Surprise bursts of rain and standing water can catch motorists unaware. Picture: Shayne Robinson/SAPA
Surprise bursts of rain and standing water can catch motorists unaware. Picture: Shayne Robinson/SAPA

How to ensure you and your car are safe on the road during the cold winter season in South Africa

By Motoring Staff Time of article published May 11, 2021

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JOHANNESBURG - Temperatures across South Africa are gradually falling, and the full onset of winter is imminent. The Automobile Association (AA) says it’s important for motorists to be aware of the change in climate, and to prepare adequately for the cold months ahead.

“While people protect themselves against the elements, they often forget to protect their vehicles which also need some added attention and protection during this time. We want to urge all motorists, in fact all road users, to heed the advice about vehicle, runner and cyclist, and pedestrian safety. It’s also an opportune time to review personal security during this time, particularly as this is an often-forgotten element of being mobile,” says the AA.

Vehicle batteries are always trickier during this time, as the starter draws increased amps to crank a cold engine. Many people also forget to turn off their headlights which drains battery power. To avoid this, a battery in good working condition is essential. Remember that in cold weather a fully charged battery provides less than half of the power than in warm weather.

In addition, the following tips are suggested:

Batteries are known to fail in winter

Batteries

Check the water (electrolyte) level. Water must cover the fluid plates and, if necessary, top it up. Use only distilled water (water that is boiled and allowed to cool). Avoid overfilling and clean any spillage.

Keep the battery clean. Clean the terminals with warm (not hot) soapy water and remove any acid or dirt build-up, which can cause the battery to self-discharge quicker.

Secure the battery. Make sure the battery is secured properly and not moving around under bonnet.

Charge the battery regularly. If you normally drive only short distances, or use your car infrequently, you may need to take a longer (one hour) drive each week to ensure the battery stays charged. Shorter trips, or excessive idling, is not enough to charge the battery, and will shorten its lifespan.

Switch off before you switch on. Switch all other devices in your vehicle off before your switch the car on. These include the air-conditioner, radio, lights, seat warmers, windscreen wipers, and demisters.

Alternator belts. Check the belts for fraying or cracking. A loose alternator belt is a common cause of battery failure.

Service your car. Poor engine condition can overload the battery, so ensuring your car is maintained according to the manufacturer’s specifications will extend the battery’s life.

If you struggle to start your vehicle, do not crank the engine continuously as this may damage the starter, battery, and other electronic components.

Check your tyre tread depth to ensure it’s more than 1.6mm deep Photo: Matthew Jordaan

Tyres

Tyres are one of the most crucial safety features on vehicles, and they must always be in good condition. Worn tyres are extremely dangerous in all conditions, but this danger can be multiplied in wet, snowy, or icy conditions.

It’s critical that vehicle owners check their owner’s manual to determine the correct pressure to inflate to and within the manufacturer’s guidelines. This will ensure optimal road holding and extend the tyre’s life.

“Vehicle owners are reminded that the law requires tyres to be in good condition and they may face stiff penalties if they are found to be sub-standard. The law requires tyres to have a tread of at least one millimetre; some tyres already have tread wear indicators which make determining this easier. A tyre which is worn should never be repaired, it must always be replaced for your, and other road users’ safety,” urges the AA.

The AA also advises vehicle owners that insurance policies require vehicles to be in roadworthy condition, and that worn tyres may void that condition which may lead to a repudiation of claims in the event of a crash.

Repair damaged windscreens as soon as possible. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/African News Agency (ANA)

Visibility

As the days get shorter, and the nights get longer, many motorists will leave for work in the morning while it is still dark outside, requiring the use of headlights. It is essential to check that the vehicle’s headlights are working properly. Switch off the headlights when you reach your destination as you may have left them on after the sun came out during your journey. Park facing a wall if you can, the reflection of the lights will act as a reminder to switch them off.

If your car is parked outside overnight, you may have a layer of frost on the windscreen. Do not use warm water to clean this layer, your windscreen may crack. Instead use a scrapper (an old credit card will do) to remove the ice. Using the air-conditioner to demist the interior of the car will also help. Make sure it is clear before you drive.

Avoid using the windscreen sprayers when driving in cold conditions as the water from the reservoir will freeze onto the windscreen, and the wipers will not be able to clear the ice.

The AA advises, “Check the condition of your wiper blades and replace them if needed and avoid cleaning mud and soil from the windscreen with the wipers as these can scratch the glass. If possible, park your car undercover at night to ensure your windscreen remains clear the next morning”.

Apart from vehicle safety checks, the AA also appeals to motorists, runners and cyclists, and pedestrians to be aware of different road conditions during winter, and the need for increased visibility during this time.

“Runners, cyclists and pedestrians are vulnerable during this time because decreased natural lighting – and the real possibility that streetlights aren’t working – means that other road users are less visible. Anyone who is on the road must ensure they are visible through wearing high-visibility attire. All road users must make every effort to see and be seen when they are on the road,” says the AA.

Ensure your safety and security when on the road by buckling up and not using your phone

Security

In addition to vehicle safety, the AA says shorter days and longer nights may increase the need for greater personal security.

The AA says that criminals are opportunistic who use any chance they can to pounce. Days that get darker sooner provide a perfect opportunity for criminals to operate under darkness, and unsuspecting victims may find out too late that they need protection.

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