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Road tripping? How to get your car ready

Special Features

Johannesburg – As the long awaited mini-holiday-season looms and those fantasies of balmy days on the beach or campfires under the stars draw closer to reality, it's time to start making sure that the ride to your destination will be a smooth one.

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If you're planning to drive to your holiday spot, it's essential that you make sure your car is up to the challenge, so that your journey will be safe and stress-free. While sending your vehicle in for a multi-point-check is always the best course of action, there are, depending on your level of automotive knowledge and experience, various checks that you can perform yourself.

ROAD TRIP CHECKLIST

WHEELS & TYRES

Tread depth: Altough the legal limit is 1mm, make sure that your tyres have a tread depth of at least 3mm as anything below that leaves you particularly vulnerable to aquaplaning.

Pressure: Make sure your tyres are correctly inflated and monitor the pressure as you go along as low pressure due to a slow puncture could cause a blowout.

Wear: Also make sure that the wear on your tyres in not uneven as that could point to worn suspension or steering components or faulty wheel alignment.

Spare: Your spare wheel should be in tip-top condition and correctly inflated. Also double check that your jack, wheel spanners and unique wheel nut sockets (if you have them) are in place.

EMERGENCY EQUIPMENT

Essential kit: While doing that, check that your warning triangle is in place and that you have a torch and a basic medical kit in place. A basic toolkit could also prove invaluable for performing emergency car repairs.

Phone numbers: Have some emergency numbers on hand. A good number to have on hand is 112, which will reroute you to the nearest emergency service. Also save the national ambulance number, 10177, into your phone.

LIGHTS

The basics: Get someone to help you check that the headlights as well as the taillights, brake lights, indicators and hazard lights are all working as they should be. If you're on your own, a light-coloured wall in dark spot at night will allow you to do your own tests.

Adjustment: Also ensure that your headlights are correctly adjusted. Do a rough test by making sure that the dipped light beam is no higher than the bonnet of the car.

Avoidance: Given that most accidents happen at night, though, try your best to plan your trip in such a way that most or all of the long-distance driving happens during the day.

WINDSCREEN

Wipers: Ensure that your wipers are in good working order and that the wiper blades themselves are in decent condition and not cracking apart.

Demisting: Make sure your demisting system is still working correctly as a sudden mist-up at high speed can be dangerous.

Damage: Check for chips and cracks on your windscreen and get these repaired as a damaged windscreen won't protect you properly in an accident.

BRAKES

Inspection: Give your brake discs, drums and pads a thorough inspection, looking out for any uneven wear. That, along with any strange noises or vibrations, warrants a visit to a braking specialist.

Fluids: Make sure your brake fluid is topped up to the correct level.

Test: If in doubt, perform your own emergency braking test, when the coast is clear, to be doubly sure that your braking system still operates correctly.

SUSPENSION

Go to the pros: Given how your shock absorbers can affect the way your car handles emergency manoeuvres, it's always a good idea to have them checked by professionals if possible.

Basic observations: Yet there are some observations you can make on your own. If your car tips abnormally when cornering, rides harder than usual or is taking a longer distance to stop, you may need to replace suspension pars like shocks or struts.

UNDER THE BONNET

Coolant: While the engine is cold check that your coolant level is at least close to the 'max' marking and that the fluid is clean. If not, fill with water or, if you want the best for your car, a 50:50 mix of antifreeze and distilled water.

Radiator: Check that your radiator cap is sealing properly.

Oil: Use the dipstick to check that your oil level is within the two markings, but as close to the top marking as possible without overfilling. Check the oil again five days later and if you see a difference then consult a mechanic.

Cam: Make sure that all belts and chains connected to the cam, alternator and fan are in good shape.

Washer: Check that the windscreen washer bottle is full. Trust us on this one.

Filters: Ensure that your air, fuel and oil filters are clean and if you change the latter, be sure to drain all the old oil from your engine and replace it with new oil of the correct grade.

Plumbing: Inspect the oil, air and fuel systems, including hoses and pipes, for leaks.

Caps: Make sure that your oil and fuel caps are securely fastened.

OR GET A PROFESSIONAL SAFETY CHECK

Of course, nothing beats the peace of mind that comes with getting a trained professional to safety-check your car and the check needn't cost you an arm and a leg.

Dekra, in association with the AA also offers a cost-effective safety check. Some car companies, such as BMW, will even offer you a free pre-holiday check-up through its dealer network.

Hi-Q also offers multi-point vehicle checks and Battery Centre provides free battery check-ups.

IOL Motoring

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Sources: Dial Direct, Virseker Insurance, Automobile Association & Battery Centre

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