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Tips to keep your car running smoothly

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Your car might be hewn from steel and glass, but that doesn’t mean it’s infallible to everyday wear and tear. This is why it’s crucial to adhere strictly to the manufacturer-prescribed maintenance schedule detailed inside your vehicle’s owner's manual.

Honour thy maintenance 

Usually it’s every 12 months or 15 000km — whatever comes first. And just because you’re not driving as much as you used to in the past (thanks, Covid-19) don’t think that you can delay that trip to your dealership or preferred mechanic. While this might save you some money in the short term, deferred maintenance leads not only to bigger problems down the line but can also void your warranty should you have one. If your car is paid off, and you no longer have a service plan, you can also look at changing your oil and oil filter in between services to help extend the life of your engine — it’s cheap preventative maintenance that will pay dividends in the long run. 

Be hands-on

You don’t need a degree in mechanical engineering to keep your car running smoothly. Set aside a few minutes every week to pop the bonnet and check maintenance basics such as the level of your engine oil and radiator coolant. Not only will this help prevent any unnecessary breakdowns (you would be surprised how many cars overheat simply because they didn’t have enough coolant in them) but also alert you to any potential leaks or engine issues. If you’re not sure how to do this, you can learn from simply reading your car’s owner’s manual or clicking on over to YouTube — a goldmine when it comes to picking up useful nuggets of automotive information. Remember that for accurate readings, it’s imperative that you only check fluids first thing in the morning before starting your engine. In addition, you should also regularly check your tyre pressure to make sure that they are correctly inflated (again, refer to your owner’s manual). Underinflated tyres not only increase your fuel consumption but also have a detrimental effect on the way your vehicle stops and handles. 

Track down a trustworthy mechanic 

If your car is out of motor plan, you can either keep on servicing it at your preferred dealership or entrust its maintenance schedule to an independent workshop. If you decide on the latter, it’s imperative that you choose a trustworthy operation — not some fly-by-night grease monkey who’ll cut corners with poor workmanship and substandard parts. Now, one of the best ways to do this is to ask your friends if they can recommend somebody — this is how I’ve discovered all the best mechanics. Better still, if you have friends who are especially into cars, ask them where you should go — they’re sure to have suggestions. If all else fails, another good source is asking on Facebook community groups in and around your area. 

Be prepared 

Even the most pampered of cars can give trouble sometimes, which is why you should be prepared just in case any issues ever arise. We suggest stuffing a small backpack with indispensable motoring essentials such as jumper cables, a quart (500ml) of oil, spare spark plug, tow rope, and 500ml of coolant premix. Other items worth packing include a small LED flashlight, a multi-tool, duct tape, an emergency rain poncho, some waterless hand cleaner, and a can of tyre sealant. Once everything is secured, store said backpack in your boot. Another thing worth doing is signing up for AA roadside assistance. This will give you added peace of mind should you have the misfortune of breaking down. Pricing is reasonable, and even the entry-level package offers preferential towing rates should the worst ever come to the worst. Finally, budget for the unexpected by setting up a car emergency fund. By stashing R500 (or whatever you can afford) into a savings pocket each month, you can build a financial safety net should you have the misfortune of being hit by unforeseen repair bills.

Unplug when you buckle up

Our modern world is filled with distractions, and your smartphone is right at the top of the list thanks to its plethora of dopamine-stirring apps like Facebook and Instagram. While worthy of your attention at home, these digital diversions should be avoided at all costs when behind the wheel. Indeed, various studies have shown that dabbling with the small screen when driving is as — or in some cases more — dangerous than being under the influence of alcohol. This is why you should put your smartphone inside your purse or handbag every time you buckle up. Banishing this digital distraction will not only lessen your chances of having an accident but also free you up to look out for other hazards such as potholes, wayward pedestrians, and potential hijackers who could be lurking in the shadows at intersections. #pleaseputitaway. 

This article first appeared in the 2021 August print edition of S Mag.

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