Thursday, 09/10/2014

How do you think of your car? Is it your beloved pride and joy, or is just a machine that gets you from point A to point B? Whether you're a motoring enthusiast or not there are a few things you need to do to keep your car running properly. This will reduce the number of opportunities to put yourself in harm's way.

The first thing is regular maintenance. I am not suggesting that you become one of those blokes who spend his Saturdays in his garage, performing all sorts of mechanical wizardry. No, what I mean is that you need to ensure your car is booked in for its routine maintenance according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Some of you might begrudge paying the mechanic to work on a vehicle that appears to be in perfect working order. Think of it this way; you're paying him to ensure you don't break down in the wrong part of town, or a million miles from civilization. Breaking down in either of these places is a sure-fire guarantee you aren't going to enjoy your evening.

Petrol is another thing you should keep an eye on. If you make a habit of driving around with a nearly empty fuel tank and only put the bare minimum in to get you around, you will find this habit will end in disaster if you ever need to leave town in a hurry. I am not talking about doing a runner on your other half; but if a bushfire/flood/tsunami/herd of wild elephants is heading your way you'd probably like to get out of town ASAP. Unfortunately, you may not have the time to fill up on the way out of town, especially if half of the townsfolk have the same idea as you. It's probably not a bad idea to always have enough fuel in your tank to get you to the next town or county (whichever is going to get you out of range of your town's annual threat).

Next, check the water in your radiator. Does the water look rusty? Does the radiator have as much water in it as it should? Look after your radiator, because being stranded on the side of the road on a blazing hot summer's day isn't as much fun as it sounds.

Tires are a bugbear for a lot of people. Let's face it, after you've spent several hundred dollars on a new set of tires nobody can tell the difference. Realistically these expensive rubber rings do a lot of work and if you sat down and calculated how many kilometres each tyre does, then divide that amount by the price of the tyre, you'd see that at the end of the tyre's life it has barely cost you a fraction of a cent per kilometre (you can't say the same about the petrol you just purchased). Make sure you keep an eye on the tyre pressure and look out for unusual wear patterns.

Remember two weeks ago when I suggested you carry a bag of supplies in the boot of your car? That also requires regular maintenance. This isn't too difficult. You just need to keep an eye on the expiry dates of your supplies. It isn't a bad idea to mark your calendar to remind you to do this every couple of months.

I know car maintenance isn't interesting for a lot of people, and there are a lot more exciting things to spend your money on, but if you look after your car it will return the favour.

Thursday 02/10/14

We've all been told time and time again to have our keys in our hand when we are approaching our cars or our homes. Sure; that makes sense. Be honest; do you approach the door with the correct key in your hand, ready to insert into the lock? Or are you just like everyone else; you stand at the door, fumbling through the keys (and other rubbish) on your key ring to find the right key? The longer you stand there focusing on your keys, the longer someone has to approach you from behind. This problem is amplified if this is part of your daily routine, especially if someone unpleasant is keeping track of your movements. Someone who is routinely unaware of their environment becomes an easy and predictable victim.

When you're leaving the shopping centre; as well as having the correct key in your hand, you should have a quick look across the car park for potential trouble before leaving the safety of the mall. There's no shame in asking for one of the security guards to escort you to your car. Undesirables are less likely to hang around if they know the security team are vigilant.

I'm sure you've heard the self-defence advice of "putting your keys between your fingers" to defend yourself. I don't know if you've ever tried doing this, but realistically, an attacker isn't going to just stand there while you fumble about, trying to retrieve your keys, then allow you a little extra time to put them in place. As well as being time consuming, it weakens the structural integrity of your fist. If you don't believe me, go and grab your keys, and hold them between your fingers. It isn't very comfortable, is it? Now ask yourself, "If I punch something as solid as a human with this, what is the likely outcome?". Will you hurt the person you have punched? Maybe. Will you break one or more of your fingers in the process? More than likely. I've heard people defend this technique by saying that you could use it to blind your assailant. Maybe; if you are quick and accurate. But you had better be able to justify to the police and a magistrate why you chose to permanently blind your attacker, instead of simply running away.

One last thing, please don't hide your spare house key within six feet of the front door.

Thursday 25/09/14

What do you keep in the boot of your car? A spare tyre, a jack and a basic tool kit would be the typical response for most people. These things would be enough to see you through the minor inconvenience of a flat tyre. One other item most people carry nowadays is a First-Aid kit.

What if the unscheduled stopover is more complicated than a flat tyre? What if you're unfortunate enough to experience some form of serious mechanical failure? The tow truck could be an hour or two away (usually longer, if you're in a remote area). Do you have any supplies in the boot of your car to look after yourself?

You can fit everything you need into a small overnight bag, which will tuck neatly into the corner of your car's boot. You probably won't even notice it's there. "What should I pack into this bag?", I hear you ask. You might have different ideas or requirements, but this is what I pack into my bag:

  • 2 x 2 litre bottles of water (per person)
  • 1 x packet of sweet biscuits
  • 1 x small box of teabags (or sachets of instant coffee)
  • 1 x small packet of UHT milk portions
  • 1 x small box of sugar sachets (if you need sugar in your tea or coffee)

You will also need a hexamine stove (they fold up smaller than a paperback novel, so they don't take up much room), some fuel tablets for the hexamine stove, a packet of matches, a billycan, a couple of tin mugs (because tin mugs don't break when you drop them), a teaspoon, a flat-pack of toilet paper, and a little hand shovel. The last two items are often overlooked.

If you are in a rural area, you might also consider including 3 x cups of instant noodles and an extra litre of water (not exactly nutritious, but it'll get you through 24 hours). These usually come with a disposable fork inside the cup.

For your comfort, you should also pack; an old jumper (one you won't miss, but one that still fits you), a floppy hat, a blanket (you'll appreciate this if you're stranded overnight), and an old towel (you'll need it if you break down in the rain). You might also consider adding a small bottle of sunscreen, a small bottle of hand sanitiser, and some insect repellent.

It can get pretty boring being stranded on the side of the road for a few hours; and listening to the radio will drain the battery, so you might want to pack a paperback novel and a deck of cards (you can kill a few hours playing patience).

It won't cost you much money to set this kit up, and the kit won't take up much room in your boot. Hopefully, you'll never need to use it.