Worrying data shows why car maintenance is vital

Nearly 800,000 Gen Y drivers don't know what a dipstick is.

But the amusing lack of maintenance knowledge among young drivers is part of a more worrying trend: fewer than one in five of all drivers do a full maintenance check before heading on a long journey.

According to a Galaxy poll, most Gen Y drivers thought a dipstick was used to change gears on a manual car, drive the pistons in the engine, or check the depth of water on a road during flooding.

The study of more than 1000 drivers, weighted using data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, found only 18 per cent of drivers did a full maintenance check before a long drive.

Simon Wilson, manager of the Automotive Network for Allianz Global Assistance, says he was surprised by the findings.

“It's important to be aware of safety not just when you're travelling, but before you hit the road,” he says.

Travel writer Deborah Dickson-Smith, from whereto-next.com, found out the hard way, when her family of seven was stranded for hours on a precarious road near Jenolan Caves in NSW.

She and her partner had borrowed a seven-seater to take the five kids away to celebrate a birthday, but it overheated and broke down.

“No phone signal, no sign of civilisation for several kilometres, and no passers-by,” she remembers.

She eventually flagged down a driver, who gave her a three-litre bottle of coolant.

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Sometimes, with the best of intentions, things still go wrong.

Marika Pythagoras and her husband George Pashalis took their 1982 Mercedes convertible for a service before driving to Mackay for Christmas.

Some 400 kilometres into the trip, Marika smelled something burning.

“After stopping and starting, we made it to Gunnedah before old faithful [the car, not the husband] had a coronary at the only service station in town,” she says.

They were stuck in Gunnedah for two days, but the car broke down again near the NSW/Queensland border.

“You will be pleased to know that the car was eventually traded in for a brand new one; I decided to keep the husband,” Marika laughs.

Roadside assistance technician Mark Longmire says tyre issues, battery problems and electrical faults are the main reasons people call for help.

“Just a few minutes checking tyre pressures and condition, engine oil, coolant levels, and electrical can save time, money and ensure the safety of those on the road,” he says.

Deborah Dickson-Smith says she's learned her lesson.

“Moral is, I suppose you should find out a bit more about the car you're driving before you set off,” she said.

When in doubt, visit your local mechanic.