Getting ready for that road trip
I bought a VW Golf3 in February last year. I am not sure of the mileage because the instrument cluster was replaced at one stage and I don't know if the odometer was reset.
As far as I know, the engine has never been opened or tampered with, and it is still going strong.
I intend travelling from Pretoria to Durban - and my question is: what should I do to prepare the car for such a trip? - Bontshi
Bontshi, on a modern car with an electronically-controlled, fuel-injected engine such as the Golf3, there are fewer service items to check, than on older cars, before a long trip .
But the things that need to be checked, remain as important as ever. It's best to develop a fixed routine.
Here's a suggested routine:
- Let's start at the front, where a look at the cooling system will always be first on my list. Check the radiator core and water pump for leaks, the hoses for flabbiness - indicating perished rubber - the end connections on the hoses for tightness and signs of splitting.
Make sure the fan comes on when it should. From daily observation you will know whether the engine temperature stabilises quickly in the normal operating zone, indicating a correctly-functioning thermostat.
- Next check the brakes to be sure there are no fluid leaks in the hydraulic system - and that there is sufficient lining material on the pads and shoes. Leaks from disc brake calipers are very rare, but leaks from the wheel cylinders on drum brakes are not uncommon.
It will help a lot if you can get the car on a hoist somewhere and check from underneath for dark stains on the rear brake back plates. Also run your eyes over the hydraulic lines, especially the flexible hoses to the front wheels, to check for leaks; and make sure the rubber hoses are not cracking or chafing against anything.
Also have a good look at the rubber boots of the CV joints - perished, torn or punctured boots are the main cause of premature failure of CV joints.
If you don't have access to a hoist, you will have to rely on an unnatural drop in the fluid level in the brake fluid reservoir.
Knowing how much lining is left on the pads or shoes requires removal of the wheels (and brake drums), which might turn the inspection into a bigger operation.
This is where accurate record-keeping is a great help.
Look up when the pads and shoes were last replaced, make an estimate of their average service life, and then decide whether you need new ones.
- Next, it's time for the lights and tyres. Move to the back and check the operation of tail lights, stoplights and indicators. Do the same at the front for headlights and indicators. The tyres, front and rear, should also be inspected for slow punctures, lumps on the sidewall, or uneven tread wear.
- The final stop on the inspection tour is back in the engine compartment. If an engine oil change is due soon, it's better to do it before setting out on the trip.
Also have a careful look around the engine compartment for any loose, dangling or frayed wires, loose fastenings, cracked or chafing hoses, or any sign of an oil or fuel leak.
Don't forget to change the air filter element if it's close to the recommended mileage. If the oil in the crank case is still fresh enough not to require draining, keep in mind that frequent stop/start driving and short trips may lead to a build-up of unburned fuel in the sump.
In such a case, the oil level may drop noticeably as the volatile fuel is driven out of the hot oil on a long trip. It's best, therefore, to check the oil level at rest stops along the way.
There are other early warning signals - things like crunchy gear changes, strange gearbox, engine or suspension noises, a labouring starter etc - but these should be obvious to an attentive driver in the course of daily usage.
The above outline concentrates on things you will not be aware of unless you look for them. Combining it with your daily observations, you can take comfort from the knowledge that you have given the car a thorough inspection. And that's as much as you can do.