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Tips for holiday motoring

Tips for holiday motoring

Road trips can provide unforgettable adventures for you and your family – but they can also be stressful if you don’t take time to plan them thoroughly. Follow these tips to get your car ship shape for the journey – then plan your route to make getting to your destination part of your holiday.

1. YOUR VEHICLE

Vehicle components which play a significant role in ensuring your safety on the road – and that of other road users – include brakes, tyres, steering, suspension, lights and windscreen wipers.

All of these items – along with the vehicle’s engine – should be properly checked before you embark on your journey. For instance, it’s no good discovering just a few kilometres after leaving home that you may have blown the engine’s cylinder head gasket because of lack of coolant in the radiator... or, in the middle of a rainstorm, that you can’t see where you’re going because the rubber on the windscreen wipers has perished… or that you can’t stop quickly in an emergency because the vehicle’s brake pads have worn excessively.

 

Brakes

In terms of braking efficiency, it’s not only pads and discs that should be checked – other parts can wear, too, and broken or perished pipes or seals in the hydraulic system may allow fluid to leak, resulting in decreased braking efficiency and the possibility of complete failure.

Have all components in the system thoroughly inspected by an expert to determine whether they are operating properly.

 

Tyres

Tyres are the only items on your vehicle which have contact with the road. Those in good condition help to promote safety, comfort and vehicle performance – those that are worn or damaged pose significant dangers to all road users.

Driving with low tread depth increases the potential for tyre failure and, in wet weather, loss of vehicle control through aquaplaning.

The legal minimum tread depth in South Africa is 1,6mm across the central three-quarters of the tread width and around its entire circumference, while tyres with tread depth indicators are deemed roadworthy if the tread remains proud of the indicator blocks.

However, it’s not only tread depth that matters in determining a tyre’s serviceability – the condition of sidewalls is vitally important, too. Cracks, gashes, bulges or depressions compromise the casing’s integrity and could result in tyre failure.

Equally, driving on tyres that are out of balance – or which are under, over or unevenly inflated – could have serious consequences in terms of the vehicle’s ride and handling characteristics.

If tyres are out of balance, vibrations will be felt through the vehicle’s steering column or chassis. The drive can be very unpleasant as well as dangerous, since maintaining proper steering control can be difficult.

In addition, when tyres aren’t balanced some sections of their casings may suffer unintended stress, putting them at higher risk of failing, while fuel consumption is likely to suffer.

Similarly, tyre pressures which are too low tend to affect vehicle stability while increasing fuel consumption. Tread wear will be apparent along the outer edges of the tyre and steering will feel heavy. Heat build-up through excessive flexing could lead to blow-outs.

Over-inflated tyres result in faster tread wear down the centre of the tyre and a ride that’s harsh and bumpy, with an increased risk of skidding, while uneven tyre pressures left and right can cause serious directional stability problems due to traction variances.

Note that though tyres on the same axle should always be pumped to exactly the same recommended pressures, it is not unusual for pressures at the front tyres to differ from those at the rear. Also, most manufacturers recommend slightly higher tyre pressures for vehicles that are fully laden.

Before beginning your journey, have the tyres pumped to the recommended pressures listed in the vehicle’s owner’s manual. And don’t forget the spare, which must also be thoroughly inspected to ensure serviceability!

 

Steering

The main function of steering is to provide directional control of the vehicle – but since many components in the system are not easily seen, defects can go undetected and lead to serious consequences.

Broken or damaged track control arms, loose ball joints, a faulty pump in the hydraulic system or leaking seals are among the most common causes of steering failure. If you are in any doubt concerning the integrity of the steering system in your car – perhaps manifest by excessive play in the column – have it checked by an expert.

Simultaneously, have the wheel alignment of the vehicle corrected. A car that runs straight and true is far easier to steer around corners than one which pulls to the right or left – and you’ll save money on fuel and reduce tyre wear, too.

 

Suspension

A vehicle’s suspension system has two primary functions: to keep the car’s wheels in contact with the road and to provide a comfortable ride for cabin occupants. A lot of the suspension’s work is done by the springs.

Under normal conditions they support the weight of the vehicle evenly by compressing and rebounding with every up and down movement, the amount of travel damped by the shock absorbers.

Incorrect linkage adjustment, loose mounting bolts, worn shock absorbers or weak or broken springs can wreak havoc with a vehicle’s dynamic stability, so it is best have all aspects of the underpinnings checked regularly. Remember, when shocks or springs need replacing, they should be substituted in axle pairs.

 

Lighting

Besides reducing your ability to see at night, defective headlights may mean that your vehicle may not be visible to other road users. Equally, if the indicators and brake lights on your car fail, other road users may not know until it’s too late that you intend to turn or stop.

Always carry a spare set of globes in your car so that defective bulbs can be replaced immediately. Further, if you find yourself driving in rain or fog, make sure your car’s lights – including fog lights – are switched on to increase your visibility to other road users.

 

Engine

Check oil and coolant levels with the vehicle parked on a level surface. If the engine has been running, wait at least 10 minutes for it to cool – and for fluids to settle – before checking the levels.

Start with the oil. Check the colour and consistency of the lubricant on the dipstick. Oil that’s in good condition should look slightly golden or greenish. Wipe the oil off the end of the dipstick and examine it on a rag or paper towel.

Oil changes colour from golden or amber to brown and black as more and more particulates mix with it. Over time, metal filings and other contaminants suspended in the lubricant slowly scrape the linings of the cylinders, which is why the oil needs to be changed according to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended service intervals.

If the colour is deep black, it’s likely a sign that the oil needs replacing and you would be wise to book the car in for a service. If it appears greenish, clean the dipstick and reinsert it into the engine, then withdraw it immediately to check the oil level.

You’ll find two small indicators near the foot of most dipsticks – one high and one low – which correspond to maximum and minimum fill lines. In a properly filled sump that’s cool, the oil level should fall midway between the two points.

If you do have to add oil, make sure the type you are using is compatible with your vehicle’s engine. It’s important to always check, because it’s generally unwise to mix different grades of oil. Consult your owner’s manual for the correct specification and add the oil in small quantities, allowing time for it to drain into the sump before rechecking the dip stick. Avoid overfilling.

While you’ve got the bonnet open, check coolant hoses, clamps and V-belts for cracks or other signs of wear. If in doubt about the serviceability of any components, have them checked by an expert.

Also, make sure the coolant level in the reservoir is correct – most have the fill range marked on the side. If the engine is cold, the level should be up to the cold fill line. If the level is low, add coolant to the reservoir until it reaches the line. Replace the cap on the reservoir, making sure it is properly secure.

 

Bodywork

One of the main functions of a vehicle’s bodywork is to provide a structurally sound compartment for driver and passengers. Designed to progressively absorb impact forces during a collision – as well as providing a good platform for suspension and steering systems – well maintained bodywork plays an important, protective role in vehicle safety.

Distorted, buckled or misaligned panels, bumper damage, corrosion of the chassis, floor pan, doors or pillars, tend to reduce the overall effectiveness of the safety cell hence it’s wise to have body damage expertly repaired before embarking on an extended journey.

Equally, a well-polished car exterior helps to make the vehicle slip more easily through the air, reducing drag and helping to improve fuel consumption. For this reason it’s wise to wash and wax your car regularly.

 

Glass, Windscreen Wipers

Wipers are there to help clean the windscreen and to provide the driver with a view of the road ahead in rain, mist or fog. However, wiper blades are subject to deterioration over time and, once they have lost their edge, they can no longer clear the screen properly.

Similarly, a cracked or damaged windscreen can impair the driver’s vision and has the potential to shatter completely, due to vibration. Have cracks or stars repaired before you leave for your holiday, and check the wiper blades fore and aft for defects.

Make sure the washer bottle is full – add a reputable screen-wash mixture if desired – and that all glasswork has been polished inside and out with glass cleaner to help prevent fogging in damp or cold conditions.

 

Air conditioning

Since extreme heat has a negative impact on intellect and physical activity, use of air-conditioning helps to alleviate the problems by improving comfort levels. A temperature of around 20°C inside the cabin of a car helps to keep occupants feeling fresh, reducing sweat levels and the risk of dehydration. Also, a well-maintained air conditioning system helps to exclude external allergens such as pollens, renewing and improving air quality.

If your car has an air conditioning system make sure that it has been properly serviced before leaving on your journey – the benefits are well worth the effort. If your vehicle lacks air conditioning, encourage occupants to drink plenty of water during the journey to maintain hydration levels and, from time to time, reduce speed and open all windows for brief periods to expel stale air from the cabin. At all times, keep ventilation outlets open to the outside to encourage a flow of air through the passenger compartment.

2. YOUR JOURNEY

While getting to your destination – and returning from it – can be fun, careful planning of the travel itineraries will help to relieve much of the stress associated with long-distance driving.

First, work out the average speed at which you expect to complete the route – at 100km/h, a trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town on the N1, a distance of about 1 400km, will mean a solid 14 hours on the road.

Factor in at least five, 10-minute rest stops along the way – including a slightly longer break for fuel and an oil and coolant level check – and you can add an hour to that time. A stop for a meal could easily account for another hour, bringing the total journey time to around 16 hours.

That’s a daunting prospect on a road that’s likely to be heavy with traffic from start to finish, so you may consider breaking the journey into two parts.

Eight hours behind the steering wheel in daylight is preferable to a single, 16-hour stretch that would probably involve leaving and arriving in the dark. Set the midway point in your journey and consider less frequently travelled routes to get there. Make sure arrangements for overnight accommodation are completed before you leave.

Stop for a break every two hours – you’ll probably cover about 200km in that time – and walk around your vehicle not only to get your circulation going, but to have a close look at each tyre.

Try to plan your journey so that you avoid rush hour when departing or arriving. One of the rest stops – say at the 400km mark – could double as a fuel stop. When on the move, make sure that every occupant in the vehicle is wearing a seat belt. Toddlers under three must be strapped in a car seat and children who are less than 1,3 metres tall require booster seats.

Obey all the rules of the road, and drive to suit conditions. If the speed limit is 120km/h but visibility is poor, decrease speed to ensure that you have more time to react if anything untoward occurs. Be courteous to other drivers – remember, everyone has a right to be on the road.

The journey is not a race. Take your time and arrive at your destination calm and rested.


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