Sum of Your Parts
Check for squeaky doors, bonnet and bumper and see that they are not rattling either. While this may not ground the car, it for sure is annoying and distracting. Also make sure that the car’s suspension is in good shape by driving on a few rough patches before the trip begins. This small exercise will tell you if it needs working on, and whether your car would be able to handle the sudden bumps the road will offer. If your trip requires you to drive on broken roads or dirt tracks, getting a sump and fuel tank guard fitted under your car comes highly recommended.
Put Your Best Tyre Forward
Punctures are the most frequent problem on any journey, so put your best tyres on the front wheels, which take the most punishment from cornering, braking and acceleration. Most new cars have tubeless tyres and these are usually better because they are smoother and less prone to punctures.
Air may slowly leak out but they will seldom collapse, as with a tubed tyre. Most puncture repair shops can now fix punctures on tubeless tyres but you should carry an extra tube as all roadside mechanics may not be equally competent. Small, tubeless tyre repair kits are now available at most tyre shops.
Correct Tyre Pressure for Happy Motoring
If your tyres are overinflated, they will tend to skid while cornering. Underinflation, on the other hand, often results in higher fuel consumption. Refer your car manual for the recommended air pressures for light and heavy loads. The air gauges at some fuel pumps are not accurate. If you’re doubtful about the accuracy of an air-gauge check, go by the pressure of any tyre that looks alright and match the others accordingly. Remember that new tubeless radial tyres are supposed to look slightly flat when the car is standing still, though they make a perfect circle when the car is moving. And check the air in the spare tyre (or as we Indians like to call it, the ‘stepney’) too.
Polish Your Toolkit
If you frequently undertake driving holidays, you must already be aware of the process of changing tyres. For that, you’d obviously need tools. Check that your jack and wheelspanner are working and keep screwdrivers, spanners and pliers handy. Carry a large plastic bottle of water, a plastic sheet and a few pieces of cloth. These come in useful if you have to repair or tighten any other parts. Add a jerry can for petrol and a slim, plastic pipe to transfer the fuel, just in case.
That's done and dusted. Here's to a great driving holiday.
Drive carefully and stay safe. And do remember to sanitise yourself and your vehicle every now and then.
With an Engineers degree in Advanced Database Management and Information Security, Sandesh brings the deep understanding of the digital world to the table. His articles reflect the challenges and the complexities that come along with every disruption in the industry. He carries over six years of experience on working with websites and ensuring that the right article reaches the right reader.