A Basic Vehicle Inspection
Old Redux Rally photo - vehicle check

Around here, we're all getting a bit tired of the ever expanding 'nanny state' attitude that seems to pervade every aspect of Australian life. It seems every day a new expert pops up to warn, advocate, advise and intimidate us about some new and impending danger that's threatening our heath or well being. If we acknowledged all the naysayers and checked, insured, assessed, analysed, investigated and scrutinised every potential hazard we're likely to encounter in the course of our daily lives, we'd be too terrified to open the front door and step into the world. However, when we're in the bush, a long way from home, we do check our vehicles on a daily basis. Nobody needs to be stuck in a remote area, with poor communications, because of a loose filler cap or low fluid levels.

Mick Farmer specialises in 4WD driver training for organisations like the United Nations, who service developing African countries, particularly in Uganda. The nature of Mick's training work means he's compelled to administer certain warnings and factor-in safety measures for his clients.

Off-road driving conditions on the African and Australian continents are similar in many respects and much of what Mick says is relevant to us over here. The obvious major difference is that here, we don't have to negotiate too many land mines, and it's not an everyday occurrence that someone shoots at you as belt across the Nullarbor.

Here's the article -

I am often astounded at how few people, attending our training, know how to open their vehicle bonnet (hood), let alone carry out a basic /routine inspection. So, although I have previously written about vehicle checks, I thought this time, I would cover in more detail the what, how to and why's of an inspection.

A routine inspection is broken down into three parts, under the bonnet, an external and an internal inspection. It is advisable to do this at least once a week if you’re just running around town and daily if on safari or working up country. By taking the 10 minutes to check the vehicle regularly, you may be able to head off potential problems before they happen.

Check the vehicle when it’s cold; first thing in the morning is best. Ensure that the vehicle is parked on level ground, otherwise, you won’t get a true reading of some of the fluid levels. Park on a clean area or take note of any previous oil stains. This helps identify any fresh leaks when you approach the vehicle.

Under The Bonnet Vehicle Inspection

Engine Oil: Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean with a clean rag. Reinsert, pull it out again and you should get a reading that is below the max/full mark. Do not over-fill and do not let it go below the minimum mark. Both can be damaging to the engine. Be aware, that in most vehicles it only takes one litre to fill from min to max. If you need to top it up, make sure that you use the correct grade of oil and leave it for a few minutes to drain before rechecking.

Coolant: The two places to check, on most vehicles, are the expansion tank and radiator. The expansion tank has a full and low level and the level should be between the two. Remove the radiator cap (only when cold, as if you do this when hot you can get scalded) and it should be full to the neck. Some vehicles (Land Rover models, for instance) have only one place to check, which is the expansion tank.

Power Steering Fluid: Clean the cap of any dust and remove. Wipe the dipstick clean, reinsert and pull it out again. Check the reading; it should be between the min and max mark. Some vehicles have a mark for hot and cold and some have clear plastic reservoirs for easy checking. Also, beware that some reservoirs are fitted near the radiator and the wrong fluid in the wrong reservoir can have disastrous results!

Brake & Clutch Fluid: Generally, the reservoirs are clear plastic with a min and max mark. Keep the level to just below max. Do not over fill as it could lead to spillage and this type of fluid makes for a very effective paint stripper! If you do need to top up, use only fresh fluid of the correct grade. If you are finding that you have to top up very regularly (more that once or twice between services) then there is certainly a leak that should be addressed ASAP.

Windscreen Washer Fluid: Top up, when necessary, with clean water and use a screen wash additive following manufacturers recommendations. Washing powder and washing up liquid leave deposits on the windscreen, which affects vision at night. Washer fluid gets it “squeaky” clean and removes dead bugs effectively.

Fan & Other Auxiliary Belts: Check for tension and condition. If in doubt get it changed. A broken belt can result in very costly repairs. Should one come off or break, it can interfere with the others - worst case is a fan going through the radiator and the engine overheating and seizing up. Quite important then!

Battery: Check the level of the battery and top up if necessary with distilled or deionised water only. Any other water will start to destroy the life of the battery. Again, do not over fill. Check that the battery is firmly secured in place by its restraint and that the terminals and clamps are clean and tight respectively. If the battery is not firmly secured in place --the worst case is that it jumps around, shorts out against the body of the vehicle causes a fire and the vehicle burns to the ground!

External Inspection:

Tyres: Check the sidewall for any signs of damage. Check tread depth level for legality (2mm) and evidence of uneven wear. Check pressures and set to vehicle manufacturer's recommended pressure. If you have any doubts whatsoever about the condition of your tyres consult an expert. If a tyre is unsafe or run at the incorrect pressure it can lead to disastrous results. Also, remember, when having tyres changed/repaired, make sure your wheel nuts are not over tightened. This often happens and should you have a flat you may not be able to get it off!

Lights, Wipers & Horn: Obviously, all need to be working correctly. Lights have to be clean to ensure safe motoring. Carry spare bulbs and fuses of different ratings to replace, when necessary. Check the condition of your wiper blades and replace if they are split, worn or are not wiping your windscreen properly.

Mirrors & Glasses: Ensure that they are clean and in good condition. A windscreen that is cracked should be replaced, especially if it is affecting the driver's vision.

Fuel Cap: Make sure it is in place and sealing correctly. Water entering the fuel tank will lead to a breakdown.

Doors: Check for security. (Relevant in Uganda to deter hijackers, but relevant here in making sure they are not about to fall off, especially rear wagon doors)

Internal Inspection:

Seat Belts: Check for security and correct operation. When pulled hard, a belt should lock up. If it doesn't it should be replaced, as it is obviously useless!

Seats: Check for security. Bolts can come loose when subject to vibration.

Give the inside of the vehicle a general look over, to ensure that there are no loose objects that can roll under and interfere with the pedals. Make sure that you have all necessary tools for changing a wheel, first aid kit and fire extinguisher. Sometimes these items are left behind after the inside has been cleaned.


All in all then, become familiar with your vehicle and how it should look and feel when in good condition, that way it will be easier to start identifying problems early and before they become potentially dangerous problems or expensive repairs. Also, be advised, that all vehicles are different and if you are unsure of anything ask someone who knows (this should be the person who is carrying out your maintenance!) to give you some general advise on what and how to check on your particular vehicle.

We take a look at a some preventive maintenance before heading off - 4WD Trip Preparation

This article is published under CCL

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