Six tips for getting your car road trip-ready this summer


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Road trips have long been part of the Australian Christmas tradition. And with international borders still slammed shut the number of people looking to rack up the kilometres could hit new levels in 2021.

If you're one of the many planning to get behind the wheel, make sure you're maximising every dollar.

Here are some tips to ensure you're trip is as enjoyable but doesn't break the bank.

how to get your car ready for a road trip

1. Refuel early

There are exceptions to the rule (2019 was one) but fuel prices typically increase at holiday times, so if you're not doing much driving between now and take-off, consider topping up early.

At the very least check the ACCC website for the current petrol price cycles and a guesstimate of the best time to buy fuel.

Fuel apps can also direct you to cheap fuel along your route.

2. Check tyres

Arguably the single biggest difference you can make to your car is tyre pressures. Underinflated tyres increase rolling resistance, which means you'll need more fuel to keep the wheels turning.

Many cars - especially large SUVs - also stipulate higher tyre pressures when the car is laden. So, check the tyre placard or owner's manual to make sure you're up to pressure - and don't forget the spare tyre.

3. Empty out

Every additional kilogram you're lugging around is another kilo that has to be brought up to speed and slowed again later, not only incrementally increasing fuel use but also adding that tiny bit of extra wear to the brake system. If you don't need that cricket bat, scooter or water bottle then give them a holiday as well.

4. Anticipate

Looking ahead is one of the keys to safe driving, but it could also save fuel. If the lights ahead have just gone red or the traffic is banking up lift off the throttle to let the car coast. For the same reason it often makes sense to override the active cruise control systems, which typically use a radar to lock on to the car in front.

Those sensors are only looking at the car directly in front, whereas your eyes can see far further down the road, better anticipating changes in traffic flow. Also think ahead with things like hills. If you're cresting a hill and there's a good chance you'll build speed down the other side then consider allowing the car to slow by 20 or 30km/h before letting physics come to the rescue on the other side.

5. Check the alignment

The wheel alignment adjusts the relationship between each four wheels to ensure they're facing in the right direction. Hit a pothole or gutter and you can throw the alignment out, having the tyres scrubbing (or skidding) slightly as you're driving.

Wheel alignments are usually $100 or less; you're not going to pay back the investment on fuel savings alone, but factor in additional tyre wear it could be a bargain.

6. Check your oil

A car running lower on oil can drastically reduce engine life.

Check oil levels before taking off. Better still, get a full service, which will include a computer diagnosis that can determine if your car is running at its optimum.

7. Stay cool

The radiator is one of the most important parts of the engine because it keeps temperatures in check. Ensuring there's enough fluid in there can save overheating (and a destroyed engine) halfway along the Hume.

Check the overflow bottle (it'll be connected to the radiator) when the engine is cold. Ideally use radiator fluid, but good old H20 is usually fine as a backup.

8. Roof racks

Only throw things on the roof if you have to.

Modern cars have designs optimised for aerodynamic efficiency, something that comes into play most at highway speeds. Roof racks and their associated paraphernalia add drag, in turn increasing fuel use. The faster you go, the bigger the negative.

5. Take it easy

Tickling the speed limit in a 110km/h zone can reduce the time you spend on the road, but it can increase fuel use.

Cars are typically at their most efficient around 80km/h. Any faster and you're increasing the aerodynamic drag (doubling the speed quadruples the drag). Lifting off here and there can make a big difference over your trip.

6. Windows down

OK, it's an Aussie summer and you're going to want more comfort and less sweat in the cabin.

But if it's a cool day and you're taking in the local sights consider switching the air-conditioning off and reverting to fresh air. It'll save fuel (provided you're not travelling too fast, because open windows also increase aerodynamic drag) and bring you closer to nature.

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Toby Hagon is one of Australia's most respected motoring writers. A regular contributor to News Corp, Wheels magazine, Qantas magazine and 4x4 Australia, he also features as a motoring expert on ABC Radio and is editor of
Tim Nicholas
December 13, 2020 12.15pm

I'll add a 7th tip - make sure your registration isn't about to expire whilst you're on the road over Xmas/New year.