Although you can’t totally rule out mechanical trouble with your car, you can minimise the chances.

Getting it serviced by the book and before any big trip should be considered mandatory, but if you want to drive down those odds you should embark on a pre-drive check of your car’s key hotspots.

You don’t need to be a mechanical genius or spend hours under a bonnet. You just need your owner’s manual (either physical or, if applicable, online) for information on crucial locations, processes and specifications, and access to common automotive consumables.

We nominate the most important things to check on your vehicle before heading off for a long drive.

1. Engine oil

Checking this is simply a matter of locating a dipstick, removing it, cleaning it, then reinserting, removing again and ensuring the level is around ‘full’. If it’s not, unscrew the oil-filler cap and add oil using a funnel. Park on level ground while checking and, when adding, let the oil settle a while before rechecking.

Time: 5 minutes
Cost: A 1L container of engine oil typically costs between $15-$30

2. Coolant

Most cars have a clearly marked coolant reservoir that allows a quick visual check of the fluid level. If a top-up is required, carefully unscrew the coolant-filler cap and pour in pre-mixed coolant fluid or a 50/50 mix of coolant fluid and water. A hot cooling system is extremely dangerous, so only perform the check/fill process on a completely cold engine.

Time: 5 minutes
Cost: A 1L bottle of pre-mixed coolant typically costs between $10-$20

3. Battery

Look for white corrosion deposits or other gunk on the battery terminals and check the leads are secure. Fixing the latter is easy – you can just tighten them with a spanner. If the terminals are a mess, disconnect and remove the battery, then clean them with a wire brush and solution of warm water and baking soda before drying, refitting and retightening everything carefully.

Time: 5-15 minutes
Cost: If you’ve got spanners, a wire brush and some baking soda, nothing

4. Brake fluid

Another case of locating the right marked reservoir and ensuring the fluid is around ‘full’. If it’s not, unscrew the cap and top up. Brake fluid is prone to contamination, so always use new fluid and ensure the area around the reservoir cap is clean before opening/filling.

Time: 5 minutes
Cost: A 500mL bottle of brake fluid costs between $10-$20

5. Lights

This is easier with two people – one working lights, one checking – but can be done alone if you get out to check or use reflective surfaces. While you’re there, don’t forget to check your vehicle’s high beams are working properly. By and large, automotive globes are as simple to replace as a home globe, but access can be tricky.

Time: 5-10 minutes
Cost: Traditional replacement exterior globes cost about $15 for a 10-pack. Headlight globes typically cost more, as do LEDs and high-intensity discharge (HID) replacements

6. Clutch fluid

Confirming your manual vehicle’s clutch system has enough fluid to do the job is another simple visual check of the relevant marked reservoir and topping up as needed. You’ll use brake fluid for the job, so the same rules of care apply.

Time: 5 minutes
Cost: A 500mL bottle of brake fluid costs between $10-$20

7. Automatic-transmission fluid

Newer cars tend to have sealed-for-life autos, so you might be able to strike this from the list. If not, it’s a case of simply locating the transmission-fluid dipstick, removing, cleaning, then reinserting, removing and checking the level. Some cars have complexities involving engine temperature, refilling and other aspects, so you should check the owner’s manual carefully.

Time: 5-10 minutes
Cost: A 1L container of auto-transmission fluid costs between $10-$20

8. Power-steering fluid

This is another case of locating and checking a marked reservoir, but for this one you might need the engine running or at operating temperature. If your car has modern electric power steering, meanwhile, no checking is required, so your owner’s manual should be your first port of call.

Time: 5-10 minutes
Cost: A 500mL container of power-steering fluid costs between $10-$15

9. Windscreen-washer fluid

If this under-the-bonnet reservoir runs dry, you could potentially have your view of the road ahead obstructed, so check and top up as needed. Don’t use just water – automotive windscreen-washer concentrates are specifically formulated to cut through road grime and bugs.

Time: 5 minutes
Cost: A 1L bottle of windscreen-washer concentrate costs about $15

10. Tyres

If you don’t have an air compressor and tyre-pressure gauge, you’ll need to visit your local service station, so do this last. Ensure pressures are to manufacturer’s specifications and check for cuts, unusual wear patterns and other flaws while you’re there. And don’t forget to check the spare, too!

Time: 5 minutes
Cost: Nothing

All time and cost recommendations are estimates only – January 2020

SOURCE: Viva Energy Australia Pty Ltd (“Viva Energy”) has compiled the above article for your general information and to use as a general reference. Whilst all reasonable care has been taken by Viva Energy in compiling this article, Viva Energy does not warrant or represent that the information in the article is free from errors or omissions or is suitable for your intended use.