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How to Check if Your Car is Safe For a Road Trip


check your car or campervan!

It’s not unusual for the paranoia to creep in when you’ve bought a car for your backpacker road trip. Is the car going to survive? What was that noise? What is that? Who am I? Who are you?!

Let’s be honest not a lot of us are super knowledgable about cars or campervans, so we thought we would put this quick guide together of all the things you can easily check on your car or campervan to make sure it is in working order. All it needs is a quick look over every so often. That way, you can enjoy your road trip with peace of mind.

If you notice anything wrong, that we explain below, take your car to an expert so they can give you their professional opinion. It’s better to catch issues with your car early to reduce the mechanic bill, rather than just waiting for a bigger problem to arise, or worse, breakdown while your in the middle of freakin’ nowhere!

For an in depth tutorial on how to check your car for a road trip, spare 5 minutes to watch “The 5 Minutes Car Check” video.

How to check your car when driving

Notice any of these things when you are driving your car or campervan? Take it to a mechanic!


  • The brake pedal feels spongy
  • There are vibrations going through the pedal when braking
  • There’s a squealing noise when braking
  • The steering pulls to the side when braking.


  • The exhaust is smoky or sounds unusual.


  • The steering wheel shakes a lot after you have hit a bump or pothole
  • Your car is unstable on gravel roads
  • Your car continues to rock after you’ve come to a standstill.

And, unusual noises.

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Park your car up and check your car or campervan’s tyres for:

Tread depth
Legally, the minimum depth is 1.5mm for the tread of your tyre. Check the tread depth in different parts of the tyre for a more accurate reading. The more tread you have, the more grip you have!

Tyre pressure
You can tell if your tyres are under-inflated if the outer edge of the tyre tread is coming in contact with the road’s surface. Tyre pressure is different between vehicles, and even between the front and back tyres of your car. The correct level for your car is usually found on the inside of the door frame. If not, take a look at the Energywise website to find out the correct tyre pressure for your car. You can pump up your tyres at fuel stations in New Zealand or buy/borrow an air pump.

Condition of the tyres
Check for cracks or bubbles in the side of the tyres and any sharp objects stuck in the tyres.


Windscreen, wipers and mirrors

You’ll need to check your windscreen, wipers and mirrors so that you can see what’s around you when you are driving, whatever the weather!

  • Check your wiper blades for wear and tear. Do they wipe the windscreen enough when you spray the windscreen washer fluid?
  • While you are at it, make sure the windscreen washer fluid is full and the spray is working.
  • Regularly clean your mirrors and windscreen inside and out. New Zealand fuel stations usually have buckets with window sponges so you can get your mates to clean your windows while you fuel up!
  • If your windscreen is chipped or cracked, get it fixed as soon as possible.


Lights and indicators

This is another part of your car where checking is essential so you can see and be seen by others.

Check if your headlights, reversing lights and brake lights are all working. To check your back lights, reverse close to a wall so you can see the reflection in your rear view mirror. Also, get out of your car and check that the lenses are clean and not cracked nor hazy.

To check your indicators, turn your hazard lights on and walk around the car to see if all the indicator lights are flashing.



Rust can weaken the car’s structure and cause all kinds of problems. Check your car for rust or any patches of bubbling paint, which is a sign of rust.

The most common areas for a car to get rust are:

  • the frame rails, which run under the car doors on each side,
  • the wheel wells
  • the exhaust
  • the suspension
  • the window frames.

To reduce the chance of your car getting rusting while on your New Zealand road trip, avoid parking your car on grassy areas for a long period of time. Also, wash your car if it has been exposed to salt or saltwater.

Buying a car or campervan for the first time?

Check out these articles to make sure you are buying a nice healthy car or campervan for your New Zealand road trip!

Finally, make sure you can legally drive in New Zealand by having an appropriate driver license. Find out more in How to Drive in New Zealand and Converting Your Driver License into a New Zealand Driver License.

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