Driving trip tips: Everything you need to know to prep your vehicle

The end of summer doesn’t mean the end of the hot weather and many Aussies are still booking their summer getaways and driving trips – because that’s what we Aussies do … We drive and we love it!

But there’s seriously nothing that sucks more than a flat on the side of the road on a scoring day, or being broken down in the middle of nowhere with green liquid spewing out of the radiator.

Nope, that’s not fun at all.

So let’s make sure that doesn’t happen to you on your next trip with these top tips from our experienced driving enthusiasts.

Before your driving trip

It might sound like overkill but it’s important to check your car before, during and after your driving trip, especially if you’re going off the beaten track.

Former Hema Maps Managing Director and Chief Explorer Rob Boegheim imparts some wisdom for those about to head off on a driving holiday.

He has an impressive 30+ years’ experience mapping the most remote tracks in Australia, so when it comes to common issues travellers face with their vehicles when on a trip, he knows a thing or two.

“Modern vehicles often can’t be repaired remotely so most breakdowns result in long distance towing and recovery costs and a disappointing end to your trip,” Rob said.

“And it’s just as important to prepare your trailer as it cops the same abuse as the car but you’re often unaware of it.

“Simple things like loose trailer storage latches or roof rack straps can result in lost or damaged belongings. Take what you need and don’t make decisions at the last minute or pack the night before as this can lead to excess weight and inefficient set up.”

Use our MotoFomo 7-point vehicle check as a starting guide

  1. Tyres: Check the tread and have them rotated and balanced if you need to. And if your vehicle needs new “shoes” there is no better time than before a trip.
  2. Engine bay: There’s a lot that goes on under the bonnet, so give it the once over. Check the oil, power steering fluid, radiator and even the windscreen wiper fluid. If your vehicle is due for a service, take it to your mechanic (well ahead of your trip) to make sure it’s fit for travel and what you plan to do on your trip.
  3. Indicators: Left, right, brakes, front and back. Make sure you have some spare fuses for your indicators and know how to change them.
  4. Lights: You may not be planning to do any night driving or maybe you love it and enjoy finding camp in darkness. Be sure to check your headlights, high beams and any other spotlights or bar lights front and rear that you’ve got set up. Not only will it make night driving easier, it will also keep you safer.
  5. Weight: Packing up for a trip is exciting, being pulled over by the police or damaging your car due to excess weight is certainly not. That’s why it’s important to know how much weight you are adding to your vehicle and how much it can handle.
  6. Safety: Generally, when you’re going on a driving trip you’ll be loaded up to the hilt. Whether you use all that gear you’ve got loaded on to and into your vehicle is another story. Make sure you can see out the back of your car, everything is strapped down, you’re not overweight and you’ve had a safety check by a professional.
  7. Insurance: Now is the perfect time to check your insurance and roadside assistance. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

That’s the words from M4C owner and 4WD enthusiast, Simon Ash, who built his first-four wheel drive when he was in his early 20s. He’s been working on fourbies ever since and offers this additional advice.

“We always recommend to people not to do any major works or servicing within 7-14 days of leaving for your trip. That means there is time to get things fixed and you can have peace of mind that there are no major mechanical issues,” he said.

“Remember to pack your spares and tools. You don’t have to take everything, just the things that you may need, such as bolts, nuts, hoses and belts, and know how to change those things.

“Before you leave, personally run your hands over all the hoses and belts to make sure everything is in good order. It’s important to know your vehicle.”

During your driving trip

During a trip is when the real trouble can start … and there are many issues that may arise: From overheating to flat tyres, to complete engine failure and busted axles.

“There are several common problems travellers face while on the road,” Rob said.

  • Rock damage to tyres, trailers, windscreens, underbody and trailer electricals.
  • Dirty fuel and air filters in modern diesel engines (translates to reduced performance and potential fuel pump or injector failure)
  • Broken or cracked chassis from overloading in rough terrain, especially when towing trailers
  • Battery failure due to extreme heat and corrugations
  • Trailer brake and suspension failure

“A general lack of experience and knowledge are what causes the issues for the most part,” Rob said. 

“Travellers need to know how to manage the terrain when there is constant vibration and heat stress from high-speed dirt, dust and corrugations of outback roads.

“Failure to reduce tyre pressure on rough roads significantly reduces tyre and suspension damage and the risk of punctures, while a lack of daily vehicle checks and a ’she’ll be right’ attitude waiting for catastrophic failure rather than addressing the issue immediately, are all things that cause most of the avoidable issues people on driving holidays have.”

After your driving trip

So you’re home from your driving trip and you’ve got memories and funny stories to last a lifetime … but now is the ideal time to check your vehicle – and probably give it a wash!

Whether you stuck to the bitumen or headed offroad, or if you’re on two wheels, four or towed a caravan, now is the time to get your vehicle checked over again so it’s ready for the next trip. Do the same for your caravan or camper.

Simon said once home, travellers should do the same checks on their vehicle, trailer and caravan as they did for the pre-trip.

“It’s important to check your vehicle, and trailer or van if you were towing, when you get home so your car is in good condition for your next trip,” he said.

He recommends these checks as a minimum:

  • Fix anything you had problems with on the road
  • Check the tyres, including your spare, as you may need new ones now after your trip
  • Check the battery and anything electrical
  • Make sure there’s nothing loose after travelling on corrugation
  • Run your hands over the whole car yourself
  • Get a service
  • Take it to a professional for once over

Other advice when preparing for a driving trip holiday

Finally, Rob’s been travelling for more than 30 years down some of Australia’s most remote and isolated offroad tracks. Here’s his final piece of advice for your next driving holiday.

  • Put your best/newest tyres on the back where they will carry the most load and are more prone to punctures
  • Carry a compressor and tyre repair kit
  • Prepare your trailer just as well as your vehicle
  • Ensure your roadside assistance is up to date and take on temporary extended cover, especially for extended towing and emergency accommodation
  • Check the inline fuel filter and always take spare fuel filters, and know how to check the water drain
  • Check your vehicle every time you stop – a simple walk around will pick up most issues early
  • Pack a scan gauge so you can call your mechanic or search for the issue online
  • Make sure you carry any special mag wheel nut adapters/sockets

Enjoy your trip and get home safely

Simon said preparing for a trip and doing these checks before, during and after your trip means enjoying your driving holiday or extended trip and travelling safely to your destination and home again.

“People get caught out on driving trips and doing these checks means you stay safe so you do enjoy it and maximise the experience without any regrets,” he said.

The great Australian road trip is a dream for many travellers. Have fun and enjoy it, just keep an eye on your vehicle during your trip so you can alleviate any disasters and stay safe on the roads.

Where are you driving to next? Tell us in the comments.

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A freelance content writer and author, coffee addict and adventure lover, Liz Campbell is an accomplished journalist with 20+ years’ experience writing on every topic imaginable. An avid traveller who’s been on and off the road for since 2019, Liz doesn’t mind getting behind the wheel … of a 4WD to tackle some (basic) tracks, a V8, offroad buggy, or an ATV (because, come on, they are seriously fun)!