Essential motoring checklist

Essential motoring checklist

Learn how to set your car up for safe motoring and to prepare you and your vehicle for a motoring emergency.

Why not practise changing a wheel now, in a non-pressured environment, just so you know how to do it?

There are certain things related to modern motoring that aren't always front-of-mind. And why would they be?

If you've just got back from work and you need to drive up to the supermarket to grab something for the kids' tea, it's pretty unlikely that considerations such as 'I wonder if the engine has enough oil in it?' or 'what happens if I get cornered by bears and have to stay in the car for three days?' would bubble to the surface of your consciousness.

So, with this in mind, it makes sense to spend a few moments considering what your car actually needs in order for you to be safe and happy in an emergency. Next, divide your list into two areas:

  • Things you can put in your car so they will be there when you need them
  • Essential car maintenance that you need to remember to do regularly

Things to keep in the car

Gather these together now and find space for them in the boot or interior cubbyholes.

Wheel-changing equipment

If you get a flat, you'll need a jack and a wheel brace, as well as your locking wheel nut adaptor if required.Car

Why not practise changing a wheel now, in a non-pressured environment, just so that you know how to do it? Make sure you've got a warning triangle, too, in case you end up stranded at the side of the road.

A pen and a bit of paper

If you're involved in an accident, you'll need to make a note of the other party's insurance details.

A fire extinguisher

Not considered essential by all, but if you're in a situation where you need one, you'll be really glad you have it. Make sure you know how it works too.

A bottle of water

You need water. So does your car. So having a bottle spare could prove useful.

A torch

Well, there's no way of knowing where or when you might break down, is there?

First aid kit

The benefit of this is obvious. And, like the fire extinguisher, if you're in a situation where you need it, you'll be really glad of it.

A blanket

Because you might end up stranded somewhere cold. (And, hey, it can double up as a picnic blanket, too!).

If you're driving abroad, make sure that your car insurance covers you to drive in the country in question

An emergency poncho

A plastic one, obviously - it's not a style statement, just something to keep you dry if necessary.

As well as this general list, consider putting a few extras in the car for really bad weather or foreign driving.

Extra things to carry in winter

According to a 2015 study by road safety charity Brake, only a minority of people carry important emergency items like food and water (20%) or warm clothes (38%) in winter.

Think about having a folding shovel, food and drink (packaged non-perishables like cereal bars and bottles of water) and extra blankets.

And possibly a sleeping bag and/or heat-reflective blanket, an ice-scraper, a couple of small carpet remnants (to go under the wheels for traction if you get stuck), a spare pair of thick socks and a tow-rope.

Things you legally have to carry if driving abroad

Laws vary from country to country. We've gone through it in detail, but as a basic rule it's best to cover all bases by taking a complete set of bulbs, a hi-vis jacket, a breathalyser (sealed in its packet), and a set of fuses, as well as making sure that your car insurance covers you to drive in the country in question.

Things to do regularly

According to Brake, almost half of motorists (45%) admit to having driven with at least one risky vehicle problem or defect in the past year.

More than a quarter of people are not confident that they know how to make essential checks like tyres and fluid levels.

Check your tyre pressures

Almost a third of people (27%) aren't confident they know how to check tyres are in a safe condition while one in three don't check their tyres have 3mm tread, which is recommended in wet weather.

Over- or under-inflated tyres can cause all kinds of dangers, so you should make sure you're maintaining the manufacturer-recommended pressures.Jump leads

Your tyres should, in theory, hold their pressure for some time, but you've got no way of knowing whether or not that pothole you bounced into caused a minor rim-leak unless you check regularly.

Best to check your tyre pressures at least every couple of weeks, if not weekly.

Checking the condition of the tread is also wise. And don't forget to check the spare, too. If you get a puncture, finding that your spare tyre's gone flat is exasperating.

Check your fluids

Your car is like your body - without the correct sustenance, it'll wither and die. And this isn't just referring to fuel; your car needs the right amount of oil and water to stay healthy.

If you're not sure how to check such things, we've made a bite-sized series of video guides (Vines). Here's how to check your oil level:

Our videos can also help you with topping up your oil, and learning how to make sure you're using the right reservoir when filling up with coolant.

Remember to only top up the coolant when the engine is cold, and not to unscrew the pressure cap when the engine's hot in case it sprays boiling water in your face!

Checking these every couple of weeks should again be sufficient - more frequently if you do loads of miles.

A fringe benefit of this fastidiousness is that, should you spot that your car's using abnormally high levels of oil or water, you'll have early warning of any related mechanical problems.How to cut the cost of breakdown cover

And, of course, it's very important to keep your brake fluid topped up, too, as well as your screen wash and power steering fluid.

This is particularly important before long journeys - according to Brake, 15% of motorists don't check that their vehicle has the correct oil and water levels or working lights, indicators, or brakes before driving for long distances.

Keep an eye on your wiper blades

Easily overlooked, but having ineffective blades can be dangerous as well as annoying.

Check all of your lights regularly

Because if your brake lights have coincidentally all blown at the same time, how would you know? Your first clue would be someone crashing into the back of you. You don't want that…

Other things to bear in mind

Keep your documents somewhere safe

You'd be surprised how many people misplace their car-related paperwork. Registration documentation, MOT certificate, insurance paperwork, service history - keep these things filed away somewhere secure at home.

Once you've completed the one-off tasks, that's most of the work done

Drive smart

You can reduce your fuel consumption by carrying less weight.

The things we mentioned above are mostly essential, but you don't need to be driving around with your roof bars on all the time, or with a boot full of random junk.

Keeping your windows up on the motorway, cruising in the highest appropriate gear, switching off the air-con, and planning the most direct route in advance will all help, too.

Make sure your mobile's charged

Because it may well come in handy in an emergency. And if you have breakdown cover, make sure you have the company's call-out number in your phone.

This may sound like a lot to remember, but once you've completed the one-off tasks, that's most of the work done.

If you get into a routine of checking your fluids and tyres at a particular time - when you fill up with fuel, for example, or every other Saturday morning - then it'll become second nature.

And all of this will pay dividends in terms of time and money saved, as well as keeping you and your loved ones safe.


"If you're on a tight budget it can be tempting to delay or skip repairs to, or servicing of, your car," said's Matt Oliver.

"But, poorly maintained cars tend to break down or - worse - contribute to accidents. So, while delaying repairs and maintenance may seem like a good way of saving cash, it can lead to more serious problems and bigger bills in the long run and could render your car unsafe and illegal to drive.Fuel cost calculator

"For example, the depth of tread on your car tyres makes a big difference to your car's stopping distance, especially in wet weather.

"Therefore, for safety reasons, UK law requires you to have a minimum depth of 1.6mm of tread on your car's tyres.

"If you're stopped while driving a car with tyres worn beyond the legal limit you could face three penalty points and £2,500 in fines.

"Depending on the size and location of the damage, driving with a cracked or chipped windscreen may also mean that you're committing a motoring offence and could be putting you and other people in danger of being in an accident.

"Putting a little money aside on a regular basis to pay for car repairs and maintenance can help spread the cost of keeping your car on the road. Regular servicing and repairs helps to save you money in the long run and, more importantly, helps to keep you and other road users safe.

"If poor car maintenance leads to an accident you could face criminal charges for driving a vehicle in an unroadworthy and dangerous condition. This could also invalidate your car insurance."

By Daniel Bevis