Summer road trip 101

A road trip this summer = fun. Beach, camping, pub food and good times. We didn’t want to write on how speeding or drink driving is illegal, dangerous and will result in losing your license, an accident or worse. Because you know all that. Instead, we’ve written about the helpful stuff: what do you do if your car breaks down? Or you have a car accident? How do you change a flat tyre? This is really useful info and a must read if you’re behind the wheel this summer. Plus there’s a giveaway!

In this article, you’ll read all about what you need before you head off on your summer road trip to prepare for the good times, how to change a flat tyre if you’re not near a mechanic, and what you need to do should you have a (hopefully very minor) car accident.

Giveaway time!

We have BSeen Fold-Up L-Plates to give away! For your chance to win one of four of these brilliant visible L-Plates, tell us what you’re up to this summer. Send your answer, along with your name, school, address and phone number to

Before you head off

Because the possibility of breaking down, encountering a flat tyre or having your car broken in to are a very high possibility when enjoying a road trip, here’s a list of things to think about before heading off:

- Let your family know where you're headed. Whether you have an itinerary or a general direction, let a family member know your plans and arrange to check in with them every day or so to let you know how you're going and where you're heading. This way, if you do get stranded in an isolated area with no phone reception, someone will know your general location and be able to direct search authorities there.
- Take down the number of road side assistance or highway patrol should you break down and need a hand. The number to will vary depending on what state you’re in and what highway you’ll be travelling on, so check it out before you leave.
- Always have water, snacks and blankets in the car, should you break down and be a few hours away from help. Packing a cigarette lighter phone charger is also a good idea.
- Pack a map. Google Maps is everyone’s lifesaver, but not when you’re in the bush and out of reception.
- Know your spare tyre situation. Do you have one? And do you know how to get it off your car? Also check whether you have all the tools needed to change a tyre, as it’ll be handy to know how to change the spare if you’re not near a car service station! See our Changing a Tyre section below for more info.
- Always put your valuables in the boot or somewhere out of sight when you’re away from the car, even to duck into the shops. It takes less than 10 seconds for someone to break into your car and steal your phone.
- Pack two sets of car keys, and keep one set with you and one in your bag back at your campsite/motel. There’s nothing worse than losing your only set of keys in the sand never to find them again.

Breaking down

If you know nothing about what to do if your car breaks down, use this guide. Roadside assistance will be able to talk you through a range of scenarios of what the problem may be. But before you get to that stage, follow these tips:

- If you start to sense that something is wrong with your car and you fear it might stop, make your way into the left lane and possibly to the side of the road to make a stop.

- If your car stops without warning, do not get out of the car. It can make you anxious to watch the traffic pile up behind you, but hold tight and assess the situation first.

- Immediately put on your hazard lights to let passing cars know what your intentions are.
- Do not get out of your car if you are on a busy highway: the risk of getting hit by someone who hasn’t seen you – especially in the dark – is far too high.

- If it is dark, consider putting on the car’s interior lights to make you more visible.

- Make sure you have the number of roadside assistance or highway patrol before you set out on any journey, so you instantly know who to call. They will talk you through what to do next.

- If you have no phone reception: Seek the help of passing motorists. Now, there’s a safe way to do this. One suggestion which might seem lame right now, but could come in handy, is having a white cloth or t-shirt you can fly out the window, rolling the window up so it stays in place. This should be fairly obvious to passing motorists that something isn’t right.

- Ask them to call roadside assistance for you, but don’t get into the car with them.

- Do not leave your car to go find help. It’s too dangerous should you get lost or be separated from the rest of your mates. Even something as silly as running out of petrol, calling roadside assistance instead of walking to the nearest town for help is much more sensible than heading off for a walk.

- Do not accept lifts from strangers. Even if it’s someone who looks as nice as your Dad, don’t risk it. There are far safer ways to deal with a breakdown situation, like calling roadside assistance.

Changing a tyre

Thanks to Life Hacker for their tips for this article.

What you need

- Properly inflated spare tyre.
- Screwdriver to be used to take off the hubcap.
- A car jack which is used to raise the car enough to safely remove the flat.
- A socket to take off the lug nuts. Funny word, but they’re the things that attached the wheel to the tyre.
- To have your handbrake on *very* securely.
- Preferably to be on flat road.
- Hazards such as reflectors to place 4 or 5 metres behind your hard to alert oncoming traffic that you’re ahead.

What to know

1. Once you know you have a flat tyre, stop driving on it immediately. A flat tyre can’t last very long before it starts damaging the wheel itself.
2. Set up your reflectors to let oncoming traffic know that there is a hazard ahead.
3. Loosen the lug nuts off BEFORE raising the wheel with your car jack. It will be too hard otherwise. You will take the lug nuts completely off once you’ve raised the car.
4. The car jack needs to go underneath the car’s frame, rather than the floorboards. Get out the car’s user manual if you’re having trouble figuring this one out.
5. Raise the car high enough so it’s about 20cm off the ground.
6. Now take the lug nuts off all the way.
7. Replace the flat with the spare! Almost there.
8. Put the lug nuts back on but don’t tighten all the way, as the force might knock the car jack away.
9. Lower the car until the wheel is touching the ground and has some weight on it. Now tighten the lug nuts fully.
10. Now you can take the car jack right away.
11. Check the lug nuts one more time.
12. Ready to go. Head off slowly, preferably with someone check the tyre looks safe before you speed away.

Watch this demo. The process will be much easier to remember with both written and visual instructions.

Being involved in a car accident

- Stop: Being involved in a car accident, no matter how small it is, means you have to stop. The consequences are much worse if you speed off and leave the scene. If you hit a parked car and the vehicle’s driver is not present, you must call Police if the damage is serious. If we’re talking about a little scratch, leave a note on the windshield with all your details. The car’s owner will appreciate your honesty and will usually be able to claim it back on insurance (if they have insurance) with no cost to you.

- If parties involved in the car accident are injured: You must call the Police and possibly Ambulance. The most important thing at this stage is not the damage to your car, but the lives of the people involved. The Police should also be called if damage is done to property of someone not present. This could mean if the car accident sees damage done to a shop or house, parked cars and so on.

- Swapping your name and address details with others involved: This is a must. The information you should gather is: driver’s name, address, licence number, phone number, car’s registration, make model and colour of car, and the other car’s insurance policy details. Always keep a notepad and pen in your glovebox. The other driver will usually ask the same of you, so have these handy. You should also get the details of the owner of any property damaged. This might mean taking down details of a shop or ringing the doorbell on a house whose garden you might have damaged. Should the other party involved in the accident not swap details with you within 24 hours, you should report the incident to Policy, as it is an offence not to provide details.

- Don’t claim the blame: Now this one seems a little unethical, especially if someone is seriously hurt, but this is really for your own protection should your car accident come to legal blows in court. It could get messy if you admitted fault at the scene but then deny any wrongdoing later on.

- Take photos of the damage: Especially in small car incidents, some mean-spirited people on the road sometimes use a tiny damage to claim much larger damages to their car on insurance, and may hold you accountable to all of these. If you’re worried about this happening, or the damage is too out of hand, call the Police and get them to make a report at the scene.

- Talk to witnesses and take down their details: If a car accident takes place in a busy area, it’s often an idea to take down the details of witnesses who may be able to collaborate on how the accident occurred and where fault lies. This is especially important if the car accident is more serious.

- Call your insurance company: Keep the name and number of your insurance company in the glove box. Call them immediately following an accident – not a couple of days later. They will ask for details like your car registration, what time the accident happened and where, as well as the details of others involved. Even if the damage was just a scratch and you don’t want to make, it’s still best to call your insurer, as it may affect future claims or your insurance policy.

- Don’t drive off from the accident in a trashed car: It’s illegal to drive off from an accident in a car that is unroadworthy. This means that if your bumper is dragging along the ground, or you don’t have a windshield, that you’ll be needing to call a tow truck and a mate to pick you up.