JOHANNESBURG - It's not uncommon for people to leave things until the last minute, in fact you might say it's just human nature. But human nature could ruin your holiday if you don't plan far enough in advance.
If you're planning to drive to your destination this December holiday period, now is the time to start making sure that your car is up to the challenge - and not doing so could prove fatal. Workshops tend to be a lot busier during November and December and if your car is overdue for some maintenance, it's essential to book as early as possible - also factoring in possible delays due to parts shipments.
Even if your car is not due for a service any time soon, nothing beats the peace of mind that comes with getting a trained professional to safety-check your car and that needn't cost you an arm and a leg - in fact some organisations even offer them for free.
The RMI’s Vehicle Testing Association says it plans to offer free vehicle safety checks once again this year, likely between December 4 and 14, at participating testing stations around the country. The test will cover everything from suspension to steering mechanism, tyres, lights, wipers, brakes, exhaust and seat belts.
Some car dealers and tyre fitment centres also offer free check-ups ahead of the holiday, while Dekra, in association with the AA, also offers a cost-effective safety check - and you won't have to wait until December to get this done.
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.
THE DO-IT-YOURSELF CHECKLIST
WHEELS & TYRES
Tread depth: Although 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.
Essential kit: While doing that, check that your warning triangle is in place and that you have a torch and a basic medical kit. 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 although this number will soon be replaced by the aforementioned 112. Also be sure to download the Namola App onto your phone, which is something of an Uber for emergencies.
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 a 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.
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 while driving 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.
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, of course) to be doubly sure that your braking system still operates correctly.
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: There are some observations you can make on your own. If your car leans abnormally when cornering, rides harder than usual or is taking a longer distance to stop, you may need to replace the shock absorbers.
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 it with a 50:50 mix of coolant and water. Don't use only water, as it doesn't have the anti-freeze and corrosion inhibiting properties of coolant.
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.