Monday, May 10, 2010

Safe Driving in the Rains

As a country of extreme weather conditions and inadequate road infrastructure, India can offer some truly brutal driving conditions in the rainy season. At Team-BHP, safety is an absolute first. We do hope that the following tips & guidelines help you toward safer motoring in the rains.


• Be twice as considerate to two-wheelers! Not only are they completely exposed to the rains, but neither do they have the same braking / grip levels as your car. Don't tail bikes either. They are prone to slips / falls and we don't want you to run over them.

• Likewise for pedestrians. In rainy conditions, pedestrians are extremely hard to spot. Also, please don’t splash water on pedestrians.

• Plan the journey such that you reach your destination within daylight hours.

• When possible, stay off the roads during heavy rains. If you are on the road and visibility gets worse, park someplace safe, get a cup of coffee and wait for the rains to simmer down.

• Don’t park anywhere on the road, or close to where other cars would pass you. Poor visibility could result in someone banging into your car. The ideal place to park would be one that’s off a street and at a level higher than the road. If you are parking only for a short time, switch your parking lights on.

• For overnight parking, choose a clean area and one that's away from rodents. Corner / isolated spots are best avoided. During the rains, rats take shelter under the hood and chew on wires.

Preparing your car for the monsoons

• Ensure that your car is in healthy condition; the tyres, brakes and wipers, especially, must be in top shape. It’s a good idea to get a set of new wiper blades at the start of each monsoon season.

• Your tyres must have at least 2 - 3 mm of tread left, and should be inflated to the manufacturer recommended levels. Driving on tires that are over or under-inflated can prove to be dangerous, even on dry tarmac.

• Check the focus of your headlight beams and correct if necessary.

• Ensure that your foot pedals are not slippery. It would be a good idea to get new plastic / rubber mats too.

• Drain hole rubber plugs are found missing on many a car. Check if yours are in place. Missing plugs lead to wet floors, even in conditions of mild rain.

• Have the windshield washer fluid topped up at all times, and clean all glasses thoroughly. Try using a newspaper to clean your windscreens. If you have dark sunfilm, that’s going to create a problem at night.

• If your car is kitted with a cold air intake (or similar), consider replacing it with the stock version. Exposed CAI's can make your car vulnerable in the monsoons.

• Check the rubber beadings / weather strips on the doors; they should sit flush with the glass. If they appear loose, tighten or change them. The rubber beadings stop water from seeping inside the door panels, which could cause an errant central locking system, short circuit or rust.

• You never know when you may end up stuck on the road. Don't ever let your fuel tank go below the 1/2 level mark. Also, stock up with sufficient supplies of snacks and bottled water. Chocolates, packaged wafer chips and energy bars make for great snacks to store in your car.

• Keep a first-aid kit, torch and umbrella handy. Some members even recommend keeping a small hammer in the car. In the event of flood waters jamming your doors, the hammer could help in breaking the windows for escape.

• Rains can make for damp smelly interiors. Get an air-fresher for your car, the type that hooks onto the air-con vent. Some members have also suggested “mogre ka gajra” or “mogra flowers” for vibrant interiors . Packets of silica gel keep fungus in check.

• Carry a couple of cigarettes or a pouch of tobacco in your glovebox. If visibility becomes a problem due to heavy rainfall, rubbing tobacco on the windscreen works wonders.

• Some products like RainX, Abro Clearview anti-rain etc. are available in the market. However, we have only received mixed reviews and hence, cannot recommend them. Use them at your own discretion.

Safety on the Road:

• Remember that the first rains (or rains after a long dry spell) result in the slipperiest roads. Be overtly cautious in these driving conditions.

• Concrete roads are very slippery, far more than our good ol’ tar roads. Bridges and flyovers can also be extra slippery, so drive carefully over these areas.

• More than anything, go slower in the rains. It's that simple. Adopt a conservative driving style and plan for a longer travel time. For instance, brake earlier and with lesser force than you would in the dry. The taxi behind you is running on 3 year old wet drum brakes! If you would have squeezed into that small gap on a dry day, refrain from doing so in the rains. Steer and brake with a light touch. Prevent skids by driving slowly and carefully, especially on the curves. A gentle approach is the key here.

• Use your turn signals liberally. Strictly no sudden lane changing manouveurs either.

• Maintain a safe distance with the car ahead, one that's twice as longer than in the dry. Braking distances are severely affected on wet roads.

• Engine braking has certain advantages on slippery roads. That said, use engine braking in a smooth transitional manner, and in a combination with your regular brakes. Your brake lights will let the car behind know of your intentions to stop / slow down.

• Switch on your low beam headlights in the rains, whether night or day. Not only can it potentially improve your vision, headlamps will also let others see you better. Avoid using high beam in the rains as it can reflect light as well as blind oncoming traffic.

• Avoid driving on lane cuts or lane divide lines; your car will tramline much easier in the rains. Also, try to stay off the paint on the road (zebra crossings, lane markers etc.) as the painted surface is low on traction.

• The safest place to be is in the middle lane. Why? Crowned roads will have water settle on either side. Plus, you will notice puddle formation in the right lanes, while the left will always have people joining the road or exiting.

• Try to drive in the tire tracks left by the cars in front of you.

• Avoid puddles like a plague. Firstly, you never know how deep they are. Second, if you are at speed, they can make your car aquaplane in water, leading to an absolute loss of control. Drive around large puddles, you never know what’s lurking underneath.

• Never splash into a puddle as it could severely damage your car. For instance, water getting into your air intake could kill your engine.

• Blind spots! In the monsoons, trucks and other commercial vehicles have absolutely no rear view. Take extreme caution before overtaking them because, in all probability, they can't see you! Honk and flash your headlights liberally.

• If you experience heavy rains on the highway, follow a conservatively driven bus / truck with working stoplights. However, don’t follow it too closely else the spray from its huge tyres will impair your vision.

• Severely heavy downpour can restrict your visibility to only two car lengths' (or less). In these conditions, it is best to safely pull over and take a break. Heavy downpour doesn't normally last for too long.

Flooded areas

• If you aren’t sure about the depth of the flood, do NOT drive through it. Taking an alternate route is best. If you just have to use that stretch, wait until another car / bus attempts to pass the flood, and gauge its depth. Never drive through a flood unless you know how deep it is and that your car can handle it.

• Switch off your air-con before entering the flooded area.

• Always keep your windows slightly open when traveling through a flooded area. If you get stuck, you can shout for help or even force the window down.

• When in a flooded area, choose the first gear, slip the clutch and keep the revs high enough to ensure that exhaust gases are pushed out of the tail pipe. Do NOT stop revving. The lower your car's speed, the better. If your car stalls, it is very difficult to start it again.

• If your car does stall, do not attempt to restart. This may lead to engine hydrolock. You first need to check if any water has entered the air intake or exhaust pipe.

• Once out of the water trap, pump / tap your brakes to dry the drums and discs off.

Windscreen / Window fogging:

• Remember the fundamentals : Window fogging occurs due to a temperature difference between the inside surface of your glass and the outside. For example, if you drive without the air-con and all your windows are shut, the cabin is warmer than the outside, resulting in the window fogging up from inside. On the other hand, if you run your air-con on full blast mode, the interiors of your car will be colder than the outside. Thus, your glasses will fog up from the outside.

• Keep the air-con on fresh air / ventilation mode.

• It is important to maintain the right temperature balance between the inner & exterior sides of glass. Don't turn your air-con to full blast. Keep it at a level which is just about comfortable.

• Use your rear windscreen demister liberally. It heats up little wires in your rear glass and gets rid of the mist / fog.

• When the windows fog from the inside, the best thing to do is to switch the aircon on. It will clear up the screens in a jiffy. The situation is a little tricker when the windows fog up from the outside. The ideal solution is to roll down the windows a little, and let the air flow more or less neutralize the temperature difference. Most modern cars come with the demist / defog mode as part of the standard HVAC system.

Drive safe! The rains are simply beautiful. Taking the necessary precautions will make your rainy drives a pleasure that you will look forward to!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Team-BHP Article: How to protect your car from THEFT

Picture this. You are on a day out with your family. After driving around all day, you settle in to enjoy a movie at your favorite theater, only to come back later to the parking lot and find your car missing! Or waking up one morning to find the car stolen from your own residential parking spot. All this may sound like your worst nightmare come true, but the fact is, car theft is a big business in India. Auto theft is a national-level racket that runs into crores of rupees. Team-BHP tells you how to prevent your car from becoming a mere statistic on police records.

What happens to cars once they are stolen?

Stolen cars from one state are usually sold in another state to unsuspecting buyers. Cross selling across states makes it difficult for authorities to track the cars down. Forged registration papers, supporting documents and a fake registration number are not difficult to procure in India. Often, used car dealers work hand in glove with car thieves, who frequently operate as part of a larger gang. In other cases, these cars are dismantled and individual parts are sold in the open market. Stolen cars can also be used in crimes and then abandoned. In such a situation, there is high potential of a legal problem to the actual car owner.

Which cars are the usual targets for car thieves?

Though a thief can target almost any kind of vehicle, the following cars are “hot favorites”:
  • VFM and popular hatchbacks. The Maruti 800, Alto, Wagon R, Swift, Tata Indica, Hyundai Santro, i10 etc.
  • VFM and popular sedans like the Maruti Esteem, Dzire, Tata Indigo, Honda City, Toyota Corolla etc.
  • MUVs & SUVs like the Mahindra Scorpio, Bolero, Chevrolet Tavera, Toyota Qualis and Innova. Premium SUVs like the Mitsubishi Pajero are darlings too.
The above-listed cars find buyers almost anywhere in the country; this is exactly what thieves look for. Cars that are easy to sell and with minimum fuss.

Insurance first:
  • Ensure that your car is comprehensively covered, and that the insurance policy is valid. The only thing worse than having your car stolen is then realising that your car's insurance policy has expired!
Keys & Parking:
  • LOCK the car : A simple task, yet one that is often overlooked due to carelessness. Do ensure that all the doors & windows (including sunroof) of your car are sealed tight. A small opening is all that a thief needs to gain access. Be sure to lock even if it’s only a 2 minute stop to pick up that hot coffee from Barista.
  • Residential Parking : Needless to say, nearly all stolen cars are picked up from their parking spot. Parking in a garage or within a building's compound walls is, of course, ideal. For those who have no choice but to park on the street, choose a well illuminated area. Avoid parking in dark and isolated spots. If there is a watchman on guard in a nearby building, giving him a 100 – 200 bucks (monthly) to keep an eye on your car is a good idea.
  • Public Parking : When you visit a mall or a restaurant, use a pay & park lot (not on the public street). And yes, always carry the parking ticket with you (don't leave it in the car). Parking close to public activity, say the entrance of the lot, helps. Thieves are allergic to people and activity.
  • Keep your keys to yourself : Don't let your car keys circulate amongst the building watchmen, car wash guys or even parking lot attendants. Keys have often been duplicated from a leak in this circle. Also, don't leave your car keys in the ignition, even if you are doing a splash & dash to the nearby store.
Anti-theft equipment that works:

The first rule is to understand that there is no such thing as a “theft-proof” car. Hence, the key is to make things as difficult as possible for the thief, thereby deterring him from stealing your car. Make the thief move on to the next “easy prey”.
  • Factory-fitted Immobilizer : Choose a car with a factory-fitted immobiliser (e.g. Maruti iCats). Manufacturer installed systems are typically robust.
  • A pro-grade security system : Buy a security system ONLY from a well reputed brand (e.g. Autocop, Xenos etc.). Choose a system which, along with an alarm, comes with motion + impact sensors. If your car didn't come equipped with a factory immobiliser, check that option out too. GPS-equipped systems with location functionality are also making their way to India (example). Importantly, ensure that the security system is installed by a professional / authorized representative of the company. No 16 year old daily wage labourers at the accessories store please.
  • Additional locks : We highly recommend gear or steering-to-pedal locks from a reputable brand. Not only do these locks make for a visual deterrent to thieves, but the high quality ones are tough to break. There are several options of gear locks (fixed permanently in your car and locks gear in position) and steering-to-pedal locks (one end attached to your steering wheel and the other to your clutch or brake pedal) available in the market.
  • Hidden master switch : Especially popular with the Jeep & Gypsy folk. Such a switch basically breaks the power supply from your battery to the ignition, or shuts off the fuel pump altogether. It is installed at a location in your car that's known only to you. Again, the key is to deter the thief as much as possible.
Lessening the appeal of your car:
  • Number etching : Etch the registration number of your car on the glass areas and a few other secret spots that only you know about. Etched registration numbers on windows are a deterrent to thieves (potential problem at "naka bandi"). Plus, this step will help you / the Police identify your car if & when it is recovered.
  • No valuables : Keep the laptops, shopping bags and cell phones away from prying eyes. These goodies invite a thief and only give him more incentive to steal your car. Never keep valuables in open sight (e.g. on your seat). Lock them away in the boot or carry them along with you. Also, if your stereo headunit has a removable panel, detach and take it with you.
  • Buy a market dud : Cars like the Fiat Palio, Ford Mondeo and Mitsubishi Cedia found few takers in the new car bazaar. Good news is, thanks to their dismal market performance, even fewer thieves are interested in these cars.
Some other important points:
  • Photo copies only : Do not leave your driving license and original registration papers in the car. These documents can be doctored, and it is possible that the thief will impersonate you when selling the car. Keep only photocopies of registration & insurance documents in the car and carry your driving license with you at all times.
  • Car Jacking : Though an infrequent occurrence today, car jacking is growing in popularity with urban thieves. When driving through isolated areas, or late at night, always keep the doors locked and your windows rolled up. Don't stop the car in suspicious areas either.
  • Offroaders : Good idea is to leave your 4x4 vehicle parked with the transfer case in N or L mode. A majority of thieves don't even know how to operate the transfer case.
  • For the really paranoid : Remove the main fuse and carry it along with you. No one expects thieves to come equipped with fuses. This is a worthy suggestion for those times that you are out travelling, and your car will remain unused in its parking spot for a longer period of time.
  • Protection from the "other" car : Applicable to those of you who have 2+ cars and a narrow parking area. Use the less desirable car as protection, park it at the end, and block access to the other cars. For instance, block the Hyundai i20 and Toyota Innova out with the ol' Premier 118 NE at the entrance