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When it comes to driving, there are various factors at play that are out of your control. You want to make sure, however, that you are as prepared as possible if you are faced with an emergency situation and you are stranded. We have created a tick-list of checks to do and things to have in your car at all times, ensuring you are as ready as can be for whatever trouble you may encounter on the road.

Home checks

These checks should be done on a regular basis (at least once a month), as well as right before a long trip. If you feel you might forget to do your routine inspections, set a reminder on your phone, or write a note in your calendar.

  • Check your oil, water and brake fluid and top them up if necessary.
  • Ensure that your air filter is working well and not clogged.
  • Take a look at your spark plugs to see if any replacements are needed.
  • Measure your tyre pressure (the recommended pressure should be on a sticker inside the door of the driver’s seat, or in your owner’s manual). If you do not have a pressure gauge, you can have this checked for free at a petrol station or a garage.
  • Check the tread on your tyres. The minimum legal tread in South Africa is 1.6 mm.
  • Make sure all of your lights are working and the windshield wipers are functioning properly.

Emergency kit

There are a few things you should keep in your car no matter where you are driving. These can make the world of a difference if stuck in a situation where you need to act fast, or where you will have to wait a while for help to arrive:

  • A first aid kit – this is crucial for patching up any injuries temporarily before receiving medical attention. Although it is often advised not to handle badly injured persons yourself, this kit will be useful in desperate circumstances.
  • A cell phone and charger that can be plugged into the car – running low on battery when you need to call for help is not an extra stress you want to deal with during an emergency. If your car does not have a port for a phone charger, be sure to pack a roadmap, and carry with you a list of emergency numbers, including that of an ambulance, the police, a towing company, a friend or family member, and your insurance company.
  • Safety items for visibility – a reflective triangle, or cone is necessary for alerting passing motorists that your car is stationary; a brightly coloured item of clothing can help emergency crew find you in the dark, or if there is bad weather.
  • Jumper leads to get your car going if the battery has died.
  • A spare tyre, jack and lug wrench for changing a burst or flat tyre.
  • A torch, along with fresh batteries – these will come in handy if your car breaks down in the dark.
  • A bottle of water to fill up the coolant level, if the engine has overheated.
  • Some basic tools – a pair of pliers, screwdrivers (standard and Phillips-head), cutters and a pocket knife.
  • A compact, dry-chemical fire extinguisher to douse any car fires.  
  • Your owner’s manual – most people already keep their manuals in the car, but double-check that yours is there. This book will provide guidelines on various details relating to your car, such as where to find a jack point to lift your vehicle for a tyre-change.

Survival supplies

Emergency situations may last longer than a few hours, depending on the circumstances. It is best to be prepared with a couple of essentials to keep you going:

  • Water – along with the bottle you have with you for the engine coolant, keep with you some water to drink. Water is the one thing we cannot go without for long periods of time.
  • Food – a few non-perishable food items such as granola bars are great to have in the car; they keep for long and are often filled with nutrients to keep your energy levels up.
  • Blankets – these will be necessary in cold weather and if you need to sleep in your car overnight.

Extra tips for long trips

  • Make sure somebody knows where you are going, when you are estimated to arrive, and how long you will be away for. If this person feels something might be wrong, they will be able to check with your accommodation to see if you arrived and/or when you left.
  • Fill up your tank whenever possible – you never know where the next petrol station might be.
  • Bring your spare keys along with you – it can happen so quickly that you accidentally lock your keys in the car, leave them lying somewhere, or have them fall out your pocket. When on a long trip, you want your spares nearby so that this doesn’t leave you stranded.

Safe driving

As mentioned, there are many things that can happen on the road that are not our fault. We must, however, be sure to drive responsibly ourselves, by sticking to rules of the road as well as safe driving habits.

Don’t be in a rush to get to your destination. Speeding is one of the primary causes of road accidents in South Africa, leading to considerable damage, loss of life, and the unfair involvement of parties who were following the rules. Stay within the speed limits and choose to enjoy the drive!

Be sure to practice defensive driving and let other motorists know your intentions – indicate when changing lanes, maintain a safe following distance, and only overtake when it is safe to do so. Do not let impatience or road-rage lead you to perform irresponsible stunts.  

Take breaks when you get tired. Being exhausted while behind the wheel is dangerous for a number of reasons – you get distracted much easier, fail to be fully aware of what you are doing, and may even drop off without realising it, putting your life at serious risk. If you find yourself feeling a bit sleepy, stop off at a petrol station or a coffee shop, take a rest and have something to perk up your energy. If you are driving with a passenger, let them take over for a while, if they feel comfortable to do so.

If you are driving through rain or thick fog, be on high alert and drive extra cautiously. Slow down and increase your following distance – this gives you more time to stop the car, as roads are more slippery when it has rained. Try to avoid sudden braking as this may lead to hydroplaning (loss of grip on the road).

Your headlights are not only there to help you see the road; they are also important for making your car more visible to other drivers. Keep these on if you feel that natural light is fading, or weather conditions are making it more challenging to spot cars.

Most importantly, try to anticipate what other cars are doing at all times, so that you can adjust your speed or lane accordingly.

Preparing for an emergency is important to do before the emergency has even occurred. Take a moment to gather the supplies we have suggested here, pop them in your boot, and rest easy, knowing you are ready for any unexpected circumstances.

If you have found yourself in a position where your car will need to be towed, feel free to give us a call. We at Tow Truck Services offer 24/7 assistance for all towing needs.