Saturday, May 8, 2004


Checklist for hill driving
H. Kishie Singh

IT'S getting hotter by the day. There can be nothing more invigorating than going to the hills to beat the scorching sun. Even if itís a daylong trip, you should make sure your car is road worthy. A breakdown on a hot day can create serious problems, especially if you have small children and pets in the car.

Check the brakes. It would not be a bad idea to have them cleaned. The monsoon is round the corner and good effective braking is required in the hills as well as on wet roads. Brake fluid should be checked and topped up if necessary. Sudden showers are not uncommon in the hills so your wipers too should be in good condition. You will need them during the monsoon months. Change them, if required. Good visibility is absolutely essential on a hill road. You owe it your family in the car and to other road users. Also make sure the washer reservoir is full. Add a spoonful of vinegar to it. It helps cut road grime. If you have a household cleaner that contains ammonia (like Colin and Brisk), add about 250 ml to a litre of water. It keeps the glass really clean.

The tyres should be in a good condition too. There should be enough tread to keep contact with the road. The sipes (the cuts in the tyre that denote the tread) should be deep enough to drain water. Should this not happen, the car can ride on a film of water on the road. This means that you will have no control over the car steering. It will take you where the car wants to go, not where you want the car to go. You could run into the oncoming traffic.

Stick to the recommended tyre pressure. On a hill road where you are forever going round corners, tyre pressure can play a critical role in the carís performance. Check the spare wheel too. It would be terrible if you had a puncture and the spare was flat.

The NH22 has been freshly carpeted. In places, the centre lines are missing. Mentally divide the road in half: your side, and the other driversí side. And, stick to your lane. In any case, keep to the left. A lot of people suffer from mountain travel sickness. Carry some antidote in your first-aid kit. Also, check if the medication causes drowsiness. In that case, the driver should not take it.

When you go up on a steep incline, you are obliged to shift into a lower gear. A rule of good and safe motoring is that you descend in the same gear. This way you are using the power of the engine as a braking force. A gentle pressure on the brake pedal will get you down safely.

In no case, should you free-wheel down a slope. This will mean a constant friction between the brake pads/ shoes and the discs/ drums. This will heat up the braking components and make them "frictionless". This will mean that you will not be able to use the breaks. At this stage, there is very little you can do to stop the car. So, pull up the hand brake. If it works on the rear wheels, the move is wasted. If it works off the drive shaft, you may be able to slow down. You must turn on the ignition, start the engine and throw the car into low gear ó this will slow down the car, but not stop it. All this will work if you have enough space. In an emergency situation, your brakes could let you down. The safer and surer way is to drive with the engine on.

Donít ever leave children and pets in a parked car, unattended. Even in the hills, the temperature inside the car can be high. This can be dangerous. Children also have a habit of being fidgety and curious. They may inadvertently release the hand brake. The car could roll off by itself, with children on board.

Carry a small bag with a soap, towel and a bottle of water along with the first-aid kit. Also take an empty plastic bag Ė in case someone feels sick and throws up.

Carry a light rain jacket, maybe light woollens, especially for children. The nights can get chilly. Donít carry things that you doní t need. That would mean overloading and burning extra fuel. It can be avoided. Donít forget to keep the outside rear-view mirror open. It is a great aid to safe driving. Driving in the hills can be really fun, if done properly.

Happy motoring.

This feature was published on May 1, 2004