Owning your first car signals an exciting time in your life. From potential road trips to that “new-car-smell’ and having bragging rights to something that is entirely yours.
But with rights come responsibilities.
We explore the basics that every car owner should know:
1. Petrol, oil and water: While it may sound like an obvious one, it is important to know where the petrol goes. That coupled with understanding how to check the car’s oil and water levels can save you from a potential break down.
It’s easy to check your oil – simply insert the dipstick to check the level. If the oil smells like petrol, it’s time for a proper oil change. If the levels are low, top it up.
“Make a habit of checking your oil and water every time you refuel. It’s a small inconvenience but having your engine run dry can cause major problems,” says Nunben Dixon, head of operations for Gumtree Auto.
2. Locate the spare tyre: Another essential is to know where the spare tyre is and to ensure that it is ready to use.
3. Knowing how to change a tyre: No matter if you’re a first-time driver or an experienced one, knowing how to change a tyre is necessary.
4. Check your tyre tread and know how to check the tyre pressure: “Worn or unevenly inflated tyres are extremely hazardous, and actually use more fuel. Make sure that you know how to check your tyre pressure and what your pressure needs to be. (It’s usually indicated in the owner’s manual or on a sticker on the driver side door),” Dixon says.
5. Know your controls: Understanding how to control your vehicle stems from knowing where the controls are and how to use them correctly.
6. Establish your vehicle’s mileage: One of the first tasks should be to establish the mileage of your vehicle as it will help you decide fuel efficiency.
7. Keep the owner’s manual on hand: Every driver should read their owner’s manual, specifically if it’s a new vehicle.
8. How to jump-start your engine. Probably the most common maintenance issue you’ll encounter is a dead battery. Knowing what to do next is crucial as you may be stuck in an area that is unsafe.
9. Know when your car is due for a service. “Cars require a service either after a set period of time has lapsed, or when you’ve reached a certain mileage. It’s important never to skip a service. Maintenance extends the life of your car and its resale value,” explains Nixon.
“Familiarising yourself with the above is all in the name of safe driving and understanding how to drive your vehicle properly. The more you know the more empowered you are,” states Automobile Association’s public relations manager, Layton Beard.
You never know when your car might break down. It's usually a very sudden malfunction, so it is always better to be prepared.
While the above are important they mean nothing without the vehicles owner’s manual.
“It is vital that when people purchase their vehicles that they take time to have their questions answered by the car salesman. Upon collection of the vehicle the salesman should give the owners a basic tour of the vehicle. But ultimately and especially when things go wrong the owner’s manual should be a driver’s go-to,” adds Beard.
Is roadside assistance for you?
It is not in everyone’s capabilities to change a tyre or to understand what’s what under the bonnet of your car. And in some cases, even if you know your way around a car, you could still be stumped. In this case enlisting roadside assistance (RA) may be a lifesaver.
“If you have RA and you have a tyre change issue or you don’t have jumper cables and you’ve left your lights on, you will have access to skilled help 24 hrs a day,” Beard says.
But apart from practical or mechanical assistance, roadside assistance providers are also available for call-outs when you’re feeling unsafe on the road.
While some new-car purchase deals may have the added feature of roadside assistance included, most car insurance products do not cater for this service.
In this case it is on the vehicle owner to enlist the service as an extra.
Among the common providers are the AA, Europ Assist, and Arrive Alive. The payment options are typically either a once-off annual fee or a monthly service fee.
“This product is not only for first-time car owners, women and the elderly. Remember, if you’re driving and your car comes to a halt it doesn’t matter who you are - you will need help,” says Beard.