Failing battery and tyre issues: Common wear-and-tear problems motorists face

Over time, even the most well-maintained car will require repairs. What are the tell-tale signs?

A failing battery is one of the common problems faced by drivers. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Q: What are the tell-tale signs of a failing battery? It would be very useful to know, especially as Singaporeans have started driving to Malaysia again.

A: The first bit of information you must have is the age of the battery. Most of them have some form of marking identifying the date of installation in the car.

Generally, lead-acid car batteries will last about three years. Hence, you need not be vigilant till it is more than two years old.

Some batteries come with an indicator that turns from black to red or yellow when the battery condition falls below a certain level.

The first sign of a failing battery is always slow engine cranking when starting. More current is drawn from a 12-volt battery by the starter motor than any other electrical component, except hybrids with lithium‑ion‑powered starter-generators.

There is no way to predict how much longer it will last from the first sign of lethargic cranking, so you should have the battery checked when you detect this symptom.

A competent car workshop will not only check the state of the battery, but also the alternator’s performance.

Battery voltage should increase slightly when the engine is revved above 1,500rpm to read no less than 14 volts – even though the battery is specified as a 12‑volt unit.

Other signs of a failing battery include inconsistent brightness from any of the vehicle’s bulbs – including interior lights – during idling.

Headlamps, in particular, will be easy to notice. However, this will not be noticeable if the lamps are xenon or LED ones.

On cars with electric power steering, a weak battery will often cause the steering wheel to feel tighter or heavier, especially during fast left-right manoeuvres.

When replacing a battery, you must find out if your car has a type of battery management system which requires an update of the engine-control unit with a new battery code. This is necessary in some cars to refresh the alternator’s charging pattern and this can be performed only with specialist equipment.

PHOTO: STAMFORD TYRES

Q: What are some of the tyre problems that will affect driving performance and safety? What should drivers do to protect their tyres?

A: Apart from punctures, which can be mended easily, the more common problems include insufficient air pressure in the tyres, uneven wear and tear of tyres and tyre impact due to driving styles such as mounting the kerb.

Take the lack of air pressure in tyres, for instance. It will hinder performance and safety.

“When you have uneven air pressure in your left and right tyres, one has better traction than the other when you apply the brakes,” says Mr Ng Wee Liong, head of retail operations at Stamford Tyres. “This will affect cornering due to uneven tyre traction and a driver may even lose control of the car.”

With the front tyres facing enhanced friction on the roads, they typically wear off faster than the rear ones. That is why Mr Ng recommends drivers to rotate their tyres regularly.“By doing so, you can evenly distribute this additional wear and tear, and keep your tyres preserved as a set,” he says, adding that it is advisable to rotate and balance (a process to distribute weight equally around the entire circumference of the tyre) the tyres every 10,000km.

Should you notice uneven tyre traction, then it is recommended that you go for wheel alignment, which corrects the angle to which your car’s wheels touch the road surface. Not only will it enhance your driving experience, but it can also make your drive a safer one.

These said, the easiest and cheapest way to protecting your tyres is to adopt a safe and steady driving style. Avoiding road hazards such as potholes can help too.

Regular maintenance of the car's air-conditioner is not necessary but it is recommended to service it once every 60,000km. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Q: How long should the car’s air-conditioning system last? Are there components which require periodic replacement and is there a maintenance routine to observe?

A: In Singapore, a car’s air-conditioner is switched on as long as the engine is running because of the weather. The heat-exchanger that transfers heat from the passenger compartment to outside the car – called the condenser – is cooled by a fan that force-feeds air drawn from the immediate surroundings via a matrix of fins and tubes.

While cruising on expressways, the condenser receives much larger quantities of air in addition to what the fan delivers, thus greatly improving the performance of the air‑conditioning system.

Modern systems are designed to operate in even harsher conditions than Singapore’s, such as in the Middle East where ambient temperatures can hover around 50 deg C.

But periodic maintenance is necessary. The routine should include checking for refrigerant leaks, flushing and evacuating the system of the existing refrigerant, cleaning or replacing the filters, and then recharging with fresh refrigerant.

For passenger cars, such a service is not required on an annual basis but recommended at 60,000km intervals.

Most air-conditioning systems in cars will serve effectively for around 180,000km before requiring replacement of major parts such as the compressor and condenser. That translates to about 10 years for the average car here.

These stories by Christopher Tan and Shreejit Changaroth first appeared in The Straits Times. Additional reporting by Terence Lim.

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