Tyre problems are top of the list of breakdown causes for holiday travel by car, followed by problems with engine cooling and exhaust systems. Heavy luggage, heat and high-speed motorway driving all take their toll of vehicles. Given this, it's a good idea to book a thorough inspection at a garage well in advance. "But there are a few things that drivers should check for themselves before starting on a holiday journey", notes Eberhard Lang from TÜV SÜD. And taking the time is well worthwhile, he adds; with good preparation, the journey into the best weeks of the year can be almost as relaxing as the holiday itself.
Tyres: Tyres are a critical factor. Ensure they have plenty of tread left for the outward and return journeys – and be aware that wear increases as temperatures do, and will therefore be greater in southern climes. Heavier loads from holiday luggage also affect tyres. The correct pressure is vital; tyre pressure should be increased when long journeys are planned. Information on your car and tyre manufacturers' pressure specifications for a fully loaded vehicle can be found in the car manual. In many cases, pressure must be boosted still further when motorway driving lies ahead. Eberhard Lang's tip: "Lower pressure back to normal levels once you reach your destination! The car will be harder to handle if tyre pressure is still at peak but the car is no longer fully loaded." Check your spare wheel at home well before you set off and ensure the tyre is likewise pumped up to the max. If you have a car without a spare wheel, make sure the tyre repair set is in good order and check the best-before date on the sealing agent; it may no longer offer an effective seal, particularly in extremely hot weather.
Climate: While most people head for the sunny south on their holidays, summer weather can cause high in-car temperatures in other regions too. In these cases, faulty air-conditioning is a special headache. The system often cools effectively at temperatures of 20 to 25 degrees but may switch off completely at 30 degrees and over. "Lack of cooling fluid is the commonest cause", advises TÜV SÜD's expert Lang. "The fluid level always falls over time." A timely check at the garage can eliminate this worry.
Equipment: A few items should always be kept on board as absolute essentials for travel, especially abroad. High-vis vests have been a legal requirement in many countries for a long time, and are now required by law in Germany from 1 July. Austrian law demands that cars carry an easily accessible high-vis vest for every passenger, while in Italy a vest is essential for the driver at minimum. Spare headlamp and indicator bulbs are not only important in the eyes of the law in many countries. "Today's headlamps and other car lights use bulb types that may be hard to find abroad", warns the TÜV SÜD expert. These include H11s or halogen indicator bulbs. A spare can of oil is particularly vital for cars that need special long-life oil types. "Oil consumption on holiday trips is higher than in day-to-day routine", explains Eberhard Lang.
Load: However spacious the boot or load space, it often proves to be too small in the end. But this is no reason to overload the car – and weight is not the only factor. "Piling luggage too high in an estate car can be a matter of life and death for the occupants", warns Lang. Emergency braking can be all it takes for objects in the back to be hurled forward, creating a potential source of injury especially for passengers in the back. A load-restraint mesh or grille behind the back seat prevents this danger – "but it must be properly secured", advises the TÜV SÜD expert. This is the case with car manufacturers' own products, whether fitted as standard or added as accessories. When the boot is crammed, a roof box provides extra space; here, secure attachment is paramount. The roof bars on which the box is mounted must fit the car precisely. This means that even if drivers are able to borrow a roof box from friends, they generally need to buy their own roof bars.
Check-up: Fifteen minutes of attention to your car during your holiday preparations can save you many a nasty surprise. This check-up naturally includes inspection of oil, coolant and windscreen wiper fluid levels. Make sure the latter is well topped up and includes a special summer cleaning agent. "This helps to improve vision when the windscreen is covered with squashed insects", explains Lang. Now is also the time to renew worn wiper blades. In your inspection, check that all headlamps and other lights work perfectly – not forgetting side indicators and brake lights! Even when a thorough cleaning of windows inside and out is factored in, this all-round check-up rarely takes more than 15 minutes.
Navigation: Even in the era of electronic navigation systems, maps still have their place – after all, they form the basis of these sat-nav systems. Many smartphone apps only come with maps for Germany, Austria and Switzerland ("DACH") pre-installed, abandoning drivers as soon as they cross the Brenner Pass. While maps for extra countries are generally easy to buy and download, this should be done at home before setting off. Data connections abroad are not only expensive, but also often slow – a fact that drivers planning to use Internet-based navigation systems should also take into consideration. Good old paper maps are always a last-resort alternative.
Fuel: Unlike the past, today the right fuel is relatively easy to find throughout Europe. EU countries in particular offer a standard range. However, take note of any recommendations and requirements of the vehicle manufacturer; for example, some advise filling up with 98-octane Super Plus in very high temperatures instead of the usual Super 95 or E10. This may be wise advice to follow at the last fuel stop in Germany.