Safety critical components in your car – here’s what you need to know
Vishal Premlall, national director of the Tyres Equipment Parts Association (TEPA)

We all understand the importance of vehicle maintenance but in any vehicle there are certain safety critical components and motorists need to be aware of these and ensure they are maintained regularly,” says Vishal Premlall, National Director of the Tyre, Equipment, Parts Association (TEPA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI).

“Our roads are plagued with unroadworthy vehicles, and in the absence of any formal periodic testing for passenger vehicles, many of the safety critical components on these vehicles have long been neglected. These vehicles are death traps, not only for the passengers in the vehicle,  but for other road users too. We have to get serious about regular maintenance of vehicle components to make sure our roads are safer,” he says.  Premlall says through the Vehicle Testing Association (VTA), the RMI has been campaigning for a number of years for regular periodic testing to be enforced.

“One of our main concerns is the absence of a regular regime of testing for approximately 80% of the vehicle population. Private vehicles in South Africa are only tested for roadworthiness upon change of ownership. Vehicles used for reward are tested more regularly, i.e taxis and trucks more than 3500kg annually and buses, every 6 months,” he says.

So, what exactly would be considered safety critical components? Premlall says safety critical components can be described as the life and limb components of the car. “These are the type of components that, if not checked and maintained, make a vehicle unroadworthy, undrivable, and imminently an accident waiting to happen. However, a part that could leave the vehicle and driver stranded could also be regarded as safety critical,” he explains.

The brake system, suspension system, tyres and visibility (i.e. windscreens, wipers, lights, etc) make up the four major groups of parts that are considered safety critical components. “There is also a long list of components that fall outside of these groupings that would also be checked during a routine car service such as the condition of the clutch and battery, joints, engine and gearbox mountings, and so on. It’s pretty obvious though that if the brake system malfunctions, for example, it directly affects the safety of the vehicle and its passengers,” says Premlall.

Motorists and fleet owners need to take note of the importance of the maintenance of these components. “Car components have a lifespan just like other household appliances. You can extend this lifespan though through proper maintenance,” he says.

He uses oil and oil filters as an example. “Oil does not last forever. Depending on the engine configuration and fuel requirements, an oil change is required from 10 000 km to 30 000 km. Changing oil and not the filter is not best practice. Oils have very complex structures and the manufacturers’ specified lubricant products should always be used. The fuel filter is the item that ensures that clean (particle free) fuel flows to the injector system where even the tiniest particle can cause a blockage and an engine to stop running. By simply following the guidelines and ensuring the oil and filter are changed regularly you can extend the lifespan of your engine.”

Two components that may be overlooked but are also safety critical components – towbars and trailers. “A towbar is designed to withstand the specific parameters of the towing capabilities of the vehicle, and must be correctly fitted. The tow ball on the towbar must be the correct size and weight capacity,” he says. 

He adds that when hitching a trailer you need to ensure the load distribution is centred in front of the main axle making the front of the trailer heavier than the rear. This should not, however, exceed 50kg direct downforce on the tow ball. “Weight distribution centred to the rear of the axle will cause the trailer to be unstable and dangerous to tow. Remember that even a small trailer out of control can cause a vehicle to flip.”

Premlall says experts at an RMI-accredited TEPA fitment centre will be able to assess and advise you on the status of your safety critical components. “Make sure that you only use an accredited fitment centre. Not only can you be assured of a quality service but if you are not happy with the service received there is recourse through the dispute resolution process at your disposal. Let’s make our roads safer,” he concludes.