Holiday season is here, and with it the season of holiday travel as well. Kids may have replaced backseat pillow forts for personal tablets, and your phone’s GPS means you no longer need to argue with the husband over why he didn’t just ask for directions, but some things never change – pre-travel maintenance of your car is as important as it always was. The last thing you want with a boot full of luggage is to be stuck on the side of the road (or worse) over something you could have avoided. Make sure you take a quick run-through of our pre-travel car maintenance checklist
First on the list is pressure – under- or over-inflated tyres can make a big difference in how your car drives, affecting things like braking, their ability to grip the road and steering. Have your tyre pressure for all four tyres checked at your nearest garage, or check them yourself. The tyre pressure for your specific car should be in the owner’s manual, but you can also usually find it on the side panel just inside the driver’s side door.
Tyre tread depth is another important check. A set of new tyres will have about 8mm of tread on the surface. The absolute minimum legal limit for tread depth in South Africa is 1.6mm, but you should have your tyres replaced before you reach this. Check the tread wear indicators on the tyre for an indication of how worn your tyres are. Worn and degraded tyres affect your vehicle’s grip on the road surface and braking ability, and could lead to serious accidents.
You can also easily check this at your nearest garage, but drivers often skip the check when it’s offered. Driving with low oil levels risks damaging your engine as the oil is needed to lubricate all the moving parts. Check your oil level by removing the dipstick and wiping it clean. The dipstick has two markings on the tip, the one closest to the tip is the minimum oil level and the one higher up is the maximum. Push the dipstick all the way back in and then remove to check where the oil level comes – ideally it will be closer to the second, higher marking than the one near the tip. Do not fill past the maximum marking, as this could end up popping the oil seals.
3. Coolant and other fluids
The best option would be to have these checked by a professional before you go on your trip, as they will know exactly what to look for, including any possible leaks. This includes coolant, power steering fluid, brake fluid and the like. These checks are especially important in older cars with higher mileage.
Get someone to help you check that all your headlights, indicators and brake lights are in good working order, since you won’t be able to see this from inside the car. Working lights are important for road safety and visibility, and you really don’t want to get a fine at the inevitable roadblock. Replacing any non-functioning bulbs yourself is usually not too complicated.
5. Windscreen and wipers
You can never predict what kind of weather you’re in for, and South African thunderstorms can leave you near blind if you’re driving with wipers that don’t work properly. Check for signs of wear like cracks in the rubber, squeaking noises or streaky or jumpy wiping, and replace your wipers if needed. You should also inspect your windscreen for any chips or cracks; even the smallest ones can cause a problem if they run and spread while you’re travelling.