How to get your car road trip ready

By IOL Motoring Staff Time of article published Dec 7, 2015

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Johannesburg - As the long-awaited holiday season looms and those fantasies of sipping cocktails on a beachfront veranda draw ever closer to reality, it's time to start making sure that the ride to your destination will be a smooth one.

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.

Graham Craggs of Budget Insurance recommends sending your vehicle in for a professional multi-check at least two weeks before you leave: “Spending money now, even if it seems costly, will save you money, time and potential dangers in the future.”

However, depending on your level of automotive knowledge and experience, there are various checks that you can perform yourself.

YOUR ROAD TRIP CHECKLIST

WHEELS & TYRES

- Though 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.

- 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.

- 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.

- 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

- While doing that, check that your warning triangle is in place and that you have a torch and a basic medical kit in place.

- 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

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.

CONTROLS

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

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

WINDSCREEN

- 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

- 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.

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

- Perform your own emergency braking test, when the coast is clear, to be double sure that your braking system still operates correctly.

SUSPENSION

- 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.

- 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.

ENGINE

- 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.

-Check that your radiator cap is sealing properly.

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

- 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.

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

- 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.

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

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

OR GET A FREE 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 a cent.

The RMI (Retail Motor Industry organisation) has partnered with various private and municipal testing stations to offer free checks for safety-critical items.

The checks will be offered until Saturday 12 December and you can find out more about the participating testing stations by contacting the RMI's regional offices:

Joburg: 011 789 2542; Pretoria 012 348 9311; Cape Town 021 939 9440; Durban 031 266 7031.

Alternatively, companies such as Hi-Q and Dekra also offer multi-point vehicle checks and Battery Centre offers free battery and vehicle electrical checks.

Sources: Dial Direct, Virseker Insurance & Battery Centre

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