Monday, February 07, 2005

You Know It's A Slow Week...

...when a blogger posts his article from ancient times.

(Originally published at the now-defunct on December 2000)

Nighttime, loud music, and lots of flashy lights. Yes, nothing like a weekend road trip to Bandung. Most cars heading toward a highway gate have horse-powered machines capable of going through a 100-meter distance in less than 6 seconds. But they take two hundred times longer instead. Five hundred, if any police officers actually try to control the traffic.

You try to turn down the Limp Bizkit on your set, only to realize that you're playing Carlos Santana. The wailing beat is actually coming from inside the crimson red sedan on your right, with the driver cranking up the volume as if he was listening from Bali. In short response, one of the many Kijangs on your left starts playing Dewa on the same decibel level. What's a guy got to do but put up bravado into crescendo? You pump up the volume. And before long, every car in the line joins in the ear-bashing crew. Everyone would make so much noise that a UFO responding to the broadcast from SETI would take it as a non-existence sign of any intelligent life form on Earth. It would instantly fly back home.

You won't be having the similar freedom though as you're stuck in the fashion and speed of ant marches. Until finally the highway gate guy (all the girls have already quitted three years ago for hearing the Xon-Ce joke all the time) is close enough to hand you a dirty piece of plastic. Just be glad you're not a hypochondriac because there'd be at least two or three more highways in your route.

Okay, a long winding road with far less car density is finally ahead of you. Naturally, you'd be tempted to go crazy at the pedal. You do have to make up the loss time. And of course that'd help you miss the sign that says: "(put large numbers here) people were killed in highway accident." Ignorance is bliss.

Unfortunately, your car probably doesn't agree. Neither do the people who know that reckless driving or over speeding are not always the reasons behind highway accidents. A dysfunctional component of your car could also lead you there. And I'm not talking about the stereo system or air conditioner. Although you might as well cancel the trip if either one goes down.
Without proper air conditioning, you'll be forced to inhale fumes packed with carbon monoxide and extra lead on the side. One research said that heavy exposure to these fumes could lower someone's IQ. So either you pass out before halfway, or survive and become a good politician.

And without a working stereo system, you'd find yourself dependent on your traveling companion(s) to make it through. Finding friends that could liven up the atmosphere for more than four hours straight is extremely difficult, unless they're drunk. Then again, you wouldn't want some cheerful drunken companions, unless you're sober and it's their car. And if you're a loner, you're one Winchester away from blowing up other cars with a shotgun.

No, I'm talking about tires and brakes.

After the high Ford Explorer rollover cases exposed on August 2000 that reported over a hundred deaths, many people (mostly Americans) were worried to their toes for potential tread separation problem on tires. Meanwhile on the other side of the world, us Indonesians were too busy making prank calls and bomb threats to BEJ, foreign embassies, and other public places.

Don't get tired out of pressure
Firstly, high percentages of highway accidents involve rollovers. And second, under inflated tires flex too much and build up heat, which could cause blowouts and tread separation, where the tread peels away from the body of the tire. Having either one at high speed could lead to rollovers.

So instead of just checking whether you have more beverages to soak yourself in a carbonated bath, check your tire pressure as well before departure. Initially, you're going to need a tire gauge. Trying to determine the pressure by kicking the tires is hardly hard science. That only shows which part of your body does the thinking.

How much pressure do you need? Well, auto safety experts strongly suggest that you follow the numbers (normally in Lb/W2) recommended by the carmakers. They usually post it on a metal plaque on the driver's side door pillar, or the owner's manual. But who are we kidding? Indonesians don't read manuals. That's why we blow up so many American-made machines trying to plug them in for 220 volts.

Anyway, checking the pressure monthly is also recommended, as there's a narrow margin for tire pressure safety, which is four or five Lb/W2. Don't get any lower than that margin. There's no virtue in having a mild tire.

Tires are also weakened by the stress of heavy loads, such as towing a trailer, or your backseat-driving boss. Especially if you're speeding for long periods over 105 km/h, which is a common practice in Cikampek or Padalarang Highway. Primarily because drivers who want to respond to the call of nature find that the nearest toilets are kilometers away. The heat caused by this stress could lead to blowout, or pants wetting. You may need an additional five Lb/W2 to make sure your tires hold up, and go easy on your drinks.

Keep in mind that most tires usually last about 65,000 kilometers. Stay alert of a muffled thumping noise or a shimmy feel in your steering wheel when driving at highway speeds. The noise could indicate tire tread problems. Or remind you of sex. The shimmy itself may either mean your wheels are out of alignment, which could cause tires to wear prematurely, or you still couldn't get thoughts of sex out of your mind. It's prudent to have a mechanic check your alignment every 8,000 to 11,000 kilometers. And to every 1,000 to 1,500 shimmies that are not related to wheels alignment, seek professional help.

Put a stop at brakes risks
You shouldn't brush off the potential danger of seemingly strange noises. If you hear a squeal when you hit disk brakes, it could mean the pads in disk brakes need replacement. Or you just scored one rat on a road kill. If you hear a grinding noise with drum brakes as you're doing the brake test, it probably means that the shoes in drum brakes need to be replaced. If the car pulls to the right or left when you brake hard, that's also a trouble sign. Even if you're into bull riding.

Many of the cars equipped with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) do a computerized self-diagnostics as soon as you start the car. Which is why watching the brakes' dashboard warning light is also important. If the light goes out after about two seconds, the system is working properly. If the light stays on, it indicates a potential trouble. But don't depend on this technology too much. Parts could wear out unexpectedly and introduce high risk without warning.

If you happen to hit the brakes hard at the speed of 80km/h, a good brakes would stop the car within 300 meters, says Bud Stanley, partner in Advanced Driver Training in Nashua, N.H., which teaches accident-avoidance skills.

An anti-lock brakes would give a pulsating feel in the pedal when you hit it hard and you just need to hold it down. But remember that if you have traditional brakes without an automatic anti-lock assist, you'll need to pump the pedal to keep the wheels from locking.

If your car passes more than 300 meters, it means you have a slim chance stopping your car fast enough in an accident or a rough weather. Bud recommends taking up this test every six months. Unfortunately, this won't come up as a good excuse to avoid a speeding ticket. Not in Indonesia, anyway, where so-called trials and fine-payment are done at the spot.

Maneuver yourself out of trouble
For Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) such as Cheerokes or Monteros, the high center gravity makes them more prone to rollovers. Bud Stanley, who has also investigated the causes of rollover accidents, develops this following technique to help SUV owners prevent their cars from rolling over: If you need to swerve suddenly to avoid a crash, don't turn the wheel immediately. It may be your natural instinct, but it significantly increases your chance of a rollover. Instead, hit the brakes first. Wait until the vehicle settles on the front wheels and then turn the steering wheel. This will stabilize the vehicle.

And lastly, do not underestimate the power of seat belts. Three out of five people killed in traffic accidents would have lived had they been wearing their seat belts, according to estimates by American federal safety regulators.

The other two weren't driving.

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