Modern vehicles are pretty reliable, aren’t they? We no longer need to be worried about them breaking down due to overheating, loss of fluid or mechanical failures anywhere near as much as we did in the “good old days”.
However, this dependence on reliability has led us to become complacent with diligently checking if our main mode of transport is going to be reliable and safe for the next trip.
Vehicle checks in our defensive driver training.....
As a Driver Safety Instructor , I ask this question every day:
“How often do you check your own car?”
The most common answers include:
“Before I go on a long trip”
“My mechanic checks it when they service it”
This question does make the majority of people really think pretty hard and really highlights how little we actually check our cars these days. However our car, Ute, 4wd, or family van is one of the biggest financial investments we will ever make, so why not do the best we can to look after them?!
So let’s talk about what vehicle checks are, what we should check and how they can help save us time and money.
What are they
Vehicle checks can mean many things, but let’s break them down into two clearly defined categories:
1. Daily Check
Let’s be honest, most of us are time poor, we hardly have time to make a coffee in the morning between getting the kids and ourselves ready for work. So how am I supposed to check my car every day!?
This is where the ‘Walk up & around’ check comes in.
When walking out the door towards your vehicle with your bags, kids and dog in tow, try to do the following:
From a distance, check to see if there are any leaks or other abnormalities underneath the car
Dry ground? Well, that’s a good sign the fluids are where they are supposed to be and is essentially a fluid check in itself!
As you approach the vehicle, start your walk around from the passenger side, working your way around to your driver’s door
Do all the tyres look normal and similar in pressure?
Is there any fresh damage you haven’t seen before? (Especially important for work vehicles)
Are any spotlights/aerials/number plates/spares tyres loose?
Are loads in the tray or roof racks still secure?
Once inside and driving, check your gauges and any fault lights that may have appeared on the dash
These checks are easily done within 30 seconds and can help prevent any further damage if you catch faults early.
2. Fortnightly-Monthly checks
This is where things become a bit more serious and are what most people would consider a traditional or ‘old school’ vehicle check.
In our defensive driving courses, we refer to this as being a ‘Comprehensive check’ which does take a bit more time and involves lifting the bonnet. But as previously mentioned, even lifting the bonnet might be more then most motorists do.
Engine oil (Checking the dipstick)
Transmission oil (If applicable)\
Power steering fluid
Windscreen washer fluid
Battery condition & secure
All external lights
Seat belt condition
Visual check of suspension for leaks/damage
Tyre condition and tread depth
Tyre pressure (With a gauge)
Even check to see if your car has a spare tyre in good condition and the necessary tools to change the tyre if you do have a flat!
Why do them
We don’t usually give our vehicles enough credit for the benefits they give us. From getting us to work to getting the job done, taking us on adventures and getting us places quicker then on foot, our vehicles are a pivotal factor in our lives in this day and age.
Considering then how good they are to us, why would you not want to care for them?
I do understand as cars become smarter, and more checks are done via
the vehicle’s computer, the human element is slowly being removed. But as mentioned, there are many things we can check that a computer may not account for.
A few examples of incidents/failures that could be avoided with a simple vehicle check:
A loose battery could do damage and even catch on fire if the positive terminal earths out
A tyre with a slow leak could be repaired, but not if it is driven on whilst flat and ruins the sidewall
Having a brake or taillight out may cause you to be pulled over, and maybe prompt the officer to have a closer look at your car for any other faults…….
Even though most modern vehicles will shut down if they run low on oil, a slow leak detected early can prevent any potential engine damage before the computer makes that decision
Any loose or non-contained item in an open tray or trailer comes with a $360 PER LOOSE ITEM fine in South Australia
Fan belts can begin to age and deteriorate which could lead to a sudden breakage, leaving you stranded
Some more positive day-to-day benefits of checking your vehicles may be:
Having your tyres properly inflated to the manufacturer’s recommendation will make them last longer and give you better fuel economy and handling
Peace of mind knowing your car won’t let you down on a long journey
How to implement them in the workplace
Driving company vehicles comes with its own set of considerations. If your work car breaks down, you may be asked what you were doing at the time and could be a headache you don’t need.
Unfortunately, from experience, pool vehicles within companies are very unloved, and even if there is an official vehicle checklist assigned to that vehicle, the fact that no one has ‘ownership’ of that car can become a problem.
Depending on your company’s policy, you may or may not have to perform a ‘pre-start’ or fill out a vehicle check list on a vehicle you need to use for work.
Also, the frequency of these checks can lead to issues.
Many companies require a comprehensive vehicle check to be filled in every, single, day. If this includes lifting the bonnet, checking the oil etc, then doing this daily can lead to complacency. Yes, it is good to check the dipstick, but these checklists can soon become ‘tick & flicks’ and, “I checked it yesterday, surely it will be good today”. This then leads to nothing ever being checked thoroughly as it was unrealistic and tiresome to complete a comprehensive check every day.
Considering this, the Australian Driving Institute recommends (and can provide) a comprehensive vehicle checklist to be completed once a fortnight (depending on kms).
In addition, training should also be put in place for the daily checks and anything specific to the vehicles and equipment used in your workplace. The Australian Driving Institute incorporates vehicle checks into all of our 4WD and defensive driving courses:
Vehicle checks don’t have to be as hard or as scary as we make them out to be, and by realising the benefits, this will hopefully give you the motivation to look after the one possession that really looks after us.
Driver Safety Instructor
Australian Driving Institute