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Driving Tips for Beginners and New Car Owners

So you're driving your first car. This is Driving 101.
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Congrats on your new car purchase! Whether the unit is brand new or second-hand, it doesn’t really matter. You’re more mobile now and free from the clutches of surge pricing and other hellish problems of public transportation.

Granted you did your due diligence, perfected the skill of driving (MT or AT), got insurance, and are more than capable to pay the monthly amortization for the next three years (or five), let’s go right ahead and deal with the day-to-day stuff. Here are driving tips for beginner drivers:

Take a seat

Adjust the seat accordingly and not like the way they do it in The Fast and Furious. You’re not a stunt driver so sit properly.

With your back straight, reach your arms out and make sure your wrist falls comfortably on top of the steering wheel. If it doesn’t, adjust the steering wheel (if possible), otherwise move your seat forward.

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Check that your feet can reach the pedals properly—with your heel on the floor and the balls of your right foot easily switching between throttle and brake. Same with the left foot if you’re driving stick.

Your elbows and knees should just be slightly bent. If either are stretched straight or at a 90-degree angle, it may prevent you from properly executing an evasive maneuver should the need arise.

Mirror, mirror

The rearview and side mirrors are among the most important safety features of your vehicle so make sure you can see out of them with the least head movement possible.

Dedicate a large chunk of the side mirrors for the road behind you and only a small slice of your vehicle’s rear fender. This ensures that you’ll see cars and even motorcycles creeping up alongside you.

When it comes to the rearview mirror, some make the bad habit of using it as a personal mirror. That’s what the vanity mirror is for on the visor. Keep the rearview mirror facing the rear window and make sure you can see the road behind you completely and without any obstruction.

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Let’s get mental

Take long, deep breaths and relax. It’s not rocket science, but putting in your head the fact that a wrong decision could mean life or death for you or someone else will keep you on your toes.

Multi-tasking is a must. Even if you’re not driving stick, just looking at the mirrors, checking road and traffic signs, maintaining the proper distance, and keeping centered in your lane is already a lot for a newbie’s gray matter, so don’t add more distractions, like checking Facebook every five minutes.

Take off

Hold the steering wheel correctly at all times. Old-timers recommend keeping it at the 10 and 2 (imagine an analog clock) but current research indicates that the 9 and 3 positions are better because modern steering wheels are smaller and are equipped with airbags.

Accelerate slowly. This sets you up for the proper driving demeanor and pace for the rest of the trip.

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Avoid being in a hurry by always leaving early and giving yourself enough travel time in between destinations.

Always keep your hands on the steering wheel. As you make big turns, avoid going hand over hand. Instead, use the push-and-pull motion (if you’re turning right, push the steering wheel up with the left hand and pull it down with the right) to ensure that you always have directional control of the vehicle with both hands.

Watch out for pedestrians

Know that there are two types: the passive and the aggressive.

Passive pedestrians seek out crosswalks and wait patiently as seconds turn to minutes for a chance to cross the street. What they don’t know is that as per R.A. 4136, pedestrians on a crosswalk always have the right of way, except when such crosswalk happens to be in an intersection manned by a traffic officer or a signal light.

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Then there are aggressive pedestrians, otherwise known as plain jaywalkers. They cross streets at any point, jump over barriers, disregard footbridges, thus causing traffic, minor accidents, and sometimes even fatalities.

As a motorist, let passive pedestrians pass and be wary of jaywalkers. Also, it is your responsibility to know the locations of crosswalks.

Keep it open for pedestrians even when traffic is bumper-to-bumper or yield when people have already gathered on the curb waiting to cross the street.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself

One of the most important aspects of operating a vehicle in Metro Manila is driving demeanor.

Don’t turn into an aggressive driver; be a defensive one. We already have too many of the former.

Aggressiveness may bring plenty of benefits to your career, schoolwork, and heck, even on a basketball court. But it certainly doesn’t do you any good on the road.

If you don’t know whether you’re an aggressive driver or not, answer these:

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  • Do you allow other motorists who have their turn signal on to merge to your lane?
  • In a bottleneck situation, do you routinely ‘give way’ to other drivers in order to facilitate the smooth flow of traffic?
  • Are you in the habit of cutting into lanes just to get ahead of the cue?

If you answered “yes” to any or all of the above, don’t worry, there is still hope for you and it won’t even take an exorcism.

Just keep the three-second rule in mind and you’ll be a defensive driver in no time. Here’s what it means: regardless of speed, pick a marker ahead and count three seconds from the time the tail of the car ahead passes it. You should only reach it by the time you get to three. This measure lets you keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead and gives you ample time to react during an emergency situation.

Prevention is better than cure

On top of regular traffic concerns, danger lurks on our metro roads. Remember to always keep your doors locked when in transit. I’ve personally seen thieves try to open vehicles stopped in traffic in the middle of the day. Prevent yourself from being their next victim.

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Prevent car breakdowns as well by making sure that primary parts are always in good operational condition.

All reputable auto dealerships offer Preventive Maintenance Service (PMS) with regular courtesy calls to remind you of what scheduled service is coming up or spare part/component that is for replacement.

If your auto shop doesn’t do it, just check the manual and DIY it.

Oil filter—Replace during change-oil service every 5,000 kilometers or three months, whichever comes first. Interval time may vary between vehicle make and model.

Spark plugs—Iridium spark plugs last for 60,000 kilometers while ordinary spark plugs are only rated for 10,000. Check your manual to find out what you’re using.

Drive belt—This should be replaced after 60,000 kilometers. If you don’t and it snaps, you’ll lose air-conditioning, all electrical power, and you’ll end up with pawis steering.

Timing belt—Manuals say replace at 100,000 kilometers but service specialists in the Philippines have noted that due to our road conditions and tropical climate, no timing belt has lasted more than 80,000.

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Air cleaners/filters—Change it every 20,000 kilometers to keep your throttle body clean and your engine running efficiently.

Brake pads—For AT, replace it every 20,000 kilometers. Add 10,000 kilometers more if you’re driving a manual transmission.

Batteries—The maintenance-free types, which are the most common, should be replaced every two years. Any day after that is a gamble. Just because it started your engine now, doesn’t mean it will next time.

Auto fluids—Brake, clutch, and power steering fluid all absorb water at some point and this reduces their boiling point and efficiency. Check your manual to find out how often you should replace these.

Be safe and have fun

Reading all of the above doesn’t automatically make you a great driver. But practicing good habits every day will.

Always make sure your vehicle is in tip-top shape.

Once you’re on the road, your one and only concern is what’s in front—not the SMS that came in or that terrible track on Spotify.

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Keep a safe distance and be considerate. It will only be chaotic, if you drive like it.

Nobody said driving in the city was easy, but driving safe makes it fun.

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Eric Tipan
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