Driving in the rain? Although some accidents are unavoidable, there are a few things drivers should do to better ensure that they reach their destination safely, says Edna de Sousa, Product Manager for Auto Mart.
“All drivers – men and women – should familiarise themselves with road safety measures,” says De Sousa. “We are working longer hours, travelling further and much busier than ever before. It’s not just about avoiding an expensive break down, it’s also about personal safety.”
1. It starts with your insurance
The first step to being safer on the road isn’t mechanical – it’s in the paperwork. “I’ve often heard of instances where someone ended up stranded because of a burst tyre, and their insurance company refused to provide roadside assistance because the problem is viewed as a mechanical failure rather than an automotive accident. Ask your insurer to implicitly define their conditions for roadside assistance and accident cover. Wet weather may lead to damage from falling trees or hidden potholes – will the company provide a replacement vehicle or a lift home? Or merely a tow-away service?” De Sousa advises. “You need to know if they will be there for you when you need them to be.”
2. Know your tyres
“Your tyres are crucially important when driving in wet weather. When rubber gets wet, it gets slippery, which means that there is less friction from the tyres to the ground, which makes it easier for the car to veer off. This will of course be exasperated if the tread on your tyres has been worn down,” De Sousa explains. “The law states your tyre must have at least 1mm tread, but in wet weather it should ideally be thrice as much. Some tyres have indicator bars built in – if you can’t see these, it’s time to replace your tyre. Also be sure to regularly check for any cuts or tracks in your sidewall – if there are any grooves visible to your naked eye, it could be a sign that you are developing a leak.”
De Sousa advises regularly checking your tyre pressure and inflating your tyres as required. “Most cars will have this information written on a sticker in the door jam, but the average petrol attendant should be able to advise you.”
3. Get the right equipment
Wet weather can lead to burst tyres from hitting a water-logged pothole, or even a run-down battery should you leave your lights on. Make sure that you have the tools you need to get yourself out a jam. “Every car should have a spare tyre, jumper cables and a jack in the boot,” says De Sousa. “Be sure to check the condition of the spares every once in a while, and buy replacements when necessary.”
Changing a tyre is much simpler than it looks, according to De Sousa, and there are step by step instructions on YouTube that will teach you exactly how to do it. (Visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-h04z7U4g0g as a start).
4. Use your handbrake
In most instances, the rainy season means that there are a lot more cars on the road. “Driving on a rainy day is a stop-start affair. Use your handbrake rather than clutch control to avoid overheating – and yes, you can overheat in cold weather. Always keep a water bottle handy and be sure to check that your radiator has enough coolant inside – at least once a week, depending on how much driving you have to do.”
5. Keep your car well-maintained
“Handbrakes and windshield wipers are prime examples of parts that we don’t consider to be crucial – but they are,” De Sousa warns. “Replace your windshield wipers every few months or when any cracks or rips appear. Test your handbrake regularly – you will need it in heavy traffic.”
6. If in doubt, don’t
Lastly – be cautious around puddles and flooded roads. “Never force your way through a flooded bridge or street if you are unsure how deep the water is,” says De Sousa. “Apart from the risk of getting swept away by the current or shorting out the electrics, there’s also the danger of the engine sucking in water which will cause it to lock solid, smashing the rods, pistons and even the crankshafts…in short, causing major damage. If the water is dirty, leaves can block the radiator matrix and cause damage.”
De Sousa advises walking through the water to test the depth if possible. “Don’t drive through water that is deeper than 10cm when stagnant – and less than that if it’s moving. Even if you have a large 4×4, you should take caution and enter the water slowly before accelerating to keep air intake clear of water. Driving too fast through a puddle – even a shallow one – can lead to aquaplaning where the tyres no longer steer the car, causing you to lose control.”
By Edna de Sousa, Product Manager for Auto Mart
As part of the #HappyDriving campaign, Edna de Sousa will answer any road safety or car maintenance questions on Twitter on @AutomartSA using the hashtag #AskEdna.