If you ever read one article on motoring, this should be it. Charleen Clarke asks an expert for his 10 key motoring tips
Jeremy Clarkson, step away from the car. We have our own motoring guru here in South Africa. He isn’t nearly as arrogant, tall, well known or wealthy. But Jake Venter, CAR magazine’s technical editor, knows more about cars than Jeremy will learn in a lifetime. We asked this engineer and mechanic for 10 pearls of motoring wisdom.
Don’t Let a Workshop Rip You Off
Whatever you do, don’t come across as ignorant when you take your car for a service. According to Venter, workshops are notorious for duping uniformed motorists. Also, never give an open instruction and always insist on a written quotation upfront. If they refuse, go somewhere else. ‘Don’t tell them, for example, that your car is consuming too much fuel and then ask them to rectify the problem. They have been known to regard this as carte blanche to replace all sorts of parts and even overhaul the engine. It is safer to ask them to investigate why the fuel consumption is high, give you a quote to fix it, and carry out the job only after receiving your authorisation,’ he advises.
Read Your Owner’s Manual From Cover to Cover
It’s a frightfully dull and onerous task. We know you’d rather be doing something more fun, but it’s important – because you will glean all sorts of essential information. ‘All cars manufactured in the last two years have catalytic converters as part of the exhaust system. Some of them have inadequate heat shields, with the result that if you park on dry grass the car may catch fire. The manual usually warns you about this,’ explains Venter. If anything is unclear, ask a knowledgeable person, such as a dealer with a good reputation.
Practise Preventative Maintenance
Check the oil levels every time you fill up with fuel, and check the tyre pressure every second time. ‘If you ask the fuel attendant to add oil, make sure he does not overfill the sump. The attendants are very fond of doing this, and it harms the engine,’ warns Venter. Never allow the tyres to run at a pressure lower than recommended: underinflated tyres are the single biggest cause of blowouts: ‘Low pressure causes excessive flexing that heats up the tyre and eventually softens the glue that holds a tyre together,’ he explains. And you don’t need to rely on the attendants in this regard. ‘Walk around your car just before you drive away in the morning, and look at the tyre/road interference; this will give you an indication of the pressure. You’ll soon have enough experience to spot a tyre slow leak. Get this professionally fixed immediately.’
Do Not Drive Slowly In a High Gear
Cars despise this as much as ex-husbands abhor paying maintenance. The large throttle openings caused by slow driving in a high gear create serious vibrations that will dramatically shorten the lives of engines and gearboxes. ‘It is better to engage a lower gear when you’re travelling slowly,’ says Venter. ‘For example, in town driving you should use only the first four gears in a five-or six-speed gearbox, and use the highest gear only on a freeway.’
Avoid Short Trips
Wherever possible, avoid regular trips of less than 10km. do you really need to drive to the corner café to buy a litre of milk? Couldn’t you rather walk or take a bike? According to Venter, the engine does not get a chance to reach its normal operating temperature over such short distances – and so it wears at a faster rate than it should. ‘Research has shown that, on a journey of 1 000km, more than 95% of the engine wear takes place during the first 20 km!’ he says.
Stick To The Service Intervals
While your car is under warranty, you should take it to a franchised dealer for servicing. Thereafter, you can use the services of a good mechanic. Honest mechanics are as rare as jeans that really do make your butt look smaller. So ask family and friends for a recommendation. ‘You can, of course, resort to having a mechanic as a boyfriend, but his hands are usually so impregnated with oil that this is only recommended if you’re desperate on both counts!’ says Venter.
Do Not Believe Anything A Car Salesman Tells You
Many women would rather go for a root canal treatment than walk into a car dealership. We say thins for two reasons: first women are often treated with a lack of respect. Secondly, it’s hugely annoying being lied to or conned by a salesman. Venter says you should always check up on anything salesman tells you. ‘Also, don’t buy a car manufactured by a company that hasn’t been present in this country for at least 10 years. The latecomers cannot guarantee good servicing facilities.’
Don’t Buy A ‘Miracle Fuel-Saving’ Gadget
There are a number of aftermarket gadgets that promise a dramatic improvement in fuel consumption. ‘Not one of them works. If they did, they would be standard fittings on most cars. Aftermarket oil additives fall into the same category,’ say Venter.
Stick To The Specialists
Once your car is out of warranty (and you’re not longer required to service it at a franchised dealer), use specialist workshops – companies dedicated to exhaust systems, tyres, electrical repairs, suspension, brakes and shock absorbers, for instance. ‘They usually a better job and charge less than a normal workshop, which often sends these repairs to the specialist shop anyways and adds at least 20% to the bill,’ says Venter.
Don’t Ride The Clutch.
When you stop at a traffic light or stop sign for more than a few seconds, engage neutral and take your foot off the clutch pedal. ‘Keeping the clutch pedal depressed increases engine and gearbox wear,’ says Venter.
So there you have it: the 10 car commandments. Follow them and hopefully you will have more wonderful than woeful motoring memories.