• It's especially important to inspect your car before a long trip
  • Inspecting your car's tyres and oil could save you from an unexpected breakdown
  • You should always check you have the right breakdown cover for your journey 

We all dread the possibility of a breakdown, especially in an unfamiliar place. But this doesn't need to be the case if you maintain a safe and well-functioning car. No-one has time to take their car for a professional service before every trip, so some quick self-checks could mean you arrive safely at your destination with no nasty surprises on the way. Below are our top 5 car checks that you can do at home:

A person checking their tyre pressure with a gauge

1. Check your tyre pressure

Although we can be guilty of not monitoring our tyre pressure regularly (you should aim to check yours every two weeks) it's really important that your tyres are checked before you embark on your Bank Holiday journey. A packed car for a long distance will put a lot of extra pressure on your tyres.

Check your tyres when they are cold; your handbook will tell you what figures your tyre pressure should be set to. Remember to get this right or you may burn more fuel on your journey. You might want to add a little extra air if you are travelling on motorways for long periods of time.

Whilst checking the pressure, don't forget to inspect your tyre tread too, as this is vital for a safe journey, especially in wet conditions. Use the 20p test to make sure you are within the legal limits. Simply put a 20p piece into the main tread grooves of your tyre in three different places. If the outer band of the 20p is not visible, then you are within the legal limit; if you can see the outer band, this means your tyre could be unsafe (and illegal) and needs to be taken to a professional immediately. 

Don't hesitate to get a professional opinion before your journey; not doing so could end in three points on your licence and a large fine!

2. Fill up your water

Your car's engine coolant is a mix of antifreeze and water and the levels should be monitored to make sure the engine doesn't overheat, causing a breakdown at the roadside. 

You can check the coolant levels on the reservoir next to your radiator; refer to your handbook if you're ever in doubt where to find it. In most cars, this tank is translucent so you can make sure the coolant sits between the minimum and maximum guide. For your safety, only do this when the engine is cold and the car isn't running.

3. Inspect your windscreen

If you've already got a car load of kids watching their favourite shows on their iPads, the last thing you need is another distraction while you're driving. A chip in the windscreen can be extremely distracting so it's best to get this fixed as soon as you can; you could potentially save yourself from a small chip turning into something more serious and costly! As well as chips and cracks, check your windscreen wipers are functioning as normal; wipers streaking the windscreen or leaving water untouched could be a sign they need to be changed.

Screen wash is also very important and compulsory to pass your MOT test so get ahead by making sure yours is always topped up and working as it should. 

4. Test your Lights

Take time to inspect all of your lights, from brake lights to indicators, making sure they all work as they should. This should be done on a weekly basis; using reflections can help you or you may need help from someone else to watch for blown bulbs. Take this opportunity to give them a wipe with a damp cloth to get rid of any dirt. 

A person checking his oil level

5. Check your oil level

Without the right levels of oil, the engine’s lubrication could be severely reduced; risking damage to your car. Keep them checked (every fortnight) and topped up if needed. Remember not to overfill. To see your engine oil levels, remove the dipstick and wipe it clean with a cloth, insert it back in and pull it out again and check the levels are between the minimum and maximum marks. Only do this when the car's engine has gone cold. 

If your car is mainly used for short commutes, there could be sludge from old, used oil and topping up with fresh oil, without a proper oil change, will just mask the problem. This should be done during a service but if you are in any doubt, contact your local garage. 

Finally, don't forget the basics that can sometimes be overlooked. You are responsible for your passengers, so take care to make sure all belts are fitted correctly for a safe journey and don't rely on your warning light when your fuel is getting low – fill your car up before you set off. 

Although we can't always have a smooth journey, make sure you have the right breakdown cover so you have peace of mind that you can get back on the road quickly, whether that is 5 or 500 miles from home. We hope you have a safe journey this Bank Holiday weekend.