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Making an enjoyable ride

Parameswaran | July 08, 2003

Each of us dream about that seductive stretch of endless tarmac, the proverbial drive into the sunset. Very rarely do we however get to see long-distance highway driving, though.

If, by any chance, you are lucky enough to manage such a trip, reality out there in the countryside is a little bit different.

Miles to go

Firstly, ensure your car is in shape to tackle highway cruising.

Check oil levels, the brakes, lights, the horn and tyres (that includes the stepney), and correct mechanical faults with your friendly neighbourhood mechanic before venturing out. Then double-check to make sure.

Now that you are ready, prepare a little kit for the car. This includes the basic tool kit, with a tyre-jack (well-greased), the wheel-spanner, spare fuses and spark plugs, a spare distributor point, spare head- tail- and brake lamp bulbs, a spanner and screwdriver set, pliers and a functional electric torch.

Also prepare a basic first-aid kit, with cloth bandage rolls, gauze pads, a mild antiseptic like Soframycin, scissors, sticking plaster, Dettol or Savlon and a bottle of potable water.

Rarely are these things needed, but it always pays to be prepared. Another little thing to ensure is that all your documentation is in order -- vehicle registration, driving licence, insurance, pollution under control certificate, and any other papers that are required.

Seeing is believing

While driving, always remember the visibility factor. How safe you are depends on the amount of area you can see around your car. Always keep your windshield, rear window and other glass areas squeaky-clean and devoid of dust.

Use your rearview mirrors, both inside the car and those fitted outside on the doors, keeping them equally clean and properly adjusted to your line of sight. Many cars do not have an outside mirror on the left, and it is advisable to retrofit such a unit on.

A sunny day offers much greater visibility than a foggy or rainy night. Therefore adjust your speeds accordingly, remembering that there is something called reaction time -- the time lag between your observing, say, a cow on the road ahead, and hitting the brake pedal to slow down. The car also has its own reaction time -- so additionally factor that in.

Brake early and easily, accelerate smoothly and change direction predictably -- other road users and their vehicles have a reaction lag too.

Also remember that your safety depends on how well you can be seen. Ensure that all lights are clean too, and that they work at all times.

Use turn signal indicators to demonstrate any intention to change direction well in advance, checking to see that vehicles following you are a safe distance behind before you turn.

In rainy or foggy weather, even during the day, use the low beam of the car's headlamps -- not to see ahead, but to indicate your presence to oncoming and following traffic.

And, oh yes, keep those windscreen wipers in good shape, changing the rubber blades if they streak the glass instead of wiping them dry.

Also ensure that there's sufficient washer fluid - you never know when your windshield will require an on-the-move bath.

Wheels within wheels

One very important factor that most of us forget or overlook is tyres. An automobile is a mass of metal moving along at great speeds, and the only contact it has with terra firma are its tyres.

One rarely realises how much stress a tyre goes through in its running life and how important it is for the comfort and safety of the vehicle's occupants. Avoid using bald tyres or tyres that show cracks and uneven wear patterns.

When shopping around for tyres, look for something that offers great road grip. Don't make the mistake of buying tyres that promise you endless kilometres of wear-free travel -- such tyres feature harder compound rubber, and the trade-off is on grip and safety.

Go for radial tyres instead of the regular nylon cross-ply ones, and though there is a difference in cost involved, the benefits will far outweigh the initial expenditure. And try to avoid retreads - modern generation automobiles need the best tyre technology available today.

Then of course, there are the usual things to remember, things that need any explanation. Alcohol and tarmac are not the best of partners, and if you feel drowsy behind the wheel, get out, stretch those muscles, pep yourself up with tea from the nearest chai stall...or better still, park the car and take a short nap. Never try to drive when under the influence of drugs  either.

Once again, keep the mobile phone off, your seatbelts on and drive with a focus of enjoying the journey -- not to merely get to your destination. Happy motoring!



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