It’s a typical day. You walk out of your home, get into the car, turn on the ignition and drive off. Did you notice what you just did wrong?
STARTING DRILL If you have ever seen pilots go about their job, you would have seen that they do a walk-around to visually check everything is as it should be, before taking their seat in the cockpit. It’s a good practise that’s easy to follow. Walk around your car and check the air pressure in your tyres. Is the area around your car clear of obstacles when you pull out? Are there any dings or scratches? And after you get behind the wheel, check if the seat is positioned for effective control and comfort. Adjust all the mirrors for the best view. Do the same for your seat belt and head restraint. Check your gauges; do you have enough fuel? Are all warning lights off? If you are travelling with passengers, make sure that they have their seatbelt on, as well – yes, even the rear passengers. Start your car, check your mirrors and pull out.
Here’s a simple question – where should your hands be on the steering wheel? Older drivers might answer the ‘10 and 2 o’clock’ position, but that is no longer recommended because it can be dangerous in vehicles with air bags. Instead hold the steering at the ‘9 and 3 o’clock’ position. Never drive with only one hand or your fingertips.
Here’s another valuable tip for you – whenever possible, steer only when the car is rolling. Turning the wheels while standing still puts a lot of stress on the steering system as it then has to fight with the tyres and ground friction with the full weight of the vehicle is on them.
Some people like to warm up their cars before they start driving. There is no need to idle the car for long, but take it easy for the first few kilometres while the engine goes up to its normal operating temperature. This will save it some wear and tear, as well as some fuel since an engine is not as fuel-efficient when cold.
DRIVE DEFENSIVELY Once on the road, remember that you are not in a race. Always drive defensively. Don’t just react to the traffic but try to anticipate what traffic around you will do next. Check your mirrors frequently for potential problems coming from behind, and especially before making any lane changes. An unobservant driver may not be slowing down and may be poised to rear-end your vehicle at a stop light. Keeping an eye open for potential problems can give you precious seconds to react and position yourself for minimal damage during a crash.
Don’t focus on the car in front of you, instead, look through its windshield and as far ahead as possible. In fact, look ahead as much as you can. If there are multiple vehicles in front of you, look through the spaces between them. This will help you anticipate the traffic better and get you that extra time you need to prevent an accident.
Look at where you want to go. By focusing your eyes on the spot where you want to be, and not where you think you’re actually going. You will unconsciously adjust your hands and feet to help get the car to the right spot. This is because of target fixation. If you don’t know what that is, look it up.
The best drivers are smooth drivers. Whether you are on the race track or road, smoothness is important – not only for the stability of the car while moving, but also for the durability of the vehicle’s components. When making any gear change, the shift should be imperceptible from the passenger seat. Start braking slowly and a bit earlier than you normally do, so you don’t have to make panic stops. By driving smoothly the various mechanical parts of the car will not take a hit and be able to work as intended, and thus last longer. Moreover, your passengers will enjoy the ride rather than being tossed around.
Needless to say, don’t floor the pedals when you don’t need to. Every enthusiast feels the temptation to mash down on the throttle, every once in a while; and then you have to stomp down on the brakes to slow back down; neither of these is good for your car. Hard acceleration burns fuel and hard stops cause rapid wear to the brake pads and rotors. Resist the urge to drive like this. If you can’t, know that repair bills will arrive sooner, rather than later.
Do floor it sometimes, though! It may sound contrary to the previous advice, but your engine does need to be wound up and pushed at times. Wait until it is at the right operating temperatures and once in a while step on the gas, for swift acceleration. Getting the engine up in revolution will allow it to work hard and burn some of the carbon deposit that tends to accumulate around the valve train. Doing this occasionally will help prevent the engine head from getting gummed up or covered with carbon deposits.
GOOD PRACTISES Here is a good practice to follow – get to a full stop, before reversing. While it sounds obvious and simple, it’s surprising how many people still throw the gear lever into reverse while the car is still moving. This is the best recipe for an early transmission failure. Make sure to also do so when shifting into park (P). Shifting in park on an automatic transmission means your are engaging a very small lever to lock a gear; that lever is not designed to stop the car and having it do so too often will result in premature failure.
Another common mistake that people make is to ride the brakes downhill. Some people will put the gear into neutral and coast down a hill using the brakes for control to save on fuel. This is dangerous as it causes heat to build up in the brake pads and rotors. It may cause wear and increase the risk that they will overheat. Shift into a lower gear, instead. The natural decompression that occurs in the drivetrain will help keep the car at a safe speed. That way, when you do need to hit the brakes, you’ll find them more effective.
Speaking of brakes, here’s something else to note. You should make it a habit to use your parking brakes regularly. Your parking brakes will stop working if you don’t use them.
You see, the parking brake is also commonly called the emergency brake. As the name suggests, it can be used in a situation when your brakes fail. It overrides the hydraulic mechanism normally used to control the brakes and stops you with cables. The problem with steel cables, however, is that they often rust and corrode – particularly so, after long periods of disuse. The way parking brake cables are designed, if you don’t engage the brake every so often, the corrosion builds up and your brakes will fail.
Here is another no-no – sometimes it’s tempting to eke out as many kilometres from a tank of gas as possible. This is something you should never do. Many fuel pumps keep cool by staying submerged in the fuel in the tank, so if you’re regularly running with the needle at ‘E’ you risk speeding up the need for a fuel pump replacement. Paying a little more at the gas station might sting, but it won’t hurt nearly as much as needing a new fuel pump.
Lastly – lose the weight. Carrying extra weight is as harmful for the car as it is for us. The more it weighs, the more stress it places on its drivetrain, suspension, and brakes, and the more fuel it consumes – it’s as simple as that. Do what you can to keep your car as light as possible. Make sure your car is stocked with the essentials you need on a daily basis and store the rest somewhere else.