The arrival of sub 35 degrees weather always stirs up a longing for adventure. After months cooped up inside and navigating wet or icy roads, blue skies and warm weather are reason enough to load up your car and hit the highway.
However, your best planning will be undone if you can’t depend on your car this festive season. A breakdown on your daily commute is one thing, but what if your car leaves you stranded miles outside the middle of nowhere? We know how the road to Cape Town is deserted. Car care is necessary year-round, but especially before a road trip, so complete these basic maintenance tasks as listed by Mark Dommisse, National Chairperson of the National Automobile Dealers’ Association, before becoming a horror movie cliché.
Brakes are crucial to any journey, and not only the long ones associated with holiday travel. Brake pads should be inspected by a qualified technician, but any squealing or scraping sounds are a dead giveaway that replacement is probably necessary. Vibrations in your pedal under braking are a sign of warped discs, which will either need skimming or replacement.
Make certain that you have the necessary tyre-changing equipment such as wheel spanners and jack. If your vehicle requires a key to unlock the wheel nuts, make sure that you have it with you before you leave.
Tyre tread depth is an easy inspection that can be performed by anyone. The legal tread depth is a minimum of 1.6mm in South Africa, but NADA recommends a safe tread depth of 5mm. A general rule of thumb is if you insert a R5 coin the tread should be at least as deep as the tip of the wildebeest’s tail.
Remember to measure across the entire width of the tyre, as the outer tread may be deeper than the inner. Any uneven tread wear could indicate poor wheel alignment which should also be addressed by a professional.
Check tyre pressures and adjust for heavy loads – but never to more than recommended manufacturer specifications which are usually found inside the filler flap door or on a sticker inside one of the front door jams. It’s also a good idea to check your spare wheel’s pressure and tread while you’re at it.
One of the most important (and cheapest to repair!) items in your pre-travel checklist should be your car’s lighting system. Have a friend or family member help ensure that all lights including headlights, taillights, brake lights and indicators work properly. Replacement globes on many vehicles can cost less than R10 so there’s no excuse to drive around with faulty lighting.
Also remember, headlights are not only for you to see at night; they’re also there to let other road users see you. Driving with headlights on at all times of day is a common practice overseas, and it should be adopted in South Africa as well.
Have your battery checked by an authorised dealer. This is a simple test, and while battery replacement can be relatively pricey, so could the cost of a tow truck needed to come to the rescue of stranded motorists.
Your windshield wipers should clear a clean path in their travel. Any streaks or smears means they likely need replacement. Driving in a storm with worn wiper blades is an extremely dangerous and unnecessary risk.
Most modern cars make the inspection of fluid levels such as coolant, power steering and brake fluid quite easy for the average driver, but if you’re uncomfortable have them checked by your dealer.
It’s also important to replenish fluids with the correct type – another reason why it’s important to visit an authorised dealer. Don’t check coolant levels when an engine is hot, as pressurised cooling systems can cause serious burns.
Most new vehicles in-warranty come with a comprehensive roadside assistance programme, designed to help give drivers peace of mind. Keep the contact number in an easy-to-locate place in the vehicle and be sure to save it on your mobile phone as well.