How to be safe on the road as lockdown restrictions ease
Johannesburg - While restrictions on movement have been lifted ever so slightly around the country, allowing us to go for a run whenever we feel like, your car, like mine, has probably seen its least amount of "running" over the past three months. However, as travel restrictions are expected to ease in the coming weeks, your vehicle might need to be fit and ready to spring into action.
According to Auto & General, many South Africans are ready to step out and go for a drive, but their vehicles – after spending time off-duty - are not.
Key findings from a recent survey done by A&G Insurance show that 52% of respondents had to jump-start their vehicle during lockdown because the battery had run down. 27% said they didn't need to jump-start their vehicle, because they intermittently drove it.
Before you go for a drive
“It's imperative to check your vehicle before you take to the road, especially if you haven't been driving it that often,” says Ricardo Coetzee, Head of Auto & General Insurance. “Battery issues, low tyre pressure and flat spots, difficulty starting and brakes that stick are some of the more common issues, so it's a good idea to do a thorough check before returning to life's fast lane.”
If the battery is low – dim lights, engine turning slowly, battery warning light illuminating - but the vehicle can still start, start it and let it idle for a while, drive a good couple of blocks or use it to run a few essential errands. Low battery symptoms should gradually disappear if the battery is charging correctly. If they don't, it's wise to have the battery, then the alternator and electrical system checked.
If the battery is run down, you can jump-start the vehicle using another vehicle or jump-start power pack.
How to safely jump-start your car
First, ensure you have parked the vehicle with the strong battery close enough to the one with the weak battery for jumper cables to reach both batteries, but make sure that the vehicles don't touch.
Then, turn off the car with the strong battery. Connect the positive (red) cable to the positive (+) terminal of the weak battery.
Connect the other end of this cable to the positive terminal of the strong battery.
Connect the negative (black) cable to the negative (-) terminal of the strong battery. Connect the other end of the negative cable to a clean metal part of the engine in the car with the weak battery. NOTE: Bolts and brackets will do. It's important NOT to connect this end of the negative cable to the negative terminal of the weak battery, as this could lead to the battery exploding.
Start the car with the strong battery and let it idle for about 5 minutes before attempting to start the other car. If it doesn't start, check that all cables are secure and try again. If it does, let it run for 15 to 20 seconds before disconnecting any cables just to make sure that it doesn't stall.
Disconnect the cables in reverse order – negative cable from the weak battery car, negative cable from the strong battery car, positive cable from the strong battery car, then the positive cable from the weak battery car.
Take special care during the entire process to not have the cable clamps touch each other, moving engine parts or any other parts in the engine bay.
How to ensure your car's tyres are safe
Be sure to check tyre pressure (when the tyres are cool). Tyres can deflate faster when a vehicle isn't used regularly. Inflate tyres to the recommended pressure.
Check for flat spots. These develop at the point of contact between the tyre and the surface when the vehicle is left in the same spot for extended periods of time and tend to be more severe in vehicles that were parked with under-inflated tyres. Symptoms include a visible flattening of one side of the tyre, vibrations and unusual tyre noise as the flat spot impacts the road surface. It could be temporary, where symptoms disappear after correctly inflating the tyres and driving a couple of kilometres, or more permanent, in which case the tyre should be professionally inspected.
Check for uneven wear – inconsistent tread patterns, bald spots etc. – even after being back on the road for a while, as tyres that haven't worked for a while are more susceptible to this.
Don't forget to check the following items
Your car's brakes may be a bit sticky after sitting in the same position for a while. It's normally not a major problem, so just be sure to go easy on the brakes at first. This should gradually eliminate any small ridges and build-up that may have formed on the brakes and get them back to smooth, efficient braking in no time.
Also, ensure you check for any fuel, oil, brake fluid or water leaks and make sure that all fluids are topped up to the recommended levels. Don't push your vehicle too hard until all fluids have had time to circulate properly.
Finally, inspect your electric window switches and window surrounds, wipers and the mechanism, sunroof area etc., which may initially be a bit sticky, so it's advisable to check that the surfaces moved by these systems are clean.
“Proactive vehicle checks and maintenance are always first prize and could prevent costly downtime and repairs as more South Africans take to the road in the coming weeks,” Coetzee notes.