Tips for safe summer driving

HARARE - We are now officially in the summer season and the meteorological department has already warned of very high temperatures and these can be deadly both to humans and cars.

In case you are tempted to go for a drive — either for a day trip or to go on holiday — to escape from the entire political and economic hullabaloo and yes bond notes, you need to take a few precautions.

The combination of heat, long trips and heavy loads can place enormous demands on your car. So, before you pull out of the driveway, I would like to humbly suggest that you make sure that old and faithful jalopy is ready for a long, hot trip.

Check your tyres. Checking your tyres is crucial in the summer. Long road trips with humongous loads and high temperatures can stress your goodyears to the max. And, obviously, if the tyres go, you go! Besides, no one likes to force a mother-in-law into changing a tire on the side of the road. (You want to save her dwindling strength for that big transmission job when you get home!)

Make sure that you have the correct tyre pressure in all five tyres — In case you never noticed, there’s a tyre in the trunk. There’s plenty of debate about what constitutes “correct” tyre pressure, but we suggest going by what your vehicle manufacturer recommends, which should be listed on the side of the driver’s door, on the glove compartment door, or in the owner’s manual.

Don’t confuse the “maximum tyre pressure” listed on the sidewall of the tyre with the “recommended tyre pressure” provided by the manufacturer of the vehicle. While it’s okay to inflate your tyres to the “maximum tyre pressure” number, “recommended tyre pressure” is the ideal pressure you want in your tyres. If you’re carrying an extra heavy load, follow the recommendation for “heavy loads,” which is usually listed in the manual.

Water, water everywhere… Water is a crucial component of every long drive — for you and your car. So top up the screen wash reservoir — with water and cleaner to effectively clear off those pesky dead bugs — and have at least a couple of bottles of cold water for the driver and occupants of the vehicle.

Be cool. Make sure that the radiator core is in good shape. Even though the radiator may not be leaking now, it will be leaking soon. That means bad overheating. And when your engine isn’t cooled properly, it can easily blow a head gasket, or crack or warp a cylinder head. In technical jargon, your engine is going to “melt”.

What is the radiator core, and how would you know if it’s rotten? The core is the little tubes through which the coolant flows so that it can get cooled by the air flowing past it.

But, it takes some experience to recognise a radiator that’s rotten, so we recommend that you ask your mechanic to check it out. He’ll look at it and touch it to see how hard it is to get it to crumble. Unfortunately this is a destructive test — if it’s rotten it will fall apart. But better it happens in the shop than on the highway.

Another common radiator problem is a plugged radiator core. If this happens, you’ll notice that your engine is running hot when you’re driving at sustained high speeds or, as a strictly hypothetical example, while you’re climbing a long hill on a hot summer day with your luggage in the trunk.

A plugged radiator core can be the kiss of death for an engine. How do radiators get plugged? Simple. If you haven’t had your cooling system flushed since, say, Arthur Mutambara was deputy prime minister, it’s likely that many of the little cooling tubes within the radiator core are clogged with rust.

Do your research — and follow the rules. Okay, so you have a valid driver’s licence and insurance certificates, plus your vehicle excise duty is fully paid up, but are there more rules to obey? Well if you’re driving abroad, there almost certainly are. For example, some regional countries require a high-visibility jacket and warning triangle. So make sure you check all the necessary rules for every country you’ll visit.

Travel as lightly as possible. You want to have the right clothes for every eventuality on holiday, but don’t overload your car. If you exceed the recommended carrying capacity, fuel economy, handling and braking distances can adversely be affected. And make sure that your luggage doesn’t restrict your visibility (especially the view from the rear-view mirror).

Take a break. If you have a long drive ahead of you, plan your breaks so you stop after two hours, at the very least — or a 20-minute break in journeys of over three hours. And if you’re taking a rest stop, don’t leave children or animals in the car alone, as heat stroke can be dangerous, or even fatal.

Know where you’re going. Planning is key for any long journey, so work out the best route to your destination in advance — and any alternatives if you hit congestion. Modern satellite navigation units are all well and good, but a road atlas or map are always useful to have in the car, as they can give you the bigger picture if you have to make a diversion.

Entertainment. Long journeys — especially on motorways — can be very, very boring, so make sure you have a full range of distractions for passengers, especially any children in the car. Books, games, portable DVD players or tablets/smartphones are all vital for long journeys with children, so don’t be afraid to use whatever you have available to keep them occupied.

If push comes to shove, you could even talk to each other — but try not to distract the driver too much.

Until next week, drive safely!

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