I have a personal variation of a popular phrase 'Charity begins at home'; I believe - safety begins at home. Prepping a car before you head out is the first step to ensure safety while driving in the city or out on the highway. The car is a machine, and like every other machine, a lot of parts are interdependent for its proper functioning as a whole.
Different kinds of roads need different levels of preparation. Roadtrips, or simply heading out on the highway needs a more thorough check-up as compared to a quick spin in the city. An evening out with friends will need you to make sure the tyre air pressure, brake fluids, and battery are topped up, and that the engine oil, wash wiper fluids and fuel readouts are at a healthy level. Every car has an array of informative warning lights - you should take a glimpse at each one of them before taking off.
Talking about starting off, it's advisable to idle the car for a few minutes before heading out. This warms up the engine, and makes sure the engine oil reaches every nook and corner of the motor. Another thing that happens when the engine warms up, is that it reaches, and is maintained at a particular temperature - usually halfway between the 'C' and 'H' marked on the information display. If the temperature gauge indicates that the car is heating up a lot, then there is something wrong with the engine or the cooling system, and should be checked out by a professional immediately.
Highways are good fun, but come with their own set of challenges. The possibilities of getting help in case your car breaks down, are often few and far apart. Where everyone is driving at high speeds, the margin for error increases, and issues such a flat tyre or failing lights can pose a serious threat to the safety of the occupants of the malfunctioning car, and to those around. All lights, the condition of tyres (including the spare tyre), fluid levels, and condition of the brakes should be checked thoroughly. The windscreen, windows and mirrors should be cleaned properly, so that your vision is not hampered while driving. Dirty or smudged windscreen and mirrors can cause a glare from oncoming cars, which makes it difficult to judge the position and speed of the approaching vehicles.
Prepping a car might not eliminate the chances of a malfunction completely, but reduces it drastically. Driving situations act as variables and things such as the condition of the roads plays a major role in the rate of wear and tear of various parts. Being prepared for when something goes wrong is important. Carrying a reflective hazard triangle, a handy set of tools, and a cellphone with good connectivity is advised.
The last but most important thing that one should bear in mind is that - while the machine might be in perfect working order, it is ultimately the actions of the driver that reflect in the machine's reaction. To have a clear mind, and to be mentally agile is very important while driving. It is regularly emphasized that drinking and driving is an absolute no-no, and for good reason. Being in an agitated, preoccupied or tired state of mind is equally dangerous – the human mind can only process so much at a time. Very often, driving around is sought as a solution to clear one's mind – I believe one should clear their mind to drive and not drive to clear their mind.
Dave Barry once wrote, “[...] all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.” I agree with him, and to make that belief turn to reality, we must begin again from the start.