By James Gratton
Published: Thursday, November 5, 2020
Updated: December 15, 2021 at 1:08 pm
With thousands of South Aussies hitting the open road over summer, preparing your car and planning ahead could save lives – not just time.
Whether it’s a coastal escape or a trip to the river, summer road trips are quintessentially Australian. For generations, we’ve packed the car with everything but the kitchen sink and hit the road in search of relaxation and adventure.
While we’re often focussed on getting out the door, or keeping the kids entertained for the journey, it’s important we plan for the drive itself.
With 114 deaths on South Australian roads last year – the highest in the past decade – it’s essential we take the time to check our vehicle is safe before setting off.
From packing the boot correctly to strapping in pets, these simple steps can go a long way to make sure you arrive safely at your destination, and no one gets hurt on the way.
Before you get into all the fun stuff, here are some important car checks you should undertake.
Service your car
It’s easy to put off booking in your car for a service, but ignoring your vehicle’s warning lights could leave you stranded. In more serious cases, it could even prove fatal.
Whether it’s worn brakes, bald tyres or an ageing air conditioner, accredited mechanics can quickly spot minor faults during an inspection before they become major problems.
Ideally, you should get your car serviced every 6 months or at 10,000km intervals –whichever comes first. If you don’t know when your last service was, check your logbook as most mechanics will make a note of when it’s due next.
Performing your own basic checks, such as topping up the oil, coolant and windscreen washer fluid, before hitting the open road can be lifesaving.
If you’re not confident doing these checks yourself, an RAA Approved Repairer can help.
Pack the car
Packing the car for summer holidays can be a headache for anyone, even the most qualified car Tetris experts. Boogie boards, bikes, bags – the list goes on. That’s why it’s so important you take the time to load your car properly before setting off.
Whether they’re stored in the boot, trailer or caravan, heavy items such as eskies or large suitcases should be placed in a secure position, low to the ground. This way, they won’t slide around when turning and affect the stability of your vehicle.
These items should be placed level with the rear seats or behind a cargo barrier to make sure they don’t fly through the cabin during a crash.
Even ordinary items like laptops, handbags and water bottles can turn into dangerous projectiles when you suddenly slam on the brakes.
While it’s tempting to pack your car to the rafters, you should ensure you always have a clear view out the rear of your vehicle.
Obstructing your line of sight by overpacking can see you hit with a $197 fine plus a $92 Victims of Crime Levy.
If you choose to strap luggage onto your car, only use roof racks which are approved by your manufacturer.
You should also avoid placing heavy items on the roof as they can disrupt your car’s centre of gravity, which can affect the way it handles.
Strap in your pets
For many of us, a road trip doesn’t quite seem complete without taking along our furry friends.
But some drivers will routinely put their pets at risk by securing them incorrectly in the car.
A recent University of Adelaide study found only 62% of South Australian drivers use a restraint to protect their dog in the car.
It doesn’t take much to get distracted or knocked by your pets when driving, which can result in a serious accident.
Not only is it disruptive, but an unrestrained pet could be seriously injured or killed if they’re suddenly thrown around a vehicle.
Ideally, you should use a purpose-built safety harness in combination with the car’s seatbelt to make sure your pet is safe and secure in the back seat.
Smaller dogs or cats can also be transported in a pet crate that’s properly secured in a vehicle.
While there’s no official requirement to restrain pets in the car, there is a law against driving with an animal or person on your lap.
If caught by police, you could be hit with a $193 fine plus a $60 Victims of Crime Levy.
After a long week at work, it can be tempting to jump straight in the car and head to your seaside escape.
But taking the time to stock your car with essential items is a must before any road trip.
And we don’t just mean swinging past the servo for some chips and a bottle of water.
It might sound over the top, but emergency items such as a first aid kit, fire extinguisher and torch should be the first things you pack.
Double checking your spare tyre is in good condition is another must-do before switching into holiday mode.
You never know what situation will arise while on the open road, so it’s essential you have this equipment on-hand and ready to go.
Making sure child restraints are correctly fitted and adjusted properly before you start your journey is very important. If you need assistance, RAA can help.
While you’re preparing, plan regular rest stops and check if there are any weather or fire warnings in the regions you’re travelling through.
It’s also important that snacks, drinks and entertainment for the kids are stored in an easily accessible space.
You don’t want to be rummaging for the iPad or the juice box while you’re on the road.