Get your motor running…head out on the highway

Planning a road trip this holiday? Start thinking about how you can stay safe now. Here are a few tips from the experts to help you get ready for the big day.


By Chandrea Serebro

Ilan Sommer, Auto Electrician, Martin’s Auto Electrical – 011 837 8428

A few years ago, I came across an article about a family who’d packed up their car and set off for a wonderful holiday and some good family bonding time. Shortly into the trip, one of the younger members of the family, who was seated in the back, became irritable and started fighting with his siblings. The mother, who was seated in the front, decided to resolve the situation by placing the offending party on her lap. The solution was not ideal, not only from a safety aspect, but it also didn’t have the desired effect of calming the child down. A few moments later, the child kicked the gear lever from drive into reverse while the car was travelling at 120km/h…successfully destroying the automatic gearbox (as well as the family holiday) in the process. All the holiday spending money was now going to be used for towing and repairing the vehicle. (I don’t recall if the article stipulated whether the child was put up for adoption or not after this incident.)

Not only is the holiday itself meant to be relaxing and enjoyable by all, the journey itself should also be pleasant and uneventful. Here are some important points to consider before setting out, which will hopefully reduce, and ideally eliminate, any stressful situation that could arise. Although not always easy or practical, try to do many of the following checks two weeks before your departure date:

  1. Ensure that the vehicle is up-to-date with its service schedule. If not, it’s a good idea to service the car before going on holiday. You can ask your mechanic to check that everything is working correctly and that the vehicle is safe and reliable. The service schedule for your particular make and model can be found in the owner’s manual/service book. Also, try to verify when the cambelt was changed (where applicable) because this can be expensive if it breaks (towing, engine repairs, etc.).
  2. Fluids under the bonnet must all be checked to ensure that they are at the marked maximum level. These include oil, water in the radiator reservoir bottle (and the radiator itself, but only when the engine is cold), automatic transmission, brake, clutch, power steering, washer fluid, etc. If any appear to be low, check under the vehicle that there are no leaks, cracked/corroded pipes, etc.
  3. Lights are essential not only for the driver, but for other road users as well. Make sure they are all working, including the brake lights and the lights on the trailer/caravan.
  4. Some features don’t get used on a daily basis such as the hooter (unless you’re a taxi driver), but are critical when you need them. Windscreen wipers also fall into this category and should be able to clean effectively without leaving streaks. Also check all other electrical components (battery, fan, charging outlets for cell phone, dvd player, etc).
  5. Special attention must be paid to the gauges and warning lights on the dashboard. They are not designed to look pretty and entertain you every time the ignition is switched on. They are there to alert the driver that something is not functioning at 100% and must be rectified as soon as possible. As a general rule, red warning lights indicate that attention is required immediately and the vehicle should not be driven any further without investigating the cause of the problem; and orange/yellow warning lights indicate a problem that requires attention, but the car may still be driven. Ideally, however, these should also be attended to sooner rather than later.
  6. If the vehicle is fitted with a heat gauge, keep an eye on it throughout the journey to ensure it stays in the normal range. Don’t wait for the gauge to get into the hot/red zone to ascertain why the vehicle is overheating.
  7. Tyres should be checked (when cold) that the pressure is correct and that they have sufficient tread. Remember to also check the spare wheel of the vehicle itself and the spare wheel of the trailer. Also check the wheel spanner to see that it fits all of the nuts/bolts and that the jack is working properly.
  8. Other components such as brakes, suspension, exhaust etc. should be checked by a professional if you have reason to suspect that something is amiss or you hear a noise (once you have concluded that it’s not coming from any of the children).
  9. Tools to help in an emergency are also a good idea, such as jumper cables, a torch, warning triangle, a cloth, a basic toolkit of spanners, screwdrivers, insulation tape, tow rope, spare fuses, etc. Some might also include a first aid kit, blankets, and other essentials to ensure the physical wellbeing of all occupants.
  10. It is also a good idea to make sure that all documents and paperwork are up-to-date and sorted. This includes: driver’s license(s), license disc(s) on vehicle (and trailer), insurance, medical aid, maps (if you’re using an old school map book or printing off from the internet, rather than GPS), etc.

Driver concentration is extremely important at all times. Make sure to get enough rest before heading out as well as to schedule rest stops along the way. Don’t rely on caffeine, loud music, etc., to keep you awake. Although this article is not intended to cover all safety aspects such as wearing seatbelts, not drinking and driving, etc., it is vitally important to ensure children are always strapped in securely. This means that if a baby/booster seat is used, it is tightened securely in the vehicle according to the manufacturer’s specifications to afford maximum protection.

As Jewish travellers, there are a few more vital points to take into consideration. Make sure that your vehicle can accommodate the kitchen sink and that there is enough padkos to last the journey (and not just the first two kilometres out of the driveway). Also, be prepared to answer questions such as, “Are we there yet” from about 15 minutes or so into your journey until the end.

Your spiritual needs must also be catered for by saying tefillas haderech (prayer for the journey found in your siddur), as well as taking along any other Jewish items you may need, like tallis, tefillin, books, etc. Ensure you will arrive at your destination with ample time if you are travelling before Shabbos. For any further information in this regard, please consult your rabbi who’ll give you all the spiritual fuel you’ll need for a safe journey.

Alon Crouse, Advanced Life Support Paramedic and Training Centre Coordinator, Hatzolah

Before you hop into the car and zoom off to your getaway destination, it is wise to prepare a checklist to ensure you have a safe and smooth journey. Here are some useful tips you can include:

  1. Prepare an emergency kit that includes: the car manual, a torch, extra batteries, and a reflective triangle (in case you need to pull over), basic tools, and a first aid kit (available from Hatzolah).
  2. Get a good night’s sleep before heading out for the road. Take a break if you feel tired or sleepy. As a general rule, stop at least once every two hours for a break.
  3.  Secure the luggage and cargo by ensuring your items are well placed, so that they don’t move around during quick stops or turns and so that your baby or young children are not at any risk of being hit with any falling or flying bags.
  4. Research the route that you intend to use. Find out where and when to avoid certain areas, because nothing ruins a road trip like road construction, traffic jams, etc.

And keep these additional safety measures in mind when driving with children in the car:

  1. When approaching a traffic signal, always slow down in advance.
  2. Always use a hands free device while driving – and even better, don’t talk at all, even hands free. Rather pull over or wait until you take a rest break to use your phone.
  3. Check your speed regularly, even when travelling alone (arrive later, it’s okay).
  4. Use the door’s child safety lock when traveling with your children.
  5. Never leave your children or baby unattended in the car (even if you think it will only be for a minute).
  6. Ensure that child seats are installed correctly, secure, and used on every journey.
  7. Never place a rear-facing baby seat on the front passenger seat, particularly with an active airbag.
  8. Check that the metal buckles of seat belts are not too hot for your child to avoid burns and discomfort, make sure the car temperature is safe and cool enough before setting off.
  9. Install window shades on the car windows closest to your child to protect them from the sun.

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