Before every drive, we need to perform a few safety checks in and around the vehicle. When we go for a long drive such as for the holidays this is even more important and the list to check becomes a bit more comprehensive!
Our vehicle safety check needs to identify potential hazards and prevent additional damage before it happens!
An effective pre-trip inspection should include an overview of the legalities!
When starting your car, all of the engine check, oil and coolant levels, battery, brake and ignition lights should come on briefly then go off. If any of the warning lights remain on this indicates a problem - ignoring the issue won’t make it go away, and it could result in extensive damage and expensive repairs.
Make sure that all fluids are at their recommended levels. Inspect all oil, air and fuel systems (including hoses and pipes) for leaks and fix them before. Make sure that all fuel and oil caps are securely fastened.
Fuel: You do not wish to be the dummy that gets stranded without fuel along our busy and dangerous roads. Ensure that you and others that might be driving your vehicle are aware of the fuel requirements. Misfuelling [ Petrol or diesel in the wrong tank] could be a very expensive mistake!
Oil: Inspect your car's oil level at regular intervals, such as when refuelling your car. It is best to do this when the engine is warm but has been switched off so that the oil can settle. Make sure that all major filters - oil, air and fuel filters - are clean and functioning well. When you change the oil filter, make sure that you drain all old oil from your vehicle and replace it with new oil that matches the vehicle manufacturer’s specifications.
Battery: Test your vehicle’s battery to make sure that it’s delivering the correct charge and if necessary, the battery water is topped up. Most modern batteries are sealed maintenance-free units. Examine the battery for any signs of cracks, leaks or corrosion on the terminals. Have the alternator checked to make sure that it keeps the battery charged.
Brake Fluid: With most modern cars, to inspect fluid levels such as coolant, power steering and brake fluid is quite easy for the average driver. If you’re uncomfortable have them checked by your dealer. It’s also important to replenish fluids with the correct type - another reason why it’s important to visit an authorised dealer.
Coolants: Remember to never check coolant levels when an engine is hot, as pressurised cooling systems can cause serious burns. Make sure that the coolant is always maintained at the recommended level in the reservoir bottle next to the radiator, and check for leaks. Never rely on water alone for engine cooling - use a quality engine coolant, typically known as anti-freeze or summer coolant, mixed according to the manufacturer’s recommended ratio (typically 1-litre coolant to 3 litres of water). This coolant prevents freezing in cold temperatures, as well as boiling when the engine gets hot. It also resists corrosion, rust and scale build-up that would reduce the efficiency of the cooling system. Also, ensure that the radiator cap seals effectively and that the coolant fluid is clean and topped up to the correct level.
Tyres: Ensure that all wheels are securely fastened and the tyres have enough tread! Tyre tread depth is an easy inspection that can be performed by anyone. The legal tread depth is a minimum of 1.6mm in South Africa. Remember to measure across the entire width of the tyre, as the outer tread may be deeper than the inner.
Remember to check tyre pressures and adjust for heavy loads - but never to more than recommended manufacturer specifications which are usually found inside the filler flap door or on a sticker inside one of the front door jams. It’s also a good idea to check your spare wheel’s pressure and tread while you’re at it.
Check the surface of the tyre for any notable damage, inflexions, and look for bubbles.
Wheel Balance/ Alignment: Check to see if your vehicle’s tyres are wearing evenly. Uneven wear may indicate a worn steering or suspension component, and over or under-inflated tyre or bad wheel alignment / -balancing.
Shock Absorbers: Make sure that your vehicle’s shock absorbers and other suspension systems are keeping the tyres firmly on the ground. If your vehicle’s ride quality is harder than it normally is. For instance, rolling a lot when turning into corners or needs a longer distance to stop, then worn or damaged suspension parts like shocks or struts may need to be replaced.
Steering Wheel: Qualified technicians can pick up certain concerns that the everyday driver may miss. Things such as engine sounds, vibrations, and suspension. Have them take the vehicle on a test drive to see whether the steering pulls in a certain direction - if the vehicle veers to the left or the right etc.
Brakes and Brake Pads: Brake pads should be inspected by a qualified technician, but any squealing or scraping sounds are a dead giveaway that replacement is probably necessary. Vibrations in your pedal under braking is a sign of warped discs, which will either need skimming or replacement. Keep the brake fluid level topped up to the correct level on the brake reservoir. If there are any leaks around the reservoir or any of the brake discs or drums, or the brake performance is diminished, have the system inspected immediately.
Make sure your handbrake is working correctly. Check your vehicle’s brake fluid level and top it up if necessary. Check that the handbrake fluid level is good and that the brake is working optimally.
Lights and Indicators: One of the most important items in your pre-travel checklist should be your car’s lighting system. Ensure that all bulbs on your vehicle are in working order to ensure that you can see, be seen and heard and indicate your intentions.
Have a friend or family member help ensure that all lights including headlights, taillights, brake lights and indicators work properly. Make sure that headlights are adjusted correctly - ensuring that light beams offer adequate viewing distance, but without being adjusted too far upwards, causing visibility problems for oncoming motorists.
Remember that headlights are not only for you to see at night; they’re also there to let other road users see you. Driving with headlights on at all times of the day is a good safety strategy in South Africa as well.
Check all instruments to make sure that they give correct readings of speed, fluid levels etc. Check controls and switches, like those for lights, wipers, mirrors, defoggers etc.
Windscreen: Check to make sure that all windows are in good condition and that any cracks or chips are repaired. A damaged windscreen not only reduces visibility but also limits the windscreen’s ability to protect you in adverse conditions or an accident.
Wiper Blades: Your windshield wipers should clear a clean path in their travel. Any streaks or smears means they likely need replacement. Driving in a storm with worn wiper blades is an extremely dangerous and unnecessary risk. Make sure that wiper blades are performing well and allow for good visibility.
Seatbelts: Seatbelts save lives and reduce the severity of injury in road crashes. Check seatbelts and clips, as well as airbag settings (in some vehicles curtain airbags can be disabled).
Children younger than 4 years must be safely secured inside the vehicle in car seats. Also, ensure that older children and other passengers are safely secured with seatbelts!
Keep in mind that all loose items and even animals become projectiles when not safely secured!
Make sure that all body panels, mountings and accessories - including tow hitch and trailers etc. attached to them, are properly fastened and secured. The same applies to any load your vehicle may be carrying.
Check all catches, latches and hinges to make sure that they are secure and functioning correctly. Check for damage or rust that could compromise the vehicle’s structural integrity. Make sure that your vehicle isn’t overloaded.
Give the exhaust system a good once over to check for any leaks. A damaged exhaust system won’t only cause vehicle performance- and fuel consumption issues, but also poses a serious health risk.
The Spare Tyre: Make sure that your vehicle is equipped with a spare wheel in good condition, that you have the correct jack and other tools to remove a damaged wheel and tyre. You also want to make sure that your spare wheel has a properly inflated tyre on it.
Charged Cellular Phone: Have emergency numbers or emergency apps saved on your phone and ensure the charging cable in your vehicle is operational. Have the emergency numbers for your vehicle manufacturers authorized dealers in an easy-to-locate place in the vehicle and be sure to save it on your mobile phone as well.
Emergency Triangle: In an Emergency breakdown an emergency triangle must be available to be placed at least 45m behind the vehicle.
Emergency Kit: Have a fully packed emergency kit available for medical and other emergencies. Also, have a bottle of water at hand at all times!
Vehicle maintenance and safety guide to roadworthiness of vehicles