Andy Goundry’s hints and tips for safer driving this summer

With the winter months firmly out of the way, most of us will be looking forward to leisure drives, either around the country or perhaps even further afield. Often, the car used for these trips will have been only used for shorter and more mundane tasks for several months beforehand.

Modern cars are generally so reliable that we expect them to be ready to take us to our chosen destination regardless, yet they can quietly deteriorate over the winter months, meaning that their first longer summertime journeys, often at higher speeds and carrying heavier loads, can result in breakdowns or accidents. Half of all breakdowns occur as a result of basic mechanical problems which could have been avoided with simple checks.

And as well as disrupting your travel plans, breakdowns can be very hazardous. The hard shoulder of a motorway, or the side of a main road, is an incredibly dangerous place to be. So if you do break down, it’s vital to get everyone out of the car and into a place of safety as soon as soon as possible, even if it is raining. Generally, this will be behind any crash barrier, and as far from the carriageways as possible. Only then think about phoning for help. And don’t risk getting anything else from your stricken car. Possessions can be replaced, people cannot: sadly, over 1,500 people are killed or seriously injured on motorway hard shoulders every year.

So what can be done to avoid breakdowns and help make sure your car is ready for the summer?

First, ensure that all servicing is up to date. Most manufacturers specify a maximum duration between services as well as mileage limits. Don’t be tempted to skimp on this, even if you have not covered the specified mileage, as the inspection, which will be a key part of the service, is intended to identify any problems which have developed over the winter, preventing them subsequently causing problems on the road. Typical examples of the type of thing which can be spotted during the service are brake discs and other components seizing and corroding, both of which are particularly common on cars which don’t cover many miles in the winter.

Probably the most important thing to do, though, is check your tyres. Not just for pressure and tread depth, but condition. All areas of each tread and side wall should be free from significant cuts, bulges or other weaknesses. This is not always easy to do, as the inner faces of your tyres can be hard to see but they are vulnerable to issues such as pothole damage or uneven tread wear due to misaligned wheels. I’ve been caught out in the past by assuming that a tyre was in good condition judging by the outside, yet it was so worn on its inner face that the steel cords were exposed – an accident waiting to happen!

Tread depth can be checked using a depth gauge, obtainable cheaply from the likes of Halfords, or simply use a 20p coin to see whether your tyres’ tread depths are at least 1.6mm. Insert the 20p at several points across and around each tyre. If you can see the coin’s outer rim at any point the tyre is illegal and must be changed immediately.

So important are regular tyre checks that for peace of mind you may wish to get the experts at Kwik Fit or one of the many other tyre companies to do this for you.

I make no apology for highlighting the need for good tyre care, for this, more than any other, is the reason why so many summer journeys don’t go according to plan. Indeed, tyre problems account for over 40% of serious or fatal accidents caused by vehicle defect-related incidents. This tyre care is particularly important for vehicles which may have been stored over the winter such as caravans and classic cars, for tyres deteriorate with age as well as use. Remember the rule – ACT responsibly: check Air pressure, Condition, and Tread depth regularly and always before any long journey.

Making sure you can see through the windscreen clearly may sound obvious, however it’s amazing how often sat navs and the like are mounted in a position to restrict vision. The law – and common-sense – says that nothing should be within the area swept by the wipers.

Finally, with your car in good shape – enjoy your summer motoring, and stay safe!

Andy Goundry spent his entire working career in vehicle design and development, and, since retirement has continued a close involvement with vehicles, writing for specialist magazines and websites, as well as producing his own motoring website