ROAD TRIP CHECK: Before embarking on a road trip, always ensure your vehicle is in tip-top condition. Image: iStock
South Africa - A long road trip is a serious test for any car so it’s important to check that all is working as it should be - even if the car has recently been serviced.
And, do this check well in advance, don’t leave it to the last minute in case you need to get the car into a workshop for repairs, advises Les McMaster, Chairman of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (Miwa).
MIWA offers a checklist of what should be looked at when preparing your car for a long trip, but the list doesn’t include important parts such as brakes and suspension components that, McMaster says, should always be checked by a reputable workshop.
McMaster says: “Firstly, we want to remind motorists that there is plenty of value in reading through your owner’s manual as it contains a lot of useful information - from how to tow a trailer to changing a flat tyre or engine oil, jump-starting the car if the battery dies and even what to do if the engine overheats.”
READ: Vehicle maintenance in SA: 7 essential checks
Things motorists can check and change:
When you pull the dipstick out, wipe it with a paper towel and insert it back fully. Pull it out again and check the level - it should be close to the full mark on the dipstick. If the oil appears too black, it’s advisable to change it.
The level should be between the low and full marks. NEVER open the radiator cap when the engine is hot! If the anti-freeze is well below the low mark, have your radiator checked for leaks. A lack of anti-freeze can cause the engine to overheat and result in serious damage.
If you can see any acid leaks, cracks or other damage, you should replace the battery. The battery terminals should be tight and there should be no corrosion around these. A new battery can last between three to six years, so if yours is older than three years, have it tested before your trip.
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A dirty filter will cause the car to lose power. So if the filter hasn’t been changed in a long time, it’s advisable to change it before taking a long trip.
Low brake fluid level may indicate worn out brake pads, so have your brakes checked.
Lights and other electrics
Check your hooter, wipers and all the lights. It’s always a good idea to carry a few spare bulbs in the cubby. Worn out wiper blades can pose a serious hazard if you hit bad weather or need to clean your windscreen while driving. If you still have the original wipers installed, you can just replace the rubber refills; they’re inexpensive and can be bought at any parts shop. Check your side mirrors are adjusting properly.
These must be maintained at the correct pressure at all times. If you experience a vibration at highway speed, have your tyres balanced and if you notice uneven tyre wear it may be an alignment problem. Don’t forget to also check the pressure of the spare tyre and make sure the jack is working properly.
Many components of the brakes, steering, suspension and the drive train can only be properly inspected once the car is on a lift which is why it’s important to get a reputable workshop to do this part of the checklist for you, says McMaster.
McMaster concludes: “Lastly, we suggest a basic emergency kit for the car. This should include jumper cables, a basic toolkit, tyre sealant and a pressure gauge, a torch, spare bulbs, engine oil and emergency triangles.
"You should also carry a basic first-aid kit and items like a blanket, a bottle of water and energy bars. And, consider travelling with a navigation system for added peace of mind.”