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Top tips for driving this summer

Summer is here and the holiday season is fast approaching – check out these top tips for staying safe on the road.

The advice comes from Motor Codes – the government-backed consumer watchdog for the automotive industry.

“With the lure of the summer sunshine, motorists can get caught up in the excitement of heading off on holiday and forget the basics,” warns Bill Fennell of Motor Codes.

“When making the necessary preparations to go away, it is crucial to spend the time to check that your car is also in good shape and to be familiar with your route, so as to avoid any unnecessary delays or frustrating breakdowns.”

Stay chilled
Fluids filled to the recommended levels are essential for keeping the car nice and cool. As well as reaching for the oil dipstick, have the cooling system inspected, as leaking coolant or a faulty fan could cause the vehicle to overheat and result in costly engine damage. At the same time, vehicle manufacturers recommend that the air conditioning is serviced every two years to keep it blowing ice cold.

Keep hydrated
Before you set off, fill up the screen wash reservoir. A combination of screen wash with water is recommended for the efficient removal of any dust, dirt and bugs. Water should also be on hand to quench the thirst of everyone in the car between stops, and medication for ailments such as hayfever should be kept at hand to avoid sneezing and a runny nose when at the wheel.

Tread carefully
The current minimum tread depth for tyres, including the spare, is 1.6mm for the central three-quarters of the tread, and the same applies for the entire outer circumference of the tyre. To easily see whether you are over this legal limit, take a 20p piece and place it in one of the main tread grooves. If the outer band of the coin is out of view, the tyre is safe to use. Pressures are just as important, and you should check all your tyres to ensure that they are at the correct psi or bar readings prior to leaving for your vacation. Keeping your tyres at the right pressure will also increase their life and reduce fuel consumption.

Be ready to entertain
If travelling with children, pack the car full of attention-grabbing books, toys and handheld devices, especially if you are planning to embark on a long journey. This will give them plenty of choice to keep both their hands and brains occupied when on the move. In addition, take the opportunity to be creative and use simple family games such as ‘I Spy’ and ‘Car Bingo’ to whittle the hours away.

Lighten the load
Although it is very tempting to take plenty of clothes and luggage to cover all types of activities and a range of weather conditions when on holiday, do not overload your vehicle beyond the recommended carrying capacity. Excess weight can affect performance, handling and breaking distances, and can also restrict your rear view if any items are packed above the level of the parcel shelf.

Take frequent breaks
Stopping regularly is crucial for staying alert and refreshed when on the road, and therefore research where the service stations are along your route. The AA recommends that drivers have a 20-minute break during journeys of more than three hours, and to pull over every two hours for those covering significant distances. During periods of rest, never leave children or pets alone in the car. According to the RSPCA, if the outside temperature is 22 degrees centigrade in a closed vehicle, this can rise to 47 degrees centigrade in just 60 minutes. Heat stroke can prove fatal for animals, and even with a slightly open window, it is difficult for them to cool down sufficiently.

Know the rules
A valid MOT certificate, up to date road tax and a current insurance certificate are a must in the UK. When going abroad, the road laws vary by country, and the essential equipment that needs to be carried also differs. For example, it is compulsory in France to have a portable breathalyser. Nevertheless, for those crossing the channel, a GB sticker on the back of the car is essential, unless the registration plate displays the GB Euro-symbol. However, for all travel across the channel, it is advisable that a warning triangle, high visibility reflective jackets and headlamp beam converters are kept in the boot as a minimum.

Head in the right direction
With the rise in popularity of smartphone apps and in-built satellite navigation systems, many motorists no longer rely on traditional map-reading skills to get to their destination. Therefore, take the time to plan out your journey, find out whether the device serves the regions or countries that you are passing through, and have a road atlas to hand in case it loses the signal or fails. Furthermore, look on the internet for any scheduled roadworks and check whether any crossings are running to time to minimise disruption to your journey.

Don’t hit the roof
For owners of a convertible, summer is one of the most popular times of the year to put the top down and enjoy some open-air motoring. Make sure that the folding mechanism is sufficiently lubricated, and that all seals and electric windows are in good working order. When on the move, everyone should wear a hat and plenty of sunscreen to avoid sunburn, especially during the middle of the day when the sun is at its strongest.

About Gareth Herincx

Gareth is a versatile journalist, copywriter and digital editor who's worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online. After long stints at the BBC, GMTV and ITV, he now specialises in motoring.

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