Gear up for that big holiday drive
While the Christmas-New Year holidays are still a while off, it pays to check your car, and caravan, boat trailer and horsebox now, as mechanics and garages will start to get busy soon.
Do this any later and you might not be able to get your equipment booked in for a checkover.
It's likely that warrants for your equipment will also need to be seen too, so don't leave it too late.
The summer could be one of the busiest ever, as fewer people can afford to go overseas and the roads will be more crowded than you're used to during the rest of the year.
The economic downturn has put serious pressure on motorists but that doesn't mean you can try to save by not keeping your equipment safe and sound.
Also, breaking down can be a huge concern as more and more people spend less money on car maintenance, so think hard before you try to make false economies. If you think you can do everything yourself, don't cut corners and if you're not sure about anything, consult a professional.
GENERAL SUMMERTIME TIPS
Always prepare your car before a long journey. Check tyres, brakes, windscreen wash, lights, oil and water levels prior to travelling.
If towing a caravan, ensure you carry out suitable checks for its roadworthiness too. You may not have used the caravan, trailer, boat or horse box since last year, and it may have deteriorated since then. Pay particular attention to its hitch, brakes, wheel bearing and lighting. Keep an eye on your fuel levels, especially if driving in the countryside and you are unsure where the next filling station will be. Try to never let the gauge fall below one quarter.
Make sure you have adequate car breakdown cover that will get you to your destination with minimal disruption in the unfortunate event of a breakdown - and make sure you have your emergency callout number, if you have one, with you or in your mobile phone memory.
Plan your journey so you know where you are going, taking a map or GPS system with you, plus a telephone number for your destination in case you do get lost or break down.
Allow extra time to get to your destination if travelling at peak times. Better still, try to avoid Friday evenings when everyone else will be on the road.
IN CASE OF A BREAKDOWN:
Breaking down on the side of the road can be extremely hazardous. Consider your own safety first. If possible, get your vehicle off the road and ensure all passengers are safe.
Park safely away from traffic and switch on your hazard lights.
Make sure you have a reflective jacket or tabard for yourself and your passengers - they're only a few dollars and can save lives on a busy road.
If you wish to leave the car, exit with extreme caution on the side of the car away from the traffic. Find somewhere to sit that is a good distance away from the road and fumes and where you can keep an eye out for help to arrive.
Of particular note, don't forget to tell the breakdown company if you have children on board.
TOWING A TRAILER
In Britain, four out of 10 of those recently surveyed by Nissan who tow caravans, trailers or boats, admitted that they have never had training on how to do so safely.
The chances are this is no different in New Zealand. The same survey showed that another area of concern was drivers' lack of knowledge of the towing capabilities of their vehicles, resulting in many motorists buying and renting caravans their car didn't have sufficient power and torque to tow.
More than a quarter of those surveyed admitted they didn't know that the speed limit was different for cars and trailers than for cars on their own. Our limit is 90kmh, and for this summer, new speed cameras that automatically alter their setting from cars, to trucks and cars and trailers mean that you cannot get away with pretending to be a car on its own and driving at just over 100kmh.
Risks are also heightened by the pressures "towers" face from other road users.
More than 40 per cent of those interviewed admit to having felt forced to take risks.
Almost a quarter said they have had to speed up after being tailgated. More than one in 10 have had to brake heavily.
A further one in 10 had to swerve due to other drivers' lack of consideration.
With more "towers" than ever hitting the roads each summer, it is essential drivers are up to speed with road safety.
Choosing the right towing vehicle is fundamental to an enjoyable and safe towing experience. The most common error made by towers is in hitching overbearing loads. This is both illegal and dangerous.
Good torque delivery benefits drivers by offering maximum pulling power at low engine speeds and requiring fewer gear shifts.
This is of vital assistance to new "towers" offering greater manoeuvrability and overall control, especially in water-logged paddocks and camping grounds that many holidaymakers experience when promised weather conditions do not prevail.
Know your towing limit as well as the maximum braked and unbraked towing weights. This can be found in your vehicle handbook.
Know your own limits, too. You'll get tired more quickly driving with a trailer and you'll need to stop more often.
When you do, just pass your hand close to the caravan or trailer wheels to check for unnatural heat buildup. It could be binding to overworked brakes, or damage to a wheel bearing.
On the road, allow more time and space for accelerating and braking, given the extra weight.
When approaching an incline select a lower gear in good time. Going uphill this provides extra urge.
Going down it reduces the strain on your vehicle's brakes.