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Holiday Driving Tips

Tips to improve safety and fuel economy on holiday road trips.

courtesy GM Holden, edited by Michael Knowling

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With Christmas and New Year looming, we’re entering the period when many people head out of suburbia on country road trips. It’s also the period when there are the most accidents.

This article, courtesy of GM Holden in conjunction with Murcott’s Driving Excellence (one of Australia’s leading road safety and driver education organisations), provides some timely hints on safe motoring and improving fuel economy.

Safe Driving Tips Prior to Departure

Before embarking on a road trip, it’s important that you first check the following...

Make sure the pressure of your car’s tyres (including the spare!) is within the manufacturer’s recommended range. Note that tyre pressures should be measured with the tyres cold (having been stationary for more than three hours). An under-inflated tyre can lead to poor on-road stability and a blow-out. Wheel alignment should also be maintained to within factory specifications to ensure even tyre wear and vehicle stability.

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Perform all the weekly checks. These should include the battery and all fluid levels, the condition of belts and hoses, windscreen wiper blades, operation of all lights and headlight aim. Servicing of the engine, brakes, suspension and steering should all be up to date and there shouldn't be any vehicle warning lights illuminated.

Special consideration should be paid to child occupant safety.

The back seat is the safest place in a vehicle for children of any age. Where possible, it’s best to install the child restraint in the centre rear position. You should use the child seat or capsule for all journeys – no matter how short. You may be legally allowed to install a forward-facing child seat in the front seat (without a side airbag), but always move the passenger seat as far back as possible.

Ensure that the child restraints are fitted properly. Follow the instructions provided with the seat/capsule and in the vehicle owner’s manual and ensure there is minimal sideways or forward movement. Make sure that the child restraint harness is properly adjusted – you should be able to insert only two fingers between the harness and the child’s chest. Also, be aware that the protective structure of a child restraint may have been damaged in any previous crashes – it’s for this reason it’s advisable to purchase a new restraint following a collision.

The vehicle’s load should also be carefully checked.

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All loose items should be restrained and, wherever possible, it’s best to stow articles in the luggage compartment rather than the cabin. If you’re driving a wagon, you should consider installing a cargo barrier to prevent articles entering the cabin in the event of an accident. Try to load the vehicle to achieve near-equal mass distribution and, importantly, do not overload the vehicle – check your owner’s manual for details.

If towing, you should make some additional checks.

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Ensure the vehicle and trailer lights are functioning correctly and check the integrity of the tow hitch and safety catch mechanism. Don’t forget to check the condition of the trailer’s tyres and ensure they’re inflated to the appropriate pressure (trailer tyres should generally be inflated higher than car tyres – about 40 psi). Load the trailer so that the majority of weight is placed forward of the axle. This ensures there is sufficient weight on the tow bar – this reduces sway.

Once the vehicle is loaded, it’s important to become familiar with its on-road feel and behaviour.

On the Road

Long distance country driving is very different to urban/city driving.

If there are other licensed passengers in the vehicle, it’s advisable to change drivers every 1 ½ - 2 hours. Power naps are also a good idea. If you and the other licensed drivers in the vehicle are becoming tired or fatigued, it’s advisable to pull over and sleep for 15 – 20 minutes. Try to avoid driving at times you would normally be asleep – this will help avoid fatigue.

When driving with children in the vehicle, it’s important to keep them occupied with soft toys, music, story tapes, etc. A bored child can easily distract the driver, fiddle with buckles and wriggle out of position. It’s also important not to leave children in cars, particularly during warm summer months. Leaving the windows open a little does not substantially reduce in-cabin temperature.

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When driving at country speeds it’s important that you maintain a safe distance to the car in front. Leave a minimum two second gap. If you’re towing, driving a four-wheel-drive or it’s raining, you should increase the gap to four seconds.

Of course, it also remains important to observe all regular road rules – don’t speed and don’t drive with an illegal blood alcohol level (best not to drink at all).

Fuel Economy Tips

With today’s elevated fuel prices, you'll want to ensure you consume the minimum amount of fuel during a trip.

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Ensure that all tyres (including the spare) are inflated to the specified pressure. Under-inflated tyres cause increased rolling resistance which causes the car to use more fuel. An incorrect wheel alignment can also increase rolling resistance and fuel consumption.

The engine and driveline should be up-to-date in servicing with particular focus on oil/oil filter change, spark plugs, idle speed and air filter. A new air filter can enhance fuel economy as well as protect the engine in dusty conditions.

Your driving habits also have a major impact on fuel consumption.

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Accelerate gently – sudden bursts of speed, full-throttle acceleration and hard braking are certain fuel wasters. Try to drive as smoothly as possible and, in a manual gearbox vehicle, you should engage top gear as soon as possible (without forcing the engine to labour). Long warm-ups and prolonged idling are also responsible for increased fuel consumption. An engine takes approximately five minutes to reach efficient operating temperature and it does this most effectively when driving.

Air conditioning should be used sparingly to conserve fuel. Certainly, the air conditioning should be used to maintain occupant comfort but be aware that the air conditioning compressor draws power (and therefore consumes more fuel).

In some instances, the cabin can be adequately cooled by lowering the windows. This avoids operating the air conditioning but is generally offset by an increase in aerodynamic drag. Aerodynamic drag becomes significant at high speed so try to avoid packing gear on the roof.

Follow these tips and you should have a much greater likelihood of having a safe, comfortable and economical holiday trip.

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