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Be road-trip ready by following these necessary car checks

Image: Anna Om/123RF

The holiday season is nearly upon us and, with inter-provincial travel still on the cards, you’re no doubt planning some kind of vehicular escape with your family or friends.

Before hitting the highway, you should make doubly sure that your car is as roadworthy as you are. So follow these tips for a stress-free trip.

Don’t skimp on that service:

The most important thing to do before embarking on your road trip is to make sure your car’s maintenance schedule is up to date. Modern vehicles should be serviced according to the mileage intervals stipulated in the owner’s manual or once every 12 months — whichever comes first.

If your car is due a service then book it in with your dealer or trusted mechanic two weeks before you depart. If your schedule is up to date I’d still recommend having your engine oil and filter changed — particularly if you’re planning a lengthy trip — as it’s a cheap and easy way to keep your motor running at its optimum.

It’s also worth popping your bonnet and inspecting the engine bay for any leaks or obvious irregularities. Also double-check your oil and coolant levels, but do this only when the car has been standing overnight and hasn’t yet been started so as to ensure 100% accurate measurements.

Pay attention to tyres:

Tyres are the only things keeping you, your passengers, and your car stuck to the road. Therefore, it’s imperative to make sure that all four of them (and your spare) are in tip-top condition.

Tread depth is perhaps the most important thing to look for; when there isn’t enough “meat” left then the tyre’s ability to disperse water is greatly reduced. Although the law dictates that 1mm of tread is the bare minimum, we recommend allowing for 3mm. If you’re unsure of the state of your tyres, take your car to a tyre-fitment centre for an inspection.

At the same time, it’s a good idea to have your tyres balanced, aligned, and rotated if you haven’t done so recently. This not only helps quell any unwanted vibrations but also restores vehicle handling and evenly distributes the wear between the front and rear tyres.

Once this has been done, be sure to maintain your tyre pressures by keeping them inflated to the figures stipulated inside your car’s owner’s manual. Also take into account that that tyre pressure will, due to atmospheric pressure, decrease when driving from inland to the coast and increase vice versa.

Be ready for the rain:

Windscreen wipers are an often overlooked but essential component of any vehicle. As we enter the summer rain season, make sure that your wiper blades are still in good condition.

They should be free from cracks and, when in operation (you can check by simply using your windscreen washer function) they should swipe silently and efficiently with no unsightly wet streaks that could possibly obscure your vision in a cloud burst.

Wiper blades can be bought from most automotive-spares shops for not a lot of money and can be installed by even the most ham-fisted individuals. Also make sure that the plastic windscreen-washer bottle is filled and contains an appropriate amount of cleaning fluid.

Plan for the unexpected:

Like it or not, mechanical gremlins can strike even the most well-maintained cars. As such, it’s a good idea to carry a few basic tools with you on longer jaunts. A canvas tool-roll is an affordable and compact option that can carry an array of spanners, a socket wrench and pliers — items that can help see to minor roadside maladies.

Other must-haves include a disposable poncho (in case you’re stuck out in the rain), torch or headlamp, two spare sparkplugs, a 500ml bottle of oil (make sure it’s the correct grade for your engine) and 500ml — or 1-litre if you can spare the space — bottle of anti-freeze premix.

A roll of duct tape and a few cable-ties are also worth having (there’s almost nothing a roll of duct tape cannot fix!) Also check that your car’s standard toolkit is order and that you have everything you need to change a tyre — there’s nothing more infuriating than finding something crucial, such as your wheel jack, missing.

Finally, for extra peace of mind, we suggest taking out an AA roadside assistance membership just in case things really do go awry and you’re unable to fix the problem yourself. Find out more at aa.co.za

Rest hard, drive easy:

Before leaving on your journey, be sure to get a good night’s sleep so that your body and mind are both rested and ready to go when you hit the highway.

Avoid drinking any alcohol the night before and go easy on the energy drinks once the drive commences. One or two are fine but any more and you’ll be strung-out and jittery. Instead, stay hydrated with lots of water.

If you feel tired, pull over at one of the many picnic spots that litter our national road network for a quick stretch of the legs. Also remember not to rush as the journey is often as good — if not better –— than the destination. Happy holidays and safe tavels!

This article first appeared in the December 2020 print edition of S Mag.