Having spent a lifetime in the motoring industry, Jake Venter knows a thing or two about cars. Below he shares some information that he believes every motorist should know about
I retired from CAR magazine a few years ago. For 16 years one of my duties was to look after the Technimail column. This entailed answering readers’ questions about their cars, as well as about motoring in general. This gave me an insight into how little many motorists know about their vehicles. I’ve recently compiled a list of the important things a car owner should know, and here it is:
- The owner’s manual of your car contains valuable information. You should read it – at least once – from cover to cover, even if it has more than 1500 pages, as many of them do. Make a note of the especially important information. For example, what does it say about seat belts, airbags, parking on dry grass or starting the engine when the remote’s battery is dead? You’ll find that parking on dry grass can cause the hot catalytic converter to set the grass (and the car!) on fire. Airbags usually won’t deploy if your seatbelts are not in use.
- Do not listen to salesmen. They seldom get proper training and are usually concerned only with immediate profit for themselves.
- Always supervise the topping up of the fuel tank and make sure that the attendant does not trickle in more petrol after the pump’s automatic stop has kicked in. This will ensure that the designed air gap that lessens the risk of a tank bursting during an accident will not be flooded with petrol.
- Try to not drive with less than six or seven litres of fuel in the tank. A layer of dirt will build up on the bottom of the tank over the years. The lower the fuel level the more chance that some of the dirt will be sucked up by the pump. The dirt will cause the pump to wear out prematurely and may block a filter.
- Don’t let your engine idle in the morning to warm up before driving. Drive off immediately but slowly for the first few kilometres. This will cause the engine, gearbox and final drive to warm up together and reduce wear. On a journey of 1000km, more than 90% of the wear takes place during the first 20km of travel.
- Avoid lugging the engine. This refers to the practice of using large throttle openings in a high gear at low engine speeds. This will cause the engine’s crankshaft to start vibrating torsionally (shaking itself like a wet dog). In the long run this will damage the engine and drivetrain.
- You won’t save fuel by buying some fancy gadget or additive. Instead, you save fuel by cruising at 100 km/h instead of 120 km/h on the open road, accelerating at half-throttle instead of full-throttle and avoiding unnecessary braking. Watch the cars in front of you carefully so that you can anticipate what they’re going to do. Remember that every time you brake you’re destroying energy that was created by burning the fuel. In other words, braking costs just as much money as going fast. Coasting to save fuel should be done in the highest gear, not in neutral, unless you have a car that still has a carburettor. In the latter case it should be done in neutral, but this practice cannot be recommended.
- Walk around your car every morning to look at the tyres. You’ll soon get to know what a correctly-pressured tyre looks like. If any tyre appears to be below normal pressure, have the pressure checked as soon as possible, and while the tyre is still cold. Soft tyres are among the leading causes of blow-outs.
- Check all fluid levels every time you fill up.
- Calculate fuel consumption as precisely as you can. Make sure the pump attendant stops filling when the pump’s automatic cut-off kicks in. This will give you a precise full tank reading. Use the car’s trip metre to get the correct mileage. The tank-to-tank averages should be fairly close. If they show a consistent high trend the engine needs a tune-up.
- Have your car serviced at the intervals recommended in the owner’s manual. Do not listen to a workshop foremen or any other so-called expert that advises otherwise. Their experience cannot match the level of expertise of the engineers that designed and tested the car.
- Be exact and detailed whenever you deal with a workshop. Don’t give vague instructions, and insist on a quote before agreeing to any work being done. It’s often worthwhile to get a second opinion. If you’re female, take a man with you. The workshop attendants don’t know how much a man knows about cars, but tend to assume that a female knows nothing.
The size of a workshop has very little bearing on the quality of the work being done. Forty years’ experience often means 40 years of devising new ways to milk the client. While a car is still under warranty you should obviously have it serviced by the accredited dealer. In later years, it’s often worthwhile to search for a recommended workshop, or even a clued-up private mechanic.