Talk Wrench Road Trip Essentials

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

With summer fast approaching and talks of the infamous 'lockdown' soon to be relieved, it's no doubt that many car owners will be planning a road trip for this year. That's why we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to do a list of the items and jobs that are essential, pre-road trip.


Will Recommends: Road Atlas

Last year, we at TW coined the phrase "70s driving", which refers to the challenge of using only road signs and maps on a journey. Older users may scoff at the use of the word 'challenge' but unfortunately, with the advent of SatNav, sign reading has become all but obsolete, and thus, quite a challenge for the uninitiated. However, despite the sharp increase in in-car navigation technology, road atlases and maps are still produced and updated every year, and we find that they add an element of "Indiana Jones-ing" to one's trip, especially in a Series III Land Rover. Whatsmore, road atlases come in all different shapes and sizes, meaning no matter what your vehicle, whether it be a Fiat 500 0r a Lincoln Town Car, there will be an atlas for you. As an added bonus, road atlases seldom direct the driver into nearby rivers or lakes, unlike their digital counterpart.

One further note: A compass may also be advisable for extra navigational assistance


Dani Recommends: Snacks

Like the very tyres on your car, snacks are an equally essential part of your trip. Not only can they temporarily distract and satiate the gremlins that may or may not occupy the rear seats of your vehicle, but they are also an essential cure to 'Driving Hangriness', a condition that should be recognised and present within the Highway code. The consideration of one's snack is relative to that of their interior. For example, those with a wipe-clean, utilitarian inner usually have free reign over the snack aisle, but those sporting cloth or even suede interiors should consider their snack choice with utmost caution. To begin with, Double Deckers and Flakes are completely out of the picture as they are simply too messy. Instead, the reader should consider alternatives such as Wispas or Crunchies (although proprietors of the latter ought to exercise a level of wariness). To accurately simulate a road trip of the 1960s (to Skegness or Bognor Regis for example), Werther's Original are a staple of the car journey diet, although, like the brown interiors they usually occupy, may be considered deathly boring by your fellow motorcar occupants. For those of you with a more savoury tooth, crisps such as Hula Hoops are a clean-ish option for journeys but Wotsits and the like should be circumvented by default. Fruit is a safe bet for any driver but to avoid the misery of your passengers- don't bother.


Jack’s Pre-Flight Checks

Now to the owner of German automobile, this may sound bizarre, but for everyone else, the first thing to do to a classic car prior to any lengthy road trip is to assess the condition of the ground underneath it. The discerning motor mechanic can read the oil stains under their car in a manner akin to a Rorschach test. These little puddles will tell you a lot about your car’s current state of health.

The first bit of advice I can give you is not to panic. Old cars deserve to be a little incontinent from time to time and as oil tends to spread out, especially if the ground is wet. The resulting puddles often appear to be a more serious leak than what is actually occurring.

After discovering the leak(s), the next thing to do is work out what is leaking. Here I would encourage you to use your nose as well as your eyes. Gear oil looks at a glance like water but gives off the telltale sweet aroma of feline urine. Engine oil is generally easier to identify by its blackness, but if you had very recently performed an oil change, be aware that it may still be clear in colour.

Oil leaks can be misleading as they don't always drop directly below the source of the problem. To track down leaks, it is best to begin by degreasing the subject area of the car’s undercarriage and then getting the car up to temperature before observing what it does once again. The degreasing process is unpleasant but necessary as trying to find the source of a leak under a car caked in grime is nigh on impossible.

Once the offending component has been identified, normally something fairly straightforward like a gasket or seal will require replacement. As the owner of an old Land Rover, I have come to accept that if there’s no oil under it, there’s no oil in it. It’s more something I keep an eye on than actively endeavour to eradicate. Most owners of British cars have a can of their vehicle’s favourite tipple in the boot and its good practice to carry the stuff around - especially if it runs on something unusual and hard to source on the road. Excessive oil leaks are dangerous for other road users and can be signs of serious faults, so if you are unsure, consult a mechanic.

The second thing to check is the electrics. A good way of doing this is to employ an assistant to either operate brake lights and indicators, or else it is handy to have a convex mirror on the back wall of your garage. Either way, lights especially have a habit of behaving badly. The last conundrum I encountered was an earth fault that lost me my indicators but made my brake lights flash instead… Work that one out budding auto electricians!

Again, not panicking is a good strategy here. After about five cups of tea and a few muttered incantations to Lucas Prince of Darkness, God of all things Sparky, I soon had it up and working again. Throwing spanners and swearing can be therapeutic but doesn't tend to fix many problems.

The reason these pre-road trip checks are so important is not just to ensure everything works when you leave, it’s a cognitive exercise that tells you how to fix the problems when they invariably arise on your road trip and tells you what tools to pack - which brings me onto my final point…

The tools you bring are essential. Don't pack the Snap-On roll cab, it'll get in your way. Cantilever toolboxes aren't a great idea either as they have a habit of sliding around and damaging things. Anything metal will rattle like hell which rather detracts from the experience. A tool roll or bag is the best thing to have and don't bring your fancy spanners. My philosophy is any tools you wouldn't be happy to give away, lose, or use barbarically for an entirely unsuitable job at the roadside, are inappropriate for a road trip. Pack the essentials along with plenty of cable ties and duct tape.

So why prepare?

Unless you are particularly well-heeled in the financial department, classic car ownership is about ninety-five per cent hard work and five per cent enjoyment. To make that five per cent really count, it’s imperative that you are in tune with your vehicle’s eccentricities. Failing that, your road trip will be marred by worries over new squeaks and rattles and while you can’t prepare for every eventuality. The more you understand about your car, the more rewarding it is to drive.

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