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Car won't start? Here are 5 easy tips to help keep your vehicle alive in SA

2018-08-20 05:30

Duncan Alfreds

 Car engine.

Car engine. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

There's nothing worse than putting your key in the ignition and finding out your car won't start. Cars are funny that way. But rest assured, long before your car finally lets you down, it's likely that it has long been giving you clues about something lurking under the bonnet.

READ: Spongy brakes, 'mayonnaise' under your oil cap? - 7 types of mechanic jargon that baffle motorists – and what they really mean

You don't have to be a dealership technician to know what to pay attention to ensure your car gives you many (hopefully happy) years of service.

The purists will hate this but modern cars are by and large far better engineered, safer, and more efficient than the classics of yesteryear.

Despite the reliability of modern cars, they're still machines and require maintenance. You can extend the life of your wheels by paying attention to the following sights and sounds.

Cooling system

A leak in the cooling system is guaranteed to wreck your engine, especially if you regularly drive in peak hour traffic.

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An engine that cannot cool will eventually blow the head gasket, allowing coolant (water in most cases) and oil to mix, and it can eventually lock up the engine, leaving you parked and waiting for a tow truck.

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You remember the K53 licence? Look under the car for any leaks after your drive.

A coolant leak may not always reveal itself with an obvious leak, so always check the temperature of your car while driving.

Once there's a leak, you'll quickly notice that you will run hotter than normal and you may have to replenish coolant on a regular basis.

Pro tip: Never try to check the coolant when the engine is hot. It will end in tears

Some radiator dealers will offer a free check on your radiator pressure but observe the workers while they conduct the check - even though you might be tempted to sip on the free coffee in the waiting area.

If you must replace the radiator on your old car, be sure that you also have the thermostat, as well as the hoses, checked.

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It often happens that a failing radiator has taken pressure off old hoses which will burst when they have to deal with the increased pressure of a new radiator in the cooling system.


Oil is the lifeblood of your engine and it is critical that the levels are maintained to ensure a long engine life.

It's easy to know whether your car is leaking oil: Just park for 30 minutes on a clean surface after a drive and wait. If there are drops of oil, it's your ride.

Pro tip: Check your oil dipstick on a level surface on a regular basis

Knowing where the oil is leaking from though is a different matter. Sometimes, it's from the oil seals, or it could be an oil filter not fastened securely - or it could be the sign of an engine giving up the ghost.

If your spark plugs have a black, oily residue on them, it is a sure sign that oil is getting into the combustion chamber and it is likely that an expensive engine repair is in your near future.

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There are products on the market that claim to be able to remedy worn piston rings but nothing out of a bottle can fix worn mettle.

Even if your car is leaking, don't overfill on oil as you could cause the engine to drag and push more oil into the combustion chamber, further reducing your engine efficiency.

Wheel bearings

People often overlook wheel bearings even though they form a vital part in connecting your car to the road.

Because they are moving parts, they are subject to wear and tear (more so if you are the showing off kind).

Before the wheel bearings finally fail, they give you the long goodbye.

The grinding noise you will hear as you drive is a sure sign of failing wheel bearings. And you don't fix it by just turning up the music.

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A bearing that fails while the car's in motion could be catastrophic: The wheel with hub will likely come straight off jolting you toward the scene of the accident if you're driving at high speed on a busy road.

Pro tip: At a minimum, replace wheel bearings in pairs, ditto for CV joints, shocks and tyres

If you have a bakkie that regularly carts heavy loads, you could subject your wheels bearings to higher wear and tear, so you should always check them.

An easy way to check the bearings is to grab the tyre with both hands and pull it firmly toward you. The tyre should not move.

If your tyre wobbles, then it is likely your wheels bearings are failing and will need to be replaced.


Here in a civilised society, we still drive manual transmission cars because - let's face it - true believer petrol heads don't like automatics, but we forgive sports cars with paddle shift.

Years ago when I taught young people driving lessons, they were always keen to demonstrate clutch control on an incline.

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While that may be worth bragging rights for new drivers, it does serious damage to your clutch plate, hastening its demise.

Ditto for high-speed take-offs from the lights.

It's bad enough that your clutch will wear in the pain of Cape Town peak hours' traffic; there's no need to try to kill it with poor driving technique.

Pro tip: Don't ride the clutch, use that handbrake and a smooth pull away will also save you petrol

Most clutches today are hydraulic so there's not much opportunity to adjust it.

It will let you know that the end is near when the car feels like it wants to go when you select first gear with the clutch depressed at a stop.

There might also be a shudder when you pull away.

Unfortunately, a clutch job is always expensive and a workshop might easily take the whole day to replace the mechanism.

So the lesson here is that decent driving could save you money.


Most modern cars are fitted with four-wheel disc brakes.

But these critical car components do the work of stopping the car so are vulnerable to wear, more so if you're a stop light to stop light urban racer.

Brakes are self-adjusting unless you're driving an old-school Beetle with four drums so check them at least once a month.

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It's easier to check brakes though alloy wheels fitted on most cars, if you have hubcaps, whipping them off for a brake check is easy peasy.

Pro tip: Leaking brake fluid is a sign that you may have a master or slave brake cylinder failure

Brakes will warn you about impending disaster when you hear a grinding as you put your foot on a stopping pedal.

By this time, the brake pad has likely worn down to the disc which probably means a brake skim as well as new pads, so checking can save you cash and enhance safety.

Saving money is important, but when it comes to brakes (and tyres, for that matter), don’t skimp on cash.

 Car engine.

                                                                      Image: Duncan Alfreds

Don't buy the cheapest brakes you can find; if you're not sure how don't replace your brake pads after watching a YouTube video.

My mechanic once punished me by charging me extra to change the brakes of an old Golf after I got creative with a brake job.

Modern cars are designed to perform well, and you don't have to break the bank to keep them in good condition - at least until you've paid them off.

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