Preparation is always key when heading out in the car – here's what you should consider, says Darren Cassey.

It's always a good idea to plan ahead when heading out for a drive, and that's particularly true in the winter months in Scotland, and when taking longer car journeys.

It might seem like a pain to regularly go through these checks, but taking a moment to plan ahead could make a huge difference later in your journey. Though the vast majority of us aren't travelling as further afield as we might usually do right now, it's a good idea to brush up on these 'pre-flight' checks regardless.

With this in mind, here are five key checks every driver should make before hitting the road...

1. Mirrors

If you're the only person that drives your car, it's likely your mirrors will only ever need to be moved once. However, checking before you set off that your rear-view and wing mirrors are correctly angled will ensure there's no danger of you missing something out on the road – you might have moved your seat slightly to get comfortable and found it's thrown your setup out of line.

The rear-view mirror is pretty simple, but the wing mirrors should be angled so that the edge of the car is only just in view. This will give you the widest field of view to the side and reduce your blind spot.

If you share your car with others, this check is even more vital, because trying to move your mirrors while driving could be very dangerous indeed.

2. Fuel

When you're driving home, often the last thing you want is to have to top up with fuel – that's why it tends to be setting off when your tank is empty. If you pull away in a rush without glancing at the fuel tank levels, you might find yourself merrily pootling down the motorway when the warning light comes on and you have no idea when the next services might be. Quickly checking your range can save a lot of stress down the line.

3. Washer fluid

This is something that's particularly important during the winter months, when road grit is constantly being kicked up onto your windscreen. You don't necessarily need to check under the bonnet every time you leave, but a quick squirt will let you know if there's water in the tank, and if the warning lights come on, be sure to fill up as soon as possible.

4. Tyres

Tyres are another aspect that it can be frustrating to regularly check, because tread wear happens at a slow pace. However, with your tyres being the only point of contact with the road, their quality is vital.

Firstly, check that they are well above the legal tread limit of 1.6mm – if you don't have a proper tool, you can use a 20p coin to measure by seeing if the band around the edge is visible. Secondly, scan the surface of the rubber for any damage or bulging, because this could indicate that a puncture or blowout is imminent.

5. Lights and number plates

Again, dirty winter roads can cake your car in dirt. While that's not an issue for many people, it's worth checking just how filthy your car has become just in case it's reached illegal levels.

If your headlights and taillights are obscured you could become a danger to others on the road and yourself by reducing your ability to see ahead and others' ability to see you. Furthermore, an obscured number plate could see you getting in trouble with the police.

Have a quick look around the car and check nothing is obscured, and if it is, at the very least give the most important areas a quick wipe down.