Between your car being perfectly fine and ending up in the workshop, there are usually a couple of steps you can take to mitigate the damage. Let's find out.
When we're not talking about regular old wear and tear, there are other ways that your car can fail - and it's usually the unexpected ways that will hit you the hardest, and the worst times, and with the propensity to cause a lot more damage than your bargained for.
If we were talking about racing, we could chalk it up to bad luck. But on the road, your car's exposure is significantly greater, and even the best preparation and maintenance can't help you avoid something that's just destined to fail. So to help you mentally prepare, we've come up with a list of the five situations you might find yourself in and how to salvage your car.
1. Brakes Are Gone
You know when you're heading down a particularly hilly stretch of road and you see a big red or yellow sign with "GUNAKAN GEAR RENDAH" plastered all over it? That's there for a reason - it's to indicate that you're in an area where you need to use engine braking to avoid absolutely overheating your braking system. Brakes can fail either by the pads fading (getting too hot) or the brake fluid boiling (getting too hot).
In either situation, the problem tends to compound itself as you find yourself braking harder and harder just to slow the car down. With faded brakes the brake feel tends to stay the same, but the stopping power just isn't there. On the other hand, boiling brake fluid will make your brakes feel spongey and loose - but either way you aren't slowing down.
To get yourself out of this sticky situation, the trick is to be more conservative with your braking and try to get into a lower gear when it's physically possible. Let the brakes recover and cool off as you coast along with the engine doing the majority of the braking work, and eventually your brakes will come back. Continue uncorrected and you may find yourself in a barrier or drain.
2. Tyre Pressure Loss
It's a nightmare that even seasoned drivers have, and one that can have very little warning before things start going very pear-shaped. Suddenly losing tyre pressure also means that you suddenly lose grip at that corner of the car, and you also risk damaging your wheels by destroying the tyre and potentially losing control of your car.
If you're lucky, it will be a slow leak that you can spot before you hop into your car or head out for your next journey. These problems can quickly be sorted out at a tyre shop where a quick patch kit will suffice. The problem comes if the leak is more severe, and one that starts while you're on the road.
The usual indication that your tyre is starting to lose pressure is the car will behave in a slightly bizarre fashion. Whichever corner loses pressure tends to pull the car in that direction, so a front left puncture will pull the car to the left, while a front right will do the opposite. At the rear, the effects can be more noticeable as the car will feel like it's on the verge of oversteering - or about to "buang", as we sometimes call it.
If you feel any of these problems, get the car to the side of the road as quickly and smoothly as possible and try to keep it going in a straight line before applying the brakes and coming to a stop. Trying to force the issue or limp the car on a deflated tyre can be quite disastrous.
3. Wheel Bearing Dying
It's not something that most people will be familiar with or have an understanding of because it isn't something you regularly check, but wheel bearings are an incredibly important part of your car. They make sure that your wheels and brakes can keep turning round and round smoothly - but like most components on your car, they do wear out over time.
Wheel bearings may have several different indicators of failure. Some wheel bearings will make a humming noise or a ticking noise that grows louder or quicker with speed, which makes it fairly easy to judge when things are starting to go wrong. The problem lies with wheel bearings that offer no indication, and the results can be quite disastrous when they start to fail.
Mild failure of a wheel bearing will make your car feel like it's starting to wander all over the place regardless of what you're doing with the steering wheel. Your steering may also feel like there's more free play when you turn it, as the wheels are moving against a bearing with free play. Extreme failure can result in the whole wheel assembly seizing to a stop, which is almost like slamming the brakes on one wheel.
Mild damage may mean just replacing the bearing and a little bit of light polishing of the assembly, but heavy damage can mean you have to replace the entire wheel hub and suspension knuckle. Pay attention to how your car behaves and you can avoid forking out more to fix these problems.
4. Battery Or Alternator Going To Die
Not every car on the market can have as intuitive of a battery voltage indicator as the Perodua Myvi. Yes, if you're an experienced Myvi owner you will know when your car battery needs replacing because your fuel gauge and range starts to go a little bit haywire, but other cars rarely have an indicator of battery life expectancy.
That being said, there are other ways to test. For example, on cars with electric power steering, you can try to turn the wheel left and right in a car park and see if the instrument cluster or headlights dim as a result. Alternatively, you could turn on your lights and see how bright the interior lights are, then try and hold the engine at a slightly higher rpm to see if it gets brighter.
If either of these tests yields a positive result, then it's probably time to get your battery checked and replaced. The real problem is that if your battery is completely flat, it may leave you stranded in a place that's difficult to get to or just far out of reach, forcing you to abandon your car for a night or two.
5. Coolant Overheating
Ahh, a problem that used to be more common among car owners of the past but one that rarely seems to be an issue in this day and age. Having your car's coolant overheat can be catastrophic, ranging from burnt head gaskets (top overhaul) to a hydrolocked engine (entire engine replacement or full rebuild). The problem is that there are many components to your cooling system so it's not always easy to know what is causing the problem.
The most obvious one to spot would be to see if your radiator fan is working properly. If you notice your coolant temperature needle isn't sitting at a happy middle, you can pop the bonnet and see whether the fan is running or not. If it isn't running, there may be a blockage elsewhere in the system - perhaps the thermostat that isn't opening completely.
If you happen to notice your coolant temperature spiking while you're stopped, you can try driving at a moderate speed to force more cool air into your radiator and see if the temperature returns to normal. If the temperature continues to spike, then it's best to pull over and shut off your engine before more permanent damage occurs.
Either way, it pays to be vigilant when it comes to your coolant temperature. Take note of how it behaves, especially on a hot day, because driving with an engine that's overheating is sure to leave you stranded by the side of the road if or when it completely blows.
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