How to keep your vehicle safe while you’re out on the road

By Isabelle Coetzee

If you’re planning a road trip, you probably know how dangerous it can be to get stranded on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere. 

By making the right preparations, you can keep yourself out of this pickle. We look at your insurance options, what you should do before you hit the road, and what to keep in mind while you’re driving.

Tip: Make sure your vehicle is covered before you leave your driveway –  click here for car insurance.

The difference between insurance and roadside assistance

Although both will assist you with your vehicle when you’re having trouble, car insurance and roadside assistance are not interchangeable and you need to consider both before you drive off.

Sumarie Greybe, co-founder at AI-driven insurance provider, Naked, points out that there are two main kinds of car insurance that you should be aware of:

  • Comprehensive car insurance: This covers you for loss of, or damage to, your own car and for third party liability. Most people can’t afford to simply purchase a new car if something happens to their old one – at least not without borrowing money or dipping into their savings. If losing your car would represent a significant financial setback, you will want to look at comprehensive car insurance.
  • Third party liability cover: This pays out for the damage you cause to someone else’s car or property. It is automatically included in most comprehensive policies, but can also be bought on a standalone basis if you can’t afford fully comprehensive cover.

“Deciding which car insurance policy is right for you is all about looking at your budget, your lifestyle, the amount of cash you have access to, the value of your car, and your tolerance for risk,” says Greybe.

READ MORE: These factors will fluctuate your car insurance excess

Greybe explains that roadside emergency assistance is designed to help you when you are faced with unexpected incidents, to get you out of physical danger or inconvenience. However, she emphasises that it’s not an insurance policy.

“Most car insurance providers include an option for roadside assistance within your car insurance policy, or they include it automatically. The more progressive insurance providers offer 24/7 roadside assistance and also enable you to seek emergency assistance from their mobile app,” says Greybe.

“Examples of unexpected incidents and roadside emergencies include a flat battery, flat tyres, your keys being locked in your vehicle, fuel assistance, minor roadside repairs, tow-in service to the nearest approved dealership, engine trouble, and more. If required, it can also include assistance with hotel accommodation and car rental,” she explains.

What to do before you leave

Greybe points out that it’s important to be prepared prior to hitting the road. She suggests you do the following to make sure your insurance provider will have you covered on your adventures: 

1. Make sure the car is roadworthy

To improve road safety and ensure a hassle-free claims experience if something bad happens on the road, make sure that your car is roadworthy. Some things that you should check include:

  • Ask a tyre fitment centre to check that your tread isn’t worn out.
  • Check that your indicators and brake lights are working.
  • Get your brake pads checked if they have not been replaced for a long time.

2. Make sure the paperwork is up to date

Your vehicle licence disc needs to be renewed once a year. Ensure all drivers for your car have up-to-date driving licences. This licence needs to be renewed every five years, and it includes an eye test.

3. Get the right insurance cover for trips outside South Africa

If you’re planning to visit neighbouring countries or to go even further north, find out whether your policy covers you outside South Africa’s borders. Be sure to get a letter from your insurer that you can present at the border.

Most South African policies will only cover you for damage to your own car while you are outside of our borders. You must take out separate third-party liability insurance cover when you travel outside South Africa.

4. Update the policy to cover the extras

If you have added expensive accessories and extras to your car, such as a roof-rack, bull bar, xenon lights, or extra sound equipment, update your policy to ensure they are covered.

What you should keep in mind on the road

Once you’ve made sure that your vehicle is ready for the road and your insurance and licences are in place to protect you, Greybe suggests keeping the following in mind while you’re on the road:

  • Be prepared for emergencies: Keep your insurer’s roadside emergency number on hand so that you can call for help if you have an accident or engine trouble.
  • Never overload your vehicle: Do not exceed the size or weight limit of the roof rack, bike rack, or storage mechanisms. Overloading increases the risk of those items being damaged or doing damage to other cars if they fall off.
  • Stay awake and alert: According to the AA, fatigue-related accidents are three times more likely to result in serious injury or death compared to other types of road accidents. Always ensure that you are well rested before driving and be sure to take regular breaks.
  • Be responsible: Never drink and drive. Not only is it a criminal offense, it could also have fatal consequences. Keep in mind that the legal blood alcohol limit is 0.05%, which means you could be over the limit after one small drink.

One of the most important points to remember is to remain vigilant. Greybe says that with the economy slowly opening up and criminal activity inevitably increasing, this is all the more important.

“A South African car owner’s probability of falling victim to car theft or hijacking is about 1 in 121, or 0.826%, according to the 2019/2020 crime statistics from the South African Police Service,” says Greybe.

With this in mind, she points out the following safety tips for drivers on South Africa’s roads:

  • Try to avoid driving or parking in an unsecured area at night when possible. Be vigilant when you must travel at night.
  • Be sure to drive with your windows closed and doors locked.
  • Keep valuables such as smartphones, computers, and jewellery out of sight to avoid attracting unnecessary attention.
  • Drive straight to a police station if you suspect someone is following you.
  • Be calm and give the criminals your car and keys if you are hijacked. Keep your eyes down and your voice low. Don’t be a hero.
  • If you travel with children, seat the youngest child behind the driver and the oldest to the left. This will enable you to help smaller children out of the vehicle faster.
  • Familiarise yourself with the high-risk roads and suburbs in the areas in which you will travel. Identify safe, well-lit routes for when you must travel at night.
  • Consider taking a hijack prevention and awareness training programme from an institution like the National Hijack Prevention Academy so that you are prepared if you face a hijacking.

To add to this, Wynand van Vuuren, partner of client experience at insurer King Price, recommends avoiding roadside accident statistics by keeping the following in mind:

  • Pack the essentials: I talk about the three Ps of any road trip: Phone chargers, playlists, and “padkos”. It’s also worth checking your medical emergency kit, and making sure that your tyre-changing tools are present and in working condition.
  • Avoid distractions: Don’t text and drive. No, not even a quick text to update your family on your progress. If you have to use your phone, wait for a stop. And make sure that everyone in the car understands the importance of not distracting the driver.
  • Drive defensively: Watch out for other drivers. You might be a careful driver, but that doesn’t mean everybody else is. Stay focused, and be alert to road conditions and other road users’ unpredictable overtaking manoeuvres and behaviour.

“And finally, chill. Everyone else on the roads is trying to get to their loved ones as well. By doing everything you can to stay safe, you’ll make your holiday trips fun and enjoyable, not the survival of the fittest,” says Van Vuuren.

Get a car insurance quote today to find out whether you could save on your premium each month.

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