Cruising the Great Ocean Road. Motoring from Hobart to the Bay of Fires. Barrelling across the endless. Winding down the window and breathing in the salty air as you leave Sydney for a journey up the coast to Byron Bay. Whatever your tastes, Australia has probably got a road trip that will tick all your boxes.
But a blissful, self-driven getaway can quickly descend into a stressful and potentially costly ordeal if you aren’t adequately prepared. Here are some pointers on how to mitigate the risks of that happening and pull together a back-up plan just in case things go pear shaped.
1) Make sure your vehicle is in top-notch condition
Countless potential self-drive disasters can be averted with some mechanical preparation. Ideally, you should get your car serviced shortly before your trip. Shortly before setting off, many mechanics would advise checking the engine’s fan and serpentine belts are in good condition, the radiator has the right amount of coolant, the radiator hoses haven’t cracked and their hose clamps aren’t leaking, the oil level is where it should be and the air and fuel filters are in good nick. Depending on your level of mechanical know-how, you may want some advice from your mechanic before setting off on your adventure.
You’ll also want to make sure you have a properly inflated spare tyre, jack and wheel brace in case of a flat. If you’re driving through remote areas, you may also want to consider specialised equipment such as a satellite phone and satellite navigation unit so you can stay connected when you no longer have phone coverage.
2) Check your roadside assistance and insurance arrangements
A recent Canstar survey found around half of all respondents have taken a road trip over the last year, and 57% of those road trippers experienced either a car accident or a vehicle issue during their trip (i.e. a flat tyre, cracked windshield or engine/mechanical failure). With this in mind, it could be wise to ask yourself – what is your plan should you find yourself by the side of the road?
You have two options when it comes to roadside assistance. Firstly, you can pay an annual fee to subscribe to a membership that entitles you to assistance whenever you need it. Alternatively, you can opt to pay a fee upfront if you require a call out.
If you’re in the latter camp and depending on where you’re travelling, it can be a good idea to save the numbers of some local roadside assistance providers (e.g. NRMA and RACV) in your mobile before setting off.
Some car insurance providers may offer roadside assistance as an optional extra, so before setting off on your road trip, it could be worthwhile reviewing your car insurancepolicy and, where appropriate, considering upgrading. It is also a good idea to understand what your car insurance policy covers you for, just in case you face an unexpected event, such as an accident, chipped windscreen or someone breaking into your car.
Many people don’t realise they can get travel insurance for their local holidays as well as their overseas trips. If you want extra peace of mind, domestic travel insurancemay be able to provide cover for potential expenses such as rental vehicle excess (i.e. the amount you’re liable for if your rental car is damaged or stolen) and replacing lost, damaged or stolen belongings. Bear in mind that different policies can cover different situations, so it can be helpful to read the PDS and contact the insurer if you want more details about any policy you’re considering.
3) Plan, pack and put your itinerary in safe hands
No matter how familiar you are with your route, it is a good idea to research your destinations to avoid scenarios such as getting bogged on a Top End dirt road in the middle of the wet season or being diverted unexpectedly for roadworks.
A general rule of thumb is to hope for the best but prepare for the worst, especially if you’re thinking of travelling through remote areas. For example, if you are planning to travel through the Nullarbor or across one of Australia’s vast stretches of desert, then for safety reasons it’s generally advisable to make sure you have plenty of water, food and petrol supplies to last the journey, plus extra in case you’re marooned for longer than expected. While not essential, a collection of electronic devices, books, magazines and board games can help keep everyone distracted while you wait for assistance to arrive.
It also could be a good idea to share your intended route and itinerary with a trusted friend or family member and arrange to check in with them periodically. They can then alert the relevant authorities if you drop off the grid for an extended time without explanation.
On that point, one final tip: if your vehicle comes to a halt in an out-of-the-way location, stay with it. Your car (or 4WD) will provide you with protection from the elements and is much easier for a search party to spot than a wandering human.
For most of us, the opportunity to leave our normal lives behind and hit the open road doesn’t come around that often. By investing a relatively small amount of time, effort and money, road-trippers can maximise the chances their journey will be memorable for all the right reasons.
About Josh Sale: Josh Sale is a Senior Research Analyst at Canstar, responsible for the continued methodology development and delivery of Canstar's flagship Star Ratings. Josh is tertiary-qualified in economics and finance, and transforms millions of rows of calculations into a consumer-friendly Star Rating.
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