The festive season is upon us, which means millions of South African motorists will take to the highways to get to their favourite holiday destinations.
However, before you set off anywhere, you need to prepare your vehicle.
Ford Technician Liz Kruger, who has worked on cars for many years, advises that anybody who wants peace of mind before they travel this holiday should have their vehicle undergo a thorough safety inspection.
So, what exactly do you need to check before you embark on your road trip?
1. Fluids (oil and coolant)
An under-the-bonnet check is first on the list.
Liz explains that you have to check the fluid levels first, as it is one of the main concerns motorists need to be aware of and don’t check often enough. If your coolant and oil levels are low, you might have a little leak somewhere.
Make sure to also check the brake fluid, if this level is too low, your car is not safe to drive.
If your holiday involves driving at night or in misty conditions, you want to be sure that all of your car’s lights are working correctly – especially if you are in an unfamiliar region of the country. This is a simple but important test.
“We get a lot of clients that need new brake lights,” says Liz. “Older brake light globes blow regularly because this is a globe that you are using constantly as it switches on and off under braking.”
The test is simple – are the wipers clearing the water from the windscreen, or are they leaving lines of water that impair your vision? Before setting out on your road trip, use the windscreen washers to spray your windscreen and then check if the wipers are doing their job.
4. Wheels and tyres
Tyres are perhaps the most important part of your vehicle. They are what connects your car to the road, and if you are driving for hours at a time, they need to be in tip-top shape.
“Firstly, we will look at the tread depth,” she says. “Most tyres have a tread depth indicator, and once the tyre is worn to that point, it needs to be replaced as soon as possible.”
“Check the surface of the tyre for any notable damage, inflections, and look for bubbles,” she adds.
It is also important for drivers to check their tyre pressure regularly, even if they are not on a road trip. If a tyre is over inflated, it will wear in the middle of the tyre, and if it is underinflated, it will wear on the sides and edges.
5. Brake pads
Another important component to consider is your brake pad wear.
“The brake pads are made up of a metal outer part and composite inner part,” Liz explains.
“The composite inner part needs to be above 5mm thick. Once the pad wears down below this, we will advise that the pad needs to be replaced.”
Make sure your handbrake is working correctly. Liz advises your handbrake should not click more than four times before it holds the car in place. Anything more than four clicks would not pass a roadworthy test.
Following the under-the-hood checks of the fluid levels, it is a good idea to check for any leaks from various components and hoses underneath your car.
If you see some oil spots or coolant, which has a shiny texture and looks similar to oil, on the floor of your garage, have your vehicle checked by a technician.
7. Drive belts
While checking underneath your vehicle, examine the drive belt for any cracks.
If your drive belt is damaged or worn out, you may have a total engine shutdown.
“You will not be able to charge the battery, and your vehicle will start overheating because the water pump is run by the belt,” says the Ford Technician.
“This is very important – if anything happens to this belt, you will be stuck within a few kilometres.”
If you are planning to be on the road for a long time, and if you have covered many kilometres since your last service, now is a good time to check.
8. Spare wheel
A simple yet essential check that you can do yourself before tackling any long journey is checking to see if your spare tyre, the jack, and spanner, are all present in your vehicle and if they are working properly.
You also want to make sure that your spare wheel has a properly inflated tyre on it.
Chances are you have not had to use it for a while, so check the pressure before setting off to avoid being stuck in the middle of the Karoo with a flat spare wheel.
Some tests can only be done under driving conditions.
Qualified technicians can pick up certain concerns that the everyday driver may miss. Things such as engine sounds, vibrations, and suspension.
“For the steering check, we will take the vehicle on the road and see whether the steering pulls in a certain direction – if the vehicle veers to the left or the right,”
“This could indicate a wheel alignment problem. If this is present, we will raise the vehicle and check the wheels again or other components, such as the steering rack,” she says.
10. Brakes and clutch
While the brake pads are checked when the car is stationary, it is important to evaluate how the vehicle reacts to braking when driving – whether it pulls to either side under braking.
It is totally unsafe to drive a vehicle that cannot be controlled under braking.