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Safe Summer Driving: How to Get Your Car in Shape in Times of Coronavirus

Safe Summer Driving: How to Get Your Car in Shape in Times of Coronavirus
  • Your car is the most trustworthy means of transport during the coronavirus crisis
  • Tyres, battery, fluid levels, windscreen wipers and lights – a thorough check will prevent unpleasant surprises
  • Useful tips for inspections and repairs, plus revised warranty conditions

Keep your distance and avoid unnecessary contact – that’s the most important motto in times of coronavirus. For many people, their own car is the safest and most trustworthy way to get around, while those that rely on public transport are advised to adhere to COVID-19 health guidelines by wearing a face mask at all times, and sanitising regularly.

With inter-provincial travel permitted for the first time in more than five months since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, travelling long distance for business or taking a break as summer comes around is set to increase significantly. And, with international borders still closed indefinitely to contain the spread of the coronavirus, local travel is the default choice – even for those aspiring to venture abroad. This makes it all the more important to get your car fit for the summer. Continental has some tips on what to watch for.

Have your tyres got enough tread left, and are the pressures right?

Regular tyre checks are vital. Your tyres are what keep your vehicle in touch with the road. It’s the tyres that enable many systems – including ABS, electronic stability programme (ESP) and emergency brake assist (EBA) – to deliver their full potential. Fully functional tyres are decisive when it comes to ensuring the safest possible driving, and especially for regions that experience heavy summer rainfall and sudden downpours.

One key factor is tread depth. The legal lower limit in South Africa is 1 mm. But tyre experts at Continental recommend replacing your tyres when they get below three millimetres of tread. Seriously worn tyres can turn into a major risk factor, particularly in wet weather as the grooves in the tyre aren’t able to effectively disperse water, thereby significantly increasing the risk of aquaplaning, and contributing to much longer stopping distances. Additionally, after a long dry period, things can get hazardous when the rain mixes with dust, pollen and debris to form a slippery film on the wet asphalt.

Tests conducted by Continental on its Contidrom track near Hanover, Germany, have shown that the braking distance from 100 km/h is around 12 metres longer in the wet compared to dry conditions. At the point where a car comes to a standstill on a dry road, in the wet that same car is still travelling at 50 km/h despite the driver firmly applying the brakes. This was the outcome of tests with new Continental PremiumContact 6 tyres in size 225/45 R 17, fitted to a VW Golf 7.

Low tyre pressures can also extend the braking distance on wet roads − as well as affecting the precision of the steering, as well as the durability of the tyre with excessive heat build-up on underinflated tyres contributing to premature tyre failure.

Tests conducted by Continental showed that running tyres at just 0.4 bar below the recommended pressure can reduce the mileage, or the service life, of a tyre by one third. Before setting off on a long trip, you will also need to adapt the tyre pressures to the extra weight on board – and the higher load on the rear axle if you are towing a trailer or caravan. Checking the tyres (when cold) on whatever you are towing is also necessary, to ensure stable performance at all times. Remember to make sure that the spare or emergency wheel tyre is correctly inflated. You will find the correct tyre pressures in the owner’s manual, or on a sticker on the driver’s door pillar.

Facemasks and disinfectant: What you need on a visit to the workshop

An all-round technical check-up of your vehicle is important too: oil level, brakes, battery, lights, coolant and the windshield washer/wiper system should all be checked. Changing the windscreen wipers is typically an easy do-it-yourself task, but checking the battery is a job for the experts as getting stuck on the side of the road with a flat battery isn’t only inconvenient, it is also dangerous.

The best place for this is your local car dealer or repair workshop. BestDrive stores around the country are also fully equipped to keep your vehicle in top condition, including the testing and fitment of batteries, shock absorbers, brakes, exhausts and a range of accessories.

When you head for the workshop, here are a few things to remember. Social distancing policies remain in place, based on the current government regulations. As a result, workshops may not be operating with a full staff complement, so longer than expected queues or delays in bookings may be experienced. Accordingly, it’s advisable to contact the workshop and make an appointment if possible.

Customers are required to wear a facemask and keep the necessary distance from the staff and other customers, with temperatures checked and contact details supplied on entry. Many workshops, in line with current protocols, have adapted their hygiene measures to the COVID-19 situation and disinfect the car and the key before it is handed over. If you’re unsure if these protocols have been followed, it’s advisable to disinfect the door handles, steering wheel, gearshift lever, handbrake and key with a disinfectant or soapy water. Keep a small hand sanitiser with you for use when handwashing facilities aren’t available.

New coronavirus-led rules for inspections and warranty cover

Some manufacturers have prolonged the original and extended warranties offered on new cars because customers have recently been unable to visit authorised workshops to have repairs carried out. Contact your dealer if your vehicle has reached its distance or time limits for scheduled services, or if maintenance or warranty work needs to be completed – particularly if the standard or extended warranty, service plan or maintenance plan is due to expire, or lapsed during the Level 5 and Level 4 of the COVID-19 lockdown. It’s important to note that manufacturers’ standard terms remain for services, maintenance plans and warranties outside of this timeframe – so don’t be caught out with your vehicle’s cover lapsing as a result of exceeding these limits.