Thursday Tip: Get winter-ready
& why getting your car checked over is so important
Check Right Away
Check the car starts – if you can check the battery and the alternator or get a professional to check them for you. Batteries are needed to start the car, and alternators provide the power when the motor is running. If either fails or is weak, the car will eventually stop (generally on a dark, wet, windy and late night).
Know where the lock-nut is for your car. If your car is fitted with a security lock on the wheels please please please make sure you know where it is, that you can put your hands on it straight away and it is in the car. From personal experience, the number of times we’ve been asked to change a tyre in the garage in dry conditions with the car on the lift, only the owner doesn’t know where the lock nut is. So it makes it really difficult in the garage and impossible on the roadside to change the wheel. Doesn’t matter if you have an old or new car, no lock nut no do. It’s not the garage’s fault; they don’t keep lock-nuts as there are hundreds of different kinds, no it is up to you, the owner, to know where yours is and that yours is in your car, under your nose.
Check the tyres – are the tyre treads clearly visible all over? Get on your knees, or better still, get someone else to go on their knees and check the tyres all over, both side, look at the wear pattern. Is there any sign of wear? Is the wear consistent all over? Can I still see the tyre depth markers on the tyres? (yes, tyres have depth markers, they are tiny bits of rubber between the tread and are 3mm high. If you can’t see them, then the chances are your tyre tread is below the minimum level. Also, it is good practice as roads are far more dangerous in winter with leaves, water, ice, frost, mud and all kinds of substances on them that give you far less grip, so if your tyres are below 3mm in tread depth, get then changed. Don’t risk your passengers or other road users’ lives for a piece of rubber; it’s not worth it.
While we are on about tyres, checking the other thing is the tyre pressure. Go down to the local garage, put your money in the air machine and make sure your tyres are at the correct pressure, and this applies even to the spare. Over or under inflation causes significant problems to tyre effectiveness and longevity.
Check for defects. Are there any cracks, holes, cuts, such as the one caused when you touched the curb the other day but the tyre stayed up, so you thought you had got away with it? The split that happened because of it is a major weak point in the tyre, and tyres face significant force to drive the car forward. So much so that tyres are designed to expand to give you friction that causes movement, they grip the road to propel you forward. Now cars weigh anything from 1200kgs to 3500kgs, that means at each corner, the weight on each tyre is over 300kgs, ah sure, but it’s only a minor defect, don’t scare me. Tyres are designed to stay within specific tolerances, outside of those, and there is a real danger of catastrophic failure under pressure, i.e. acceleration or braking. So get them changed.
And finally, about tyres, remember rubber degrades. Tyres over 6 years old and over 5 years old need replacing. It’s not a case that they have only done so much or so little driving; the rubber has degenerated and is not as strong. If you want to see the kind of stress that a tyre gets put under, just look at the slow motion of an F1 car when it is turning and look at how the tyres behave on the corners. You are probably not driving an F1 car, but your tyres are put under similar tyres of pressure, any defects, any bumps, any deficiency, and the tyre will burst while driving on the road.
Get your lights checked – we are all the world’s worst when it comes to car lights. Even if they don’t work correctly or point over the hedge and not the road, we are unlikely to do anything about them. Well, today we will. Today we will change; we will check the outside and the inside bulbs to make sure they are all working. We will also review the power sockets in the car as they might just save our life. That mobile phone charger that never worked, the inside light bulb that went 2 years ago and how you can’t find anything in the car because it is so dark inside. Think about it this way, if something happens and you stop on the road if you open the door, and there is no light on the inside, it is not only you that can’t see inside, neither can the other road users.
Wiper blades – yes, we have all done it. The fill wiper fluid light is on the dashboard. Do we fill or keep driving? We keep driving. Just take a moment to fill the washer bottle; a good-sized water bottle will typically do, get some screenwash and fill the thing. Now, when you need to clear the mud from the spray off the windscreen, you can see. While you are there, check over the front and back wiper blades. Ensure they clear the water off the windshield and do not leave any lines, or there are bits of the wiper blades coming away. If you see any lines at all, get the wipers changed.
Fluids – I’m sure that as most of us think about different fluids we might consume over the winter period, mine is tea; by the way, we forget that our cars also have an appetite for fluids that need to be catered for. I’m sure most of us, even though we won’t admit it, that the last time the oil was checked was when the garage serviced the car at some stage in the dim and distant past. If we are really good, we get the car serviced every year, but in all honesty, how many of us really do that? We should, but we don’t. Well, I’m here to tell you to call your local garage and book your car in for a full service, not just an oil and oil filter change but a complete service and check over. After all, think about it, if you do a full service with a suitable garage, they will check over all of the above for you anyhow and tell you what needs to be done. They are the professionals and can tell straight away any defects, anything that might cause an issue, how the brakes are working, how the tyres are, what the charge the battery is taking and holding; they will top up all of the fluids and make note anything that needs to be done. Now isn’t that far easier than looking; thinking is that right is that wrong and not really knowing if the fluids you are adding are going into the suitable bottles.
Check Every Week
- Start the car every week – it’s incredible how quickly the battery goes down; your car uses power when switched off, so don’t be surprised the battery goes flat!
- Check the tyre depth every week – make sure you have at least 3mm – lookout for the depth marks on the tyres. If you think I don’t have any, get new tyres NOW!
- Check the tyre pressure every week – and don’t forget the spare!
- Check all the lights every week – it is easy to find a white wall and put them on, turn the car around, and check the rear ones.
- Check the fluid levels every week – screen wash, coolant, and oil at least
- Check the wiper blades – front and back. Are they complete, or are bits starting to fray?
- Check the heater, the demister and, strange as it seems, the air conditioning – the air conditioning really helps in taking the damp away from the windows
Carry With You
So you have got the car checked out, and all is good with it, now so far so good. That doesn’t mean that something won’t happen, only that the likelihood of something happening decreases. We can’t plan for every eventuality such as roads blocked, punctures, freezing temperatures, trees down or simple things like a bulb going the day after you have checked it, these things happen, and we need to make sure both the car and ourselves are prepared.
Somethings for the car
- Spare bulbs / fuses
- Warning triangle
- A torch with batteries – be sure to check your torch’s batteries regularly
- A Tow rope
- A High Visibility Vest
- A Shovel
- A First Aid Kit
- A set of Jump Leads
- De-icing spray and glass scraper
Somethings for you
- Spare jacket / socks / shoes
- Make sure your mobile is charged, or you can charge it in the car
- Some non-perishable foodstuffs and drink
There you go, something that won’t take a great deal of time but could save you from having a very uncomfortable experience if you break down or have to spend time stopped on the road. So again, some things we can mitigate for and some not, but if we fail to plan, then we plan to fail. Failing on the side of the road can be fatal, something no one wants, so just make sure you are prepared.
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