preparing your car for summer - beat the summertime blues with hot tips for holiday driving

with the holiday season just around the corner, here are some handy hints to help avoid a car calamity when you take to the roads this summer.

preparing your car for summer - beat the summertime blues with hot tips for holiday driving

In the last minute rush to get away, basic car care may often be overlooked. However, a little preparation can go a long way.

So, if you'd rather be soaking up the sunshine than sitting on the hard shoulder, follow these Hot Tips for Driving to help ensure a smooth ride.

OIL: Check your engine oil properly - a low oil level may cause overheating, excessive engine wear or even engine seizure.

TYRES: Check your tyre pressures against those in the handbook and examine them for cuts and wear. A car laden with a family plus all its luggage may need higher pressures than normal and remember to check the spare!

COOLANT: Check your engine coolant. Consult your owners handbook if your cooling system has a reservoir or for those with a radiator filter cap, fill to within about 2cm of the filler neck.

WINDSCREEN: Top up your windscreen washer with water and detergent. In a recent car care test, 64% of those tested said that they would not have checked the windscreen washer fluid level before setting off on a long journey. Always keep a bottle of water in the car just in case!

BATTERY: For older cars, ensure your battery is topped up with distilled water [new car batteries are sealed for life so don't need toping up].

KIDS: Keep children amused in the car with books, comics or games to minimise distractions whilst you're driving.

SEATBELTS: Insist that rear seat passengers wear their seatbelts and that young children travel in appropriate car seats which are secured properly.

TIREDNESS: On long journeys it is essential to take regular breaks from driving. The AA recommends that you do not drive for more than three hours without a break and not more than seven hours in one day.

DRIVING ABROAD: If driving abroad, make sure your insurance policy fully covers you and any other drivers and remember to take your insurance documents, driving licences and of course your passports! You should also carry spare bulbs for all car lights and a hazard warning triangle in case of an emergency.

ALCOHOL: When driving, both in the UK and abroad, it is safer not to drink any alcohol at all.

BREAKDOWN: Following these easy tips should help you have a trouble free journey but in the event of a breakdown, make sure you are covered by one of the major breakdown and vehicle recovery services.

A Pre-Holiday Check

Ensuring that your car is serviced regularly is one way to avoid all the hassle of a breakdown - not foolproof, of course, but prevention is always better than cure. A pre-holiday check would also be advisable - check out your local garages. Most will be able to offer a cost-effective 'health check' at this time of year. Tyres should always be carefully checked as worn treads can be lethal - for you and innocent bystanders, as well as other road users. Tyre pressure, too, should be regularly monitored.

Check Your Battery

One of the most common causes of breakdown is battery failure - drained from leaving the lights on, as we all do from time to time - or simply dead, kaput, wiped-out. Many recovery patrols now carry new batteries for sale so that they can solve the problem on the spot. A lot of people think that car batteries last ten years or so and the confusion is compounded by batteries claiming to offer "lifetime guarantees" - the lifetime of what? You? The car? It`s actually the lifetime of the battery and on average, that's three years. Sluggish starting is a sure sign that your car battery is getting old. As soon as starting becomes slow, it's time to think about buying a new battery.

Just a few simple checks on a regular basis would go a long way to preventing many breakdowns in other words. Easy to say, harder to find the time to do. Recognising that fact, the AA for example, has instructed its patrols where appropriate to carry out a series of brief checks at every breakdown.

Shock Absorbers - Out Of Sight But Not Out Of Mind

One thing you almost certainly won't be able to check and rectify yourself prior to venturing out on roads in any condition are the shock absorbers. Yet the danger of driving a car with worn shock absorbers is considerable.

Research shows that an estimated one in four cars travelling on UK roads today have at least one defective shock absorber. The likelihood of having worn `shocks` is even greater among vehicles that are three or more years old - that's J-registration and earlier - or those that have travelled over 50,000 miles.

Shock absorbers are hidden beneath the car's bodywork and behind the wheels - out of sight and therefore out of mind for many motorists. Unlike tyres, they are not easy to check regularly for visible signs of damage. Yet they must be checked. The performance of a shock absorber deteriorates gradually and imperceptibly over time, during which the driver unwittingly adapts his or her driving style to compensate or the wear and worsening condition and handling of the car.

Let's be honest; most of us don't really associate shock absorbers with safety anyway. We appreciate the need for good brakes and tyres but ignore the role of the shock absorber in keeping the wheels firmly in contact with the road surface.

The effects of worn `shocks` are serious and include:

- Reduced braking efficiency & longer braking distances

- An increased risk of aquaplaning in the wet

- Reduced efficiency of anti-lock brakes

- Sloppy, loose steering control

- Increased tyre wear and reduced grip

- Increased headlight oscillation

- Driver fatigue and passenger discomfort

You can get your car's shock absorbers checked the next time you take it in for a service. Alternatively, drop by any good exhaust system or tyre dealer outlet.

Looking After Your Bodywork

It's not only gardeners who are suffer in a summer heat-wave - your car does too. Intense heat can cause considerable paint and trim problems which, if not prevented, could result in permanent and costly damage.

The attack on cars is two-fold: the dust in the atmosphere abrades the paintwork. Then the high levels of ultra-violet light irreversibly destroy the pigment in the paint and the colouring of the interior and exterior plastic trim. Experts recommend the following beauty treatment for your bodywork:

1. Wash the car weekly, using water mixed with car shampoo. To be really environmentally friendly, use a bucketful of water and not a hose. Your car is no sun worshipper..

2. Polish paintwork every month, to provide a barrier against the twin evils of dust and sun.

3. If possible, polish early mornings or evenings, or in the shade, mainly for your own comfort.

4. Treat all plastic trim with a specialist conditioner.

When the sun's shining and the kids are on holiday, it is tempting to do something other than clean your car, especially if it doesn't look particularly dirty. Ironically however, not polishing your car in summer can be more harmful than leaving it dirty in the winter.

Summer Safety Tips

Here are some easy steps to make sure your car gets you to your holiday destination without any fuss.

Outside

*Start by washing your car to remove all traces of salt from the bodywork which will cause damage and corrosion if not properly removed. Take extra time to wash along the door seals and under the bumpers to remove all traces of grime.

*Add wax polish to protect the bodywork and be aware of any scratches, bumps or bangs that you may not have noticed in winter light. It's easier to mend a small problem than let it deteriorate.

*Clear windows of de-icer and grime and ensure windscreen wiper blades are not worn and need replacing. Clean washer jets with a small in to remove dirt and/or unblock them.

*Check tyre pressures - they expand when hot so check them first thing in the morning. Tread depth should be 1.6mm (legal minimum). Check the tyre for dangerous bulges and/or cuts.

UNDER THE BONNET

*Check all fluid levels, especially the radiator's as summer temperatures increase the risk of overheating.

*Oil Change - is it due? Is there enough in the engine?

INSIDE THE CAR

*Inspect all external lights - don't forget the fog, reversing and hazard lights, either.

*Check that all the electrics are working - windows, interior light, warning lights, sunroof.

*Monitor your mileage - is a service due? If in doubt, ask a local garage.

Finally, remember to enjoy yourself! Take it easy on the roads and make sure you get there safely and ready to have a great holiday!