*cue song* Balik kampung…oh oh oh balik kampung!
Another festive season is coming up, and besides looking forward to collecting packets of money, good ol’ grandma’s food, and generally just having as much fun (or sleep) as humanly possible during the holidays, there’s something more important you have to do: car check!
Many of us brave miles of traffic to return to our hometowns, so ensuring that your car is in tiptop condition is absolutely crucial for a safe family trip. So…when was the last time you had a car check?
*cue cricket sounds, probably coming from the engine*
From little things like your windscreen wipers all the way to the age and health of your tyres, a car check for a long road trip is essential – and even from time to time! As the saying goes, the value of cars depreciate the moment you drive it out of the showroom, so the better care you give your car, the more mileage it will give you before you have to give it up for a newer model.
There are a few things you can check on your own, while others require the expertise of a mechanic. So, before you drive off, check out our car check list, which we’ve put together with director and owner of AutoDetailer Studio, Darren Chang.
Car Check #1: Navigational System
Some cars have in-built navigational systems while some of us prefer to use GPS devices like a Garmin. Either way, make sure you have the maps updated as Malaysian roads tend to change very frequently. Most of us will be on Waze, which is a lot more useful because it shows traffic conditions, alternative routes, and your ETA! Needless to say (but we kinda need to say it just in case), make sure all your devices are fully charged and that you have a charging cable in the car or a power bank (also fully charged) so that you can top up your battery juice.
If you’re using an internal GPS system, then please check to see that it’s in full working order. If you’re using Waze, then check that you’ve a fully charged phone and your charging cables or power bank (fully charged, of course) is also available to charge up your phone if it’s needed.
(Our nagging has only just started.)
Car Check #2: Tyres
Did you know that there are 4 magic numbers on your tyre that show you the year and even week of manufacture?
The first two digits are the weeks of the year (so the highest number would be 52) while the last two digits are the year. In the image above, the 4 numbers are 1115. This means the tyre was manufactured in the 11th week of 2015 – some time in March. This particular tyre is just over two years old, and Darren advises to change out your tyres every two years, and they are usually changed in pairs.
You can also check the depth of your tyre tread. There are markers on your tyres – the closer your tyre has been worn down to the markers, the shallower the tread is, and the less grip it will have. This means that your car is at risk of skidding especially in rainy conditions.
Poor maintenance of your car will wear down your tyres faster, such as under- or over-inflating your tyres or improper tyre alignment. We’ll come to that in a bit!
So, just because your tyre is less than two years old, it doesn’t mean that it is in good condition. Darren also highly recommends to buy tyres of the exact same model when you change your tyres because of the difference in manufacture and design (tread, stiffness, type of rubber, etc.). Mixing different brands and models is akin to wearing a left shoe that doesn’t match the right shoe – it might be able to pass off as a fashion statement but it won’t feel the most comfortable.
Tyres aren’t cheap – they come at at least a couple of hundred ringgit a pop, but for all these reasons, you shouldn’t skimp on your tyre purchase. So, we say…tread carefully. Yes, that pun was totally intended.
Now, back to inflation – of the tyre that is (don’t get us started on the cost of living). You can get your tyres pumped at any petrol station at a section marked “Angin”. The amount of pressure to fill out your tyres with is also handily available on your car. This is usually located on the side of the door panel.
It is important to take note how many people usually travel in the car with you, and the pressure also differs for your front and back tyres. For this particular car, it’s 250kPa for the front tyres and 310kPa for the back tyres on a car with a full load.
Car Check #3: Alignment & Balancing
Frequently heard at the car workshop but not necessarily understood, wheel alignment refers to the angle of the wheels so that they are level to the ground and parellel with each other (otherwise it’s like walking with one broken heel) while wheel balancing refers to balancing the weight of the tyres, including the rims, to ensure it doesn’t wobble when spinning.
Common symptoms of a car that is out of alignment is when your steering wheel starts to drift towards one side and your car doesn’t travel on a straight line, and a car that is out of balance will start vibrating at high speeds.
Alignment and balancing needs to be performed by a mechanic with fancy schmancy equipment, but be sure to remind them to get this done when you send your car to the workshop!
Car Check #4: Car Lights
The checking of your car lights can be done quickly at home with a family member or a friend. All you need to do is turn on each light and have that friend confirm if the lights are working okay. The lights that need to be checked are:
- Hazard lights
- The infamously underused left and right indicator lights
- High beam lights (the ones you use to flash at cars travelling on the opposite side of the road to warn them of crouching policemen)
- Brake lights
- Number plate lights (on the back)
Car Check #5: Horn
This can also be checked, but on your own. Just, well, press the horn and you’ll know if it’s working or not! Darren advises Japanese car owners to consider upgrading their horns to louder ones. Because you know, Japanese people are super polite.
Car Check #6: Battery
A common car problem is when the battery runs out and you can’t start your car. Your battery is weak when the following happens:
- The engine rumbles when your car is idle (it’s wheezing “helllppp meee”)
- When you fire up the engine, it feels like it takes that one milisecond longer to start up
- Headlights are dim or they flicker
Darren recommends testing your car battery at least once a year and to change it once every two years, like your tyres. Mechanics have equipment to test the battery levels so they’ll also be able to advise you.
To prepare for the unfortunate scenario that your car battery dies in the middle of a roadtrip, Darren introduced us to…*drumroll*…a power bank for your car battery. It retails on Lazada starting from just over RM100 and is good for an average of about 5 uses before you have to buy a new one. Just don’t forget to charge it after each use!
Most cars will come with a free set of jumper cables, but Darren says that they may not be heat-insulated, or if they are, the quality might be less than decent. In such cases, the cables may not work at all, or worse, they might give you a shock!
Car Check #7: Air-conditioning
This will also need to be checked with a mechanic, but a tell-tale sign according to Darren – or smell, rather – is when there is a “damp smell…like cat piss or sweaty gym clothes”. Lovely.
Car Check #8: Emergency Kit
A must-have in every car. A basic kit should have a flashlight, tire changing kit, car jack, spanner, battery cables, tool kit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench, and pocket knife) and a first aid kit. Add in a couple more flashlights just in case!
Not exactly in the emergency kit, but if your car has one, make sure that the spare tyre is in good condition. However, some cars may not have that because they come with run-flat tyres which are designed to be able to withstand the deflation at reduced speeds (under 90 kmph) and limited distances (up to 80 km).
An alternative is to get a tyre sealant, which works to inflate and seal a minor puncture so you can drive to the nearest workshop. Darren recommends Sonax which is available at Tesco, but you can also purchase one online.
Car Check #9: Roadside Assistance
Our parents might still have a subscription to AAM, but these days most insurance companies already collaborate with roadside assistance services which usually has a 24/7 hotline number for you to request a tow truck.
In the meantime, say no to any random tow trucks that come by to offer assistance because they may charge exorbitant fees and tow your car to a workshop that will overcharge you as well! Insurance companies will have a panel of preferred workshops. This will expedite the insurance claim process, but if that isn’t a concern you can also ask the driver to tow your car to your workshop of choice.
Different insurance companies offer free towing services for a certain distance, after which you have to pay. So just be sure to double check that!
Car Check #10: Personal Belongings
This isn’t a car check per se, but if you’re leaving your car at the workshop, be sure to remove all of your personal belongings. In Darren’s words, someone with malicious intentions can find out where you live and gain access in 5 minutes. Check your glove box and remove any bills addressed to your home as well as your car registration. Don’t leave your house keys or automatic gate remote in the car either, as these can be duplicated!
Here are a few other things to ask your mechanic to look into:
- Brake pads, to ensure there’s sufficient grip for efficient braking.
- Oil check, to ensure there’s sufficient oil to lubricate engine parts that move and rub against each other, which causes friction.
- Radiator, to ensure that it is in good working condition and there’s sufficient coolant so that your engine doesn’t overheat.
- Windscreen wipers, to ensure that rainwater is efficiently removed for optimal vision. Wipers that are cracked or squeaks when in use need to be replaced!
This checklist is applicable not only for long-distance trips, but any time for as long as you own a car. Repairs and parts are not cheap, so it’s advisable to pay attention to any changes in sounds, smells, and performance of your vehicle! When in doubt, always refer to a trusted mechanic, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
This article was produced in collaboration with AutoDetailer Studio.
Topped up your car oil but drained out your purse? Check out Daphne Iking’s tips on managing your money here!