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How to get your car ready for the December road trip

Published Dec 15, 2021

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Johannesburg – Despite the challenges posed by the new Covid-19 variant, many South Africans will be hitting the roads this festive season to see loved ones or simply to enjoy some much deserved relaxation.

But before you embark on that journey, it’s vital that you make sure your car is up to the job. If you own a Ford or Mitsubishi you are in luck as both carmakers are offering free pre-holiday car inspections at their dealerships. However, if you own another brand of car it is also possible to have a safety inspection conducted at your nearest Dekra branch, at a cost of R438.

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Long-distance journeys can place a great deal of strain on certain engine, cooling, braking and suspension components and it’s important to ensure that all of the safety-critical items are in good working order.

While a professional inspection is always first prize, there are certain checks that motorists can do themselves.

THE DO-IT-YOURSELF CHECKLIST

WHEELS & TYRES

Tread and condition: 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. Tyres should also be regularly checked for other signs of damage like bubbles or surface cuts. Driving with a bubble significantly increases your risk of a blowout, which could prove deadly.

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.

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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 and wheel spanners are present and in working order, as well as any unique sockets you might need for theft-preventing wheel nuts (if you have them installed).

EMERGENCY EQUIPMENT

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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 remember 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. You can download the Namola App, which is something of an Uber for emergencies.

LIGHTS

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The basics: Get someone to help you check that the headlights as well as the tail lights, brake lights, indicators and hazard lights are all working. If you're on your own, a light-coloured wall in a dark spot at night will allow you to do your own tests. It is always best to do long-distance trips during the day, however, as night driving is significantly riskier.

WINDSCREEN

Wipers: Ensure that your wipers are in good working order and that the wiper blades themselves are in decent condition and not cracking. Before setting out, use the windscreen washers to spray the windscreen and then check if the wipers are doing their job by clearing the water from the windscreen or if they are leaving lines of water that impair your vision.

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 in 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 brake specialist.

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

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.

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 maximum mark 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.

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.

LESS MILEAGE DOESN’T MINIMISE RISK

“Due to Covid-19 and working from home, many customers may not do the same mileage they would have done previously, but it remains important to ensure your vehicle is running optimally,” says Ford SA’s customer experience manager, Kuda Takura. “Whether you are travelling this festive season or simply enjoying time at home with your family, the complimentary check will provide added peace of mind.”

Information sources: Ford SA, Dial Direct, Virseker Insurance, Automobile Association & Battery Centre

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