Monday, September 1, 2008

Vehicle Safety Check

With the holiday season fast approaching I thought we should take a look at the basic items on a vehicle safety check. I strongly suggest having a qualified mechanic carry out a full service and tune-up before contemplating any long trips and that combined with these few basic tips should see you get to your destination without any mechanical dramas.

  • The first item on the list is a check of the lights - headlight, both high and low beam, the indicators front and rear, parking lights front and rear, number plate lights and with the help of an assistant check your brake lights including the eye-level brake light if fitted.
  • Number Two is your wiper blades. There is nothing worse than getting caught in a rain shower with crappy wiper blades and usually they get overlooked until this happens! Throw a bit of water on the windscreen, operate the wipers and look for a nice streak-free finish. A handy tip that I allways use is get yourself a bottle of Rain-X and periodically wipe your windscreen with a cloth wet with the Rain-X. This stuff is awesome at beading any water that hits the screen and the water is blown off by the wind. Car polish is also useful for this.
  • Washer Fluid and Washer Jets. Another forgotten item until they are needed! Top up the fluid bottle with water and an approved detergent. Operate the washers and if any are blocked a poke with a sewing pin usually gets them working again. Also check the jets alignment, no use using your water to wash the guys windscreen behind you! You can re-align the jet by sticking the sewing pin into the jet and gently moving it in the direction you need it to go.
  • Tyres, please check your tyres before heading off anywhere. Check for adequate tread depth across the entire tread surface of the tyre. If there is major wear on one side of the tyre only I suggest you have a wheel alignment carried out before going anywhere as there may be problems that need to be corrected sooner rather than later.
  • Tyre Pressures. Most service stations have facilities for checking tyre pressures if you don’t have a guage or compressor at home. 32-34psi for passenger car tyres and 40psi for 4×4 and Light Truck tyres is a good operating pressure. If you are carrying a reasonable size load on your trip away increase the rear tyre pressure by around 4psi to cater for this extra load. Having correctly inflated tyres not only prolongs tyre life, it also helps reduce fuel consumption. Don’t forget to check the spare tyre!
  • Fan Belts, mostly referred to these days as drive belts. Check your fan belts for any signs or cracks or deterioration. If in any doubt have a mechanic check and/or replace them. Ask for the old ones to be returned and keep them as spares. You never know when they may come in handy. Tieing up annoying relatives, you know, that sort of thing.
  • Radiator and Heater hoses. Check all the water carrying hoses for splits and deterioration, once again if in doubt have a mechanic take a look.
  • All under-bonnet fluid levels. Engine oil level and condition, Transmission fluid level and condition, Coollant level and condition including the overflow bottle, Battery electrolyte level, Brake Fluid level and condition. As above, if anything looks suspect have a mechanic take a look before you head out.
  • Differential Oil level and condition. This one may be too adventurous for some people so ask your mechanic to make sure that they check it when you have a service done. You would be surprised at how many mechanics don’t check these basic things when servicing cars.
  • Another point to note - we had quite a few cars at our workshop that has stopped due to dirty fuel filters. With an efi engine it doesn’t take much of a fuel pressure drop to cause problems and the fuel filter is often over-looked when servicing a car. If you are unsure of when yours was last changed, change it yourself or have a mechanic do it for you, just to be sure. It is a small price to pay when you consider what a breakdown could cost you.

As I said these are only basic items that anyone can check and there is certainly more to consider in a vehicle safety check so please have your mechanic carry out a service and tune-up before heading off on a long trip. It is money worth spending when you consider the possible costs involved in a breakdown.

Remember to take plenty of breaks along the way and if you are travelling with small children I wish you the best of luck. Have plenty of games to keep them occupied or at least a bottle of Phenergan and a large rubber mallet for those trying times!


If you've been out on the roads, you know that not everyone drives well. Some people speed aggressively. Others wander into another lane because they aren't paying attention. Drivers may follow too closely, make sudden turns without signaling, or weave in and out of traffic.

Aggressive drivers are known road hazards, causing one third of all traffic crashes. But inattentive driving is becoming more of a problem as people "multitask" by talking on the phone, eating, or even watching TV as they drive. We can't control the actions of other drivers. But learning defensive driving skills can help us avoid the dangers caused by other people's bad driving.

Skills That Put You in Control

Before you get behind the wheel of all that glass and steel, here are some tips to help you stay in control:

Stay focused. There are a lot of things to think about when driving: road conditions, your speed, observing traffic laws and signals, following directions, being aware of the cars around you, checking your mirrors — the list goes on. Staying focused on driving — and only driving — is key.

Distractions, like talking on the phone or eating, make a driver less able to see potential problems and react to them. It's not just teen drivers who are at fault: People who have been driving for a while can get overconfident in their driving abilities and let their driving skills get sloppy. All drivers need to remind themselves to stay focused.

Stay alert. Being alert (not sleepy or under the influence) allows you to react quickly to potential problems — like when the driver in the car ahead slams on the brakes at the last minute. Obviously, alcohol or drugs (including prescription and over-the-counter drugs) affect a driver's reaction time and judgment. Driving while tired has the same effect and is one of the leading causes of crashes. So rest up before your road trip.

Watch out for the other guy. Part of staying in control is being aware of the drivers around you and what they may suddenly do so you're less likely to be caught off guard. For example, if a car speeds past you on the highway but there's not much space between the car and a slow-moving truck in the same lane, it's a pretty sure bet the driver will try to pull into your lane directly in front of you. Anticipating what another driver may do prepares you to react.

Eight Secrets of Super Driving

When you drive defensively, you're aware and ready for whatever happens. You are cautious, yet ready to take action and not put your fate in the hands of other drivers. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 90% of all crashes are attributed to driver error.

Following these defensive driving tips can help reduce your risk on the road:

  1. Think safety first. Avoiding aggressive and inattentive driving tendencies yourself will put you in a stronger position to deal with other people's bad driving. Leave plenty of space between you and the car in front. Always lock your doors and wear your seatbelt to protect you from being thrown from the car in a crash.
  2. Be aware of your surroundingspay attention. Check your mirrors frequently and scan conditions 20 to 30 seconds ahead of you. If a vehicle is showing signs of aggressive driving, slow down or pull over to avoid it. If the driver is driving so dangerously that you're worried, try to get off the roadway by turning right or taking the next exit if it's safe to do so. Also, keep an eye on pedestrians, bicyclists, and pets along the road.
  3. Do not depend on other drivers. Be considerate of others but look out for yourself. Do not assume another driver is going to move out of the way or allow you to merge. Assume that drivers will run through red lights or stop signs and be prepared to react. Plan your movements anticipating the worst-case scenario.
  4. Have an escape route. In all driving situations, the best way to avoid potential dangers is to position your vehicle where you have the best chance of seeing and being seen. Having an alternate path of travel is essential, so take the position of other vehicles into consideration when determining an alternate path of travel.
  5. Follow the 3- to 4-second rule. Since the greatest chance of a collision is in front of you, using the 3- to 4-second rule will help you establish and maintain a safe following distance and provide adequate time for you to brake to a stop if necessary in normal traffic under good weather conditions.
  6. Keep your speed down. Posted speed limits apply to ideal conditions. It's your responsibility to ensure that your speed matches conditions.
  7. Separate risks. When faced with multiple risks, it's necessary to address them by separating risks. Your goal is to avoid having to deal with too many risk factors at the same time.
  8. Cut out distractions. A distraction is any activity that diverts your attention from the task of driving. Driving deserves your full attention — so stay focused on the driving task.
If you're interested in taking a defensive driving course to help sharpen your driving knowledge and skills, contact your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). All states keep a list of defensive driving courses that are approved by the state — some even offer courses online. They cost money, but some insurance companies offer insurance premium discounts for the successful completion of a course.