Drive your way to a fun family vacation and keep the family safe and comfortable.
Check Your Car: Schedule a thorough inspection at least two weeks before your trip, says Ivan Kwa, manager of the service and technical department for Kah Motor/Honda Singapore. On the list of things to look out for are car-fluid levels and signs of leaks, lighting and electrical components such as the battery and alternator, and overall vehicle conditions including the tyres, belts, hoses, bushes, suspension and the undercarriage.
If you want to be extra cautious, send your car for an inspection about a month before to allow adequate time for minor repairs and for the workshop to secure any necessary parts. It also gives you a buffer period in case the workshop is fully booked for repair work, explains Jeffrey Cheong, marketing communications manager for Trans Eurokars (Mazda).
Prepare the Paperwork: It’s not just your car that you should check before hitting the road, Jeffrey adds. Other important items for the trip include passports for the family, visa and work permits if your domestic helper is going along, a spare car key, and an extra copy of the vehicle log card and insurance, which will be required in the case of a total breakdown. Passports should have a minimum of six months’ validity.
Some countries require an International Driving Permit, which is issued by the Automobile Association of Singapore (AA Singapore). Also check the scope of your insurance, a spokesman for the association advises, as there may be geographical limits on your policy.
It’s equally important that you and your family have travel insurance that includes medical and emergency medical evacuation expenses, as costs for hospital treatment abroad can climb quickly, says the spokesman.
Plan Your Route: If you have a GPS, download the map of the country you are visiting beforehand, a spokesman for Citroen points out. If the car you will be driving does not come equipped with one, Google Maps is a serviceable alternative.
To avoid costly roaming charges on your telecoms bill, Jeffrey from Trans Eurokars suggests bringing a spare phone and buying a local data card. Of course, he adds, it’s also worth investing in a good old-fashioned map.
Have an alternate route mapped out in case of unexpected road closures due to construction, traffic or accidents.
Book the Right Transport: While you might want to rent a larger car, AA Singapore advises that it’s safer to choose a model that you are accustomed to handling. Though a larger cabin might be more comfortable, it may be tricky maneuvering one that you’re not used to controlling, its spokesman says.
Pack Some First Aid: Kids will be kids and it’s natural to expect them to get minor scrapes along the way. Take along some plasters, antiseptic creams, small bandages, as well as your family’s regular medication, Jeffrey suggests.
Buckle Up: According to the Singapore Police Force’s website, kids below the height of 1.35m are required to be secured with child restraints such as booster seats, car seats or an adjustable seat belt. These rules vary from country to country, so be sure to check. For example, Australia requires infants aged zero to six months to be in rearward-facing infant seats.
Children between six months and four years old should be in rearward-facing infant seats or a forward-facing car seat with a built-in harness. Those aged four to seven should have a booster seat secured with an adult seatbelt or an H harness.
Car-seat training starts from young, Jeffrey says. If the kids have never sat in one before, last-minute training won’t work and no amount of threats or bribes will get them to obey, he adds. Their crying will only disturb your concentration while driving, too.
Keep the Kids Entertained: Distract them from the fact that they’ve been stuck in a car seat for hours. Pack enough toys, games, activity books and snacks to keep them happy and prevent them from getting bored.
Road trips provide great bonding opportunities, so sing songs, tell stories and play games together. With enough entertainment and a dash of luck, you might just get through the trip without hearing the dreaded “Are we there yet?”
…And Comfortable: Children are more likely to cooperate and fidget less if they are comfortable, the Citroen spokesman explains. Small comforts, such as neck pillows, sunshades and a regulated car temperature, can go a long way towards keeping the complaints at a minimum.
Jeffrey also recommends at least one pit stop every one to two hours so that the kids, and you, can stretch out those cramped muscles.
Get Enough Rest, especially if your destination uses left-hand driving and a road direction that is opposite from that in Singapore, or if it has a drastic time difference, an AA spokesman says. When travelling on lengthy, open roads, it’s easy for your sense of speed to become dulled, adds Jeffrey of Trans Eurokars, who warn that you should always keep an eye on your speedometer, especially when you are due to slow down to exit a highway.
It’s helpful to have the person sitting in the front passenger seat checking your speed as well.
Don’t Ride the Brakes if you’re driving through hilly terrain on a downward slope. Keeping your foot on the brake can cause brake fade, he explains, which happens when brake pads overheat and fail to work properly.
Take Turns as it’s easy to fall asleep at the wheel when roads are lengthy and open. Citroen’s spokesman suggests having a second driver and taking turns behind the wheel every two to three hours.
Also beware of getting too comfortable, Jeffrey cautions. Keep your seat back upright with elbows crooked at a near 90-degree bend, and knees bent. Not only will sitting upright give you better view of the road, bent knees and crooked elbows also mean you have enough reach in your legs to depress the brakes and steer the wheel faster than if they were outstretched.
BUMPS IN THE ROAD
It’s never a good idea to ignore Murphy’s Law on a road trip. The car experts Young Parents interviewed suggest these tips:
Compile a list of reputable towing services in your destination: Keep emergency supplies: a basic roadside emergency kit could consist of a vehicle breakdown sign, a flashlight in case it’s night time, a first-aid kit, a spare tire, a car jack and wrench, water supply, rations such as energy bars, and ponchos.
For a more robust kit, toss in some cable ties, black and masking tape, a block of soap and small towels. The cable ties and tapes can tie up a loose bumper, and the soap and towels can be used to patch a radiator hose crack or leak long enough to get you back to the nearest town or workshop.
If your car breaks down and you’re unfamiliar with repairs, it is best to call for breakdown service from the nearest emergency phone along the highway. Never blindly trust any mechanic who may happen to show up, as he may be part of a syndicate operating in the area.
Caught in bad weather? Switch on your headlights and slow down your speed. Avoid tailgating the car ahead as sudden braking is dangerous. Ideally, it would be best not to drive in a heavy storm. Pull over on the shoulder, and wait it out.
By Nikki Fung, Young Parents, November 2014