During the next several weeks, we will take an in-depth look at the basics of driving. The hope is that at the end of each part you will be a better driver and a safer road user. Topics will cover as much “know how and how to” as possible to work towards the goal of making the urban traffic environment in Toronto as safe as possible. I will take one liberty…I will assume that I am writing this for drivers who have a licence and have met the provincial minimum for driving privileges in Ontario.
“Kicking the Tires”
Before you get into any motor vehicle, you need to know that your mode of transportation will get you where you need to go, safely. Avoiding a mechanical break down through simple prevention is a very good first step to safer road use. The following should be done once a month minimum, once a week is better.
Tires – The most over looked safety feature of transportation!
Have you ever considered that the 2-3 thousand pounds of machine you are operating rides on the road on four points that is roughly the size of an open hand. Every control and input you apply relies on those four contact points being in excellent condition. Air pressure, tread depth and tread wear all need to be monitored and adjusted. The sidewall of the tire will tell you the correct air pressure that is recommended for your tire and will be in PSI or kPa. Buy a good air pressure gauge; don’t trust the ones on the air machine at the gas station. There should be uniform even wear on the face (tread) of the tire. A ‘Wear Bar’ is a small bridge of rubber inside a longitudinal groove going around the tire and connects two tread blocks. Once those are apparent, the tire is done.
Gilles Paquette of the Rubber Association of Canada recommends the website, www.betiresmart.ca for more great information, including the, “Bluenose Tire Test.”
Lights – Straight forward and simple
Make sure every light on the exterior of your car works properly. Low beam / high beam headlights, (legally you need two); turn signals, parking lights, brake lights. Get a friend, neighbour or family member to help you with this.
Body – Know your vehicle
It’s a great idea to walk around your vehicle to examine if there is any body damage that wasn’t there the last time you looked. This can be a great indicator if your ride has been in a collision while it was out of your control, ie – parked, lent to a friend. Any loose or hanging parts should be removed and or fixed. The walk around is also a great time to look for any children or their toys, bicycles, etc around your vehicle before you move it. While walking around, look at your lights for any damage, the tires for obvious trouble, wiper blades for cracks, frays or metal and below your engine area for evidence of leaking fluids. Also, ensure that your gas cap is secure and tight.
Engine – Big noisy thing under the hood
There are a lot of things to look for here…but only computers now-a-days know what they are, so I will tell you about six things.
Engine oil is the blood of your car…no oil, no life. There is a dipstick that you pull out to which will show you where the level is. Not enough add as required. If there is too much – uh oh. Never add past the ‘full’ line on the dipstick.
The belt needs to be checked for frays, cracks and damage. If there are any of those, get it replaced.
Washer fluid tank should be re-filled every time you check your engine. When you need it most is not the time to find out that it’s empty.
Radiator fluid is best looked at via the overflow jug. If there is no fluid there, you may have a problem. If you don’t have a visible overflow, then remove the rad-cap, but only if the engine is cold.
Transmission fluid also has a dip-stick. Check in the same manner as you did for the oil.
Brake fluid should not be checked by you, unless you are comfortable with possibly damaging the primary component for stopping your vehicle. Leave this to an expert.
Windows – All that glass
Your windows should be cleaned regularly, both inside and outside. Clean glass reduces the reflection of the sun or headlight glare at night. While cleaning them, look for cracks and chips in the windshield. A proper windshield makes up a great deal of the strength of the top portion of your car. Might not mean much now, but if you park on your roof, you’ll be happy you had a good windshield.
Next Week, Part II
“Now You’re in The Car”