Top 10 tips for Easter weekend car travelDrive safely and save money this bank holiday

03 April 2012

Traffic Jam

Avoid the jams this Bank Holiday weekend

Millions of us plan to travel by car this Easter weekend. Read our top 10 tips first to make your journey as simple and safe as possible.

Bank holidays in Britain are notorious for two things: bad weather and traffic jams. We can't do much about the former (although you can prepare for it), but we can help you escape the latter.

If you're driving a long way, it's also vital to inspect your car first; a few basic checks could prevent an accident.

Finally, we'll help you spend as little money as possible along the way. That means there will be more left for fish and chips, ice cream - or perhaps just that next tank of fuel.

1. Check weather reports 

Global warming, climate change, call it what you will - the weather has certainly been doing some strange things recently. Following a mini-heatwave, we've had heavy snow in Scotland and northern England, so always check the weather forecast before you set off. If snow looks likely, it's worth packing a blanket, torch, shovel, de-icer and in-car mobile phone charger, plus a few bottles of water and some chocolate bars for energy. And you can watch our video guide to driving in snow and ice.

Driving in snow

Be prepared for bad weather 

2. Find the cheapest fuel

First of all, don't panic! There will be no fuel strikes until at least after the Easter weekend, so just drive as normal and fill-up your car when necessary. A website called Petrolprices.com allows you to find the cheapest petrol and diesel in your area by simply entering your postcode. Remember, a few pence per litre difference soon adds up. And don't be tempted to fill-up at motorway services - our research suggested you could pay more than £5 extra per tankful. Our online tool helps you calculate your car fuel economy.

3. Test your tyre pressures

When did you last check the air pressure in your tyres? Many people neglect this simple task, yet under-inflated tyres can cause a car to handle unpredictably - especially in a sudden swerve or emergency stop. If pressures are too low, it will also increase fuel consumption and the wear of the tyres themselves. Look in your owner's manual to find out what the recommended pressures are (they often differ for front and rear tyres), then measure them by placing a gauge on each tyre valve in turn. If you don't have a pump at home, there is often one available at petrol stations.

Petrol pump

Shop around online for the cheapest fuel

4. Top-up oil and water

Modern cars are so reliable, it's easy to forget about topping up vital fluids. Lift the bonnet and find the dipstick - usually at the front of the engine and marked with a yellow handle - then remove it and check the oil level. The minimum and maximum will be marked on the dipstick itself, so ensure the level is between the two. If you have a petrol car the oil should be a light, golden brown; if it looks black then the oil is dirty and needs changing. This latter point does not apply to diesels. Also check the water level - the reservoir should be clearly visible at the side of the engine - and top-up your screenwash.

5. Park cheaply and avoid a ticket

Parking can be stressful and expensive - the amount of complaints about it we get on Which? Conversation are testament to that. Our research found that council-run car parks are usually cheaper than private car parks (e.g. NCP) and on-street parking. However, this isn't always the case, so check local council websites and the Parkopedia website for prices. If you park in the wrong place, our guide includes example letters to help you appeal a parking ticket

Tyre pressure gauge

Under-inflated tyres can be dangerous

6. Take a packed lunch

Eating out is part of the fun of a trip away. However, buy your lunch at a motorway services you'll pay handsomely for the privilege - we were charged as much as £1.89 for a 500ml bottle of water when we compared motorway services in 2010. Coffee and other caffeinated drinks are obviously in high demand and are thus particularly expensive - and you may have to pay up to around £2 just to withdraw cash. Our advice? Just use the loo and be on your way...

7. Travel outside peak times

Consider leaving early in the morning - or the night before - to avoid the worst of the traffic. Roads that get particularly busy on Bank Holidays include the M5, M6, M8 and M25, Glasgow's A19, London's Blackwall Tunnel (A2) and the A303. Listen out for traffic reports on the radio (many cars have a 'TA' function that tunes into traffic news automatically) or dodge the holiday traffic with a Best Buy sat nav.

Car park

Parking may be cheaper in council car parks

8. Take your car abroad

If you're taking your car abroad this weekend, bear in mind that it is illegal to drive without your full UK driving licence, and in some countries you’ll also need your original car insurance documents and logbook. Remember to take both parts of the newer-style UK licence with you. Many European countries have toll systems - if you can’t pay, you’ll receive a fine. Ensure you drive with plenty of small change in local currency and stay out of any pre-paid lanes (unless you have registered first). 

9. Drive greener

Driving efficiently won't just save you fuel - it's less stressful, too. Look well ahead to avoid stopping unnecessarily when approaching lights or roundabouts, and accelerate smoothly to minimise the number of gear changes. Ease off the gas where possible and use the highest gear available – but without labouring the engine. Keeping the revs between 1,500 and 2,500rpm should help. 

Car wash

If all else fails, you could wash the car

10. Or just stay at home

If you don't fancy joining the Bank Holiday rush, why not stay at home instead? You could take the opportunity to wash your car and buff out any scratches in the paintwork. Our test revealed which car scratch removers performed best, and includes a video showing the best technique for removing paint blemishes. 

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