I read with interest on the web various stories of expensive repairs to cars – what to avoid, where to avoid and of course what to do. A very important fact of course is always which car do you drive or which car are you planning to drive? Any car which is designed for speed and comfort, think Mercedes, Audi and BMW will not be cheap to have any major services done, don’t even think about catostrophic engine failure. Of course then must look at the maintenance crew – some garages just charge more, they have higher overheads and good mechanics are not cheap. I owned a Ford 1600cc many years back – it was the luxury version of the XR3, 4 door and had all the trimmings. Expensive to run? No. Cheap to service? Yes. Replacing the cam belt cost cost 120 dollars (US). As a cheap runabout this was a fantastic car – but this car was sold off and I had to move into the real world. Modern cars have many electronic features that the driver is not even aware of. When you buy a new car these days these are not optional extras, they are safety features. Ask any Renault owner.
OIL – WATER – TYRE PRESSURE – DON’T FORGET THE CAM BELT!
There are three basics which every car owner should be aware of: Oil, water and tyre pressure. Use the best oil, ALWAYs check coolant and unlike me, check tyre pressure. Most luxury vehicles will inform the driver of dodgy tyre pressures – not everyone has this perk however. Beyond the OWT Oil Water and Tyre checks comes the not so obvious – do you have a cam chain or cam belt? Many years back all cars and motorcycles had cam chains until some genius decided to go with belts. I can still remember the salesman’s words _ “they are more reliable, more quiet and cheaper to replace”. Many manufacturers have gone back to chains. They are more reliable, when new just as quiet and not that expensive to replace. Herein lies the catch – cam chains become noisy when they are due for replacement – not so for cam belts. They will just tear the valves apart when they break, always without warning. Of course you may be lucky to have a non-interference engine where the piston crown doesn’t hit the valves when the cam belt breaks. So for the most common problem and the most expensive I have to list this as a number one. High performance cars WILL have you reaching very deep into your pocket if the cam belt breaks. So follow the rules and replace the cam belt at 100 000Km or whenever your manual states a change. Always before, never after.
Moving onto our next worse case scenario, the missing oil filler cap.
Do you know just how many driver DO NOT check the oil filler cap after the fuel attendant has added oil to your lovely vehicle. Ever notice the signs at your local garage warning you that you are responsible for your own vehicle, not the petrol attendant. It’s a costly exercise to not check the oil filler cap. I know of at least two people that were too lazy to check this and ended up paying the price – one, big end bearing failure in his Mercedes and two, totally seized engine. In two the owner’s wife saw the red light and tried to make it to the garage in their Opel Astra. Older vehicles often the filler cap was just pushed on – still no excuse, check it. And check the oil level please – remember that testing can only take place on a level surface, oft not seen as an issue, but a very expensive issue if you are not careful. (Diesel generator at work was installed on unlevel tarmac, oil level was OK but always seemed inconsistent – it caught fire with the heat generated from the turbocharger, igniting the noise suppressant material. On closer check the oil pressure must have been near zero). Oil filler caps left off leave a tell tale sign – smoking engine. Mercedes driver, again the wife of a colleague did not heed the smoke signals nor the smell. A 15 000 dollar lesson.
While we are on oil, let’s move over to the next major ingredient for catastrophe, the mystery of the missing water. (coolant water).
WATER WATER EVERYWHERE AND NOT A DROP TO DRINK
Ever had that sinking feeling? Out in the middle of nowhere and the engine temperature suddenly shots to the sky. This has happened to every motorist on planet earth. Low coolant level and no spare water. This doesn’t happen to you only the motorists on the side of the road. I see this regularly and I am one of the offenders – I do NOT drive around with spare water because that is was from my dad’s time. In fact I am partly right, cars nowadays are more reliable and water pipes just last that little longer. That’s your garden hose, and modern garden hoses are cheap and nasty. Your engine relies on water coolant and if this is not checked it will be the cause of your engine’s demise. Unlike the thermostat which should be changed after the pre-required mileage ALL water hoses should be checked when the car is in for service and at least as often as possible while the engine is running by you the owner. Your coolant system is a high pressure system unless you own a Beetle and things like water leaks are never that apparent until the engine starts over-heating. Getting to the point, if you see water lying on the ground midday after a day in the traffic it’s not condensation. Case number two: A person I know very well took his car in for an engine rebuild (high mileage) – the mechanics just never bothered with the radiator and water hoses resulting in premature engine failure – actually under 100Kms. He took the dealer to court but lost the case – he didn’t pay for water hoses to be replaced. Which shows you, make sure your mechanic has an IQ of above 50 and that the dealer is honest. The reality is that the dealer pulled a fast one and used any and every excuse in the book to get out of paying back the client’s money. It will happen to you. Ensure that the dealer has put something in writing covering full warranty INCLUDING the cooling system – if you have a turbo-charger, the entire forced air system as well. This is going to cost you extra but for peace of mind you need it covered. An engine does NOT wear without the inherent problems of aging affecting the cooling and carburettion / injection / forced air fuel intake systems.
Next up is tyre pressure and why don’t bother about it.
Bad Wheels KILL!
One of the worst things to do is go on a long trip without checking tyre pressure before the trip, during the trip and after the trip. Tyres are dangerous things NOT to look after and worse still, like a heart attack, it’s a silent killer. The cam chain may break, the oil pressure may drop, the coolant may fail but tyres and the lack of maintenance to tyres KILL. Ever seen the macabre TV series Thousand Ways to Die? When it comes to tyres I am the worst offender. I NEVER check tyre pressure. If I had to go on a long trip I will kill myself. I had a 750cc Kawasaki which lay in storage, filled the fuel tank and went off on a trip but did not think about tyre pressure. I had a blow out and nearly lost my life. Talk about lack of common sense. Actually no, I form part of that 95% that don’t worry about tyre pressure. Let’s move on a little bit! We all forget tyre pressure, have a look at fellow motorists next to you or in the queue when filling up. I top up maybe once a week. The last time I went to the garage I actually did check my tyre pressure and like always the front tyres were deflated. There were 12 other motorists in line checking their fuel but not the tyre pressure. Petrol jockeys want a tip but don’t offer this service either, it’s easier to clean the windscreen. One step further ahead: your tyres are deflated and you need to brake suddenly. If your car has an ABS braking system you may be in for a surprise. Ever wondered why big, expensive luxury cars monitor tyre pressure is not only traction control – tyre pressure is a very important part of the ride. And now for the big problem – tyre pressures don’t remain the same or only deflate. Driving fast on deflated tyres is bad for your health, likewise over-inflated tyres. Driving on poor quality tyres is another problem altogether – always buy the best. Tyres heat up with speed, friction (braking, turning) and burning rubber. Tyres also heat up even MORE when driving with them deflated. This causes sudden deflation which is bad for anyone’s health. I will make it my first check tomorrow morning. Bad tyres don’t just damage your car, they kill. (NOTE: check your minivan taxi’s tyres when getting a lift in South Africa. Tyres cost money – spend it on fuel. The more fuel the more money you make. Whether you get there or not is immaterial).
Those three paragraphs sort of sums it up. We can write about your sportscars’ woes and what it costs to fix but the most important things to look at are the simplest, from oil to water to tyre pressure. We know that over-revving an engine or beating the hell out of your car is not good for it, we were all young once but common sense does prevail. Old drivers are a nuisance on the road, young drivers are reckless and I am over-cautious. Bad driving? Maybe, but here’s the one paragraph we omitted which covers an abundance of a certain fuel substance:
EXPENSIVE REPAIRS – caused by DRINK DRIVING
Whether driving a car or motorcycle most drivers have done this or will still do it: Driving under the influence. I have, I don’t know about you. Let’s see the symptoms, one is enough and ten not enough. Know the feeling? Although I am now strictly a beer drinker it’s still dangerous. But let’s go one step further… from slow beer drinker to racing driver with ten shots of Jägermeister (NOTE: Jägermeister do NOT condone drunk driving) under the belt. I went to pub once, had 6 beers and went home. I drove slowly and got home. I went to the same pub a year back and had at least ten Jägermeisters and don’t recall getting home. Yes, the movie snapped. Did I drive fast or slow? Cautiously or dangerously? Guaranteed fast and dangerously. I mention our favourite drink Jägermeister now because this is all I hear the youngsters talking about – in my day it was brandy. Whisky (ey) was for the slow coachers and old farts. Brandy was for the jet-setters. Marijuana and alcohol are a great mix. Two friends drove under the influences of this mix. They no longer do. I have and luckily I’m still alive. The beauty about driving under the influence is that quite often you miss the bills that you need to pay because dead people don’t pay bills – they leave it up to the folks at home or their kin. I find it sad that as we ponder about the price of repair of your flashy car we often forget about the most difficult thing to repair, your life and the lives we leave behind. Drunk driving you kill pedestrians, swerve into the paths of innocent motorists and their children and kill, maime and destruct. I would not worry about cam belts, oil pressure and coolant – drunk driving costs much more.
Article written in support of the ARRIVE ALIVE campaign.