The car is packed and fuelled, the kids miraculously compliant and the weather perfect for long-distance driving.
Suddenly a strange noise breaks the mood. The family SUV is not feeling the festive spirit.
It is a scenario many South Africans know well. Last-minute mechanical issues ahead of summer road trips are the grinch that stole Christmas.
While there may be several reasons for the untimely breakdown, there is a good chance that a substandard generic part installed by a backyard mechanic may lie at the heart of the problem.
Often motorists’ financial situation leaves no choice but to opt for parts not made by the vehicle manufacturer, but alternatives do carry risks.
Not only does the guarantee on generics expire after only a few months but, should these parts break, there is every chance they can affect other components essential to the car’s reliability.
In recent years, the quality of alternate parts has improved and some car manufacturers may even make use of them if the supplier is reputable.
However, more often than not they have not gone through a rigorous testing process and will be of a lesser quality, according to experts.
“We hear stories all the time about people’s cars breaking down after alternative parts are fitted,” Kelston Motor Group aftersales manager Dayle Walker said.
“What needs to be remembered is that original parts are specifically designed for a particular vehicle and go through stringent quality control processes. This is why they carry years-long guarantees.”
OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts may cost more but this has to be weighed against the expenses that can be incurred should the alternatives fail.
While drivers may pay more initially, a 24-month original parts guarantee means they will not be forced to fork out additional money in the event of a breakage.
Donovan Enslin, the Group’s used car manager, said vehicle maintenance should never be taken lightly, especially for those who travelled extensively.
“The guy around the corner might install parts for R500 but you have to look at the quality of those parts,” he said.
“It is no good saving money now and then your car breaks down. You want to make sure that nothing is skipped in terms of parts and service.”
Walker said it was vitally important to be aware of component lifespans and pointed out that information about parts replacement – and when this needed to be done – was readily available on manufacturers’ websites.
As part of its service offering, Kelston offers free safety checks to motorists at its 20-plus dealerships across the Eastern Cape.
The Group, which sells and services a number of well-known brands, is especially busy in December as locals prepare to go on holiday and visitors trek down to the coast.
“We have quite a few bookings from people who live in Gauteng but visit their families in PE (Gqeberha) over Christmas,” Walker said.
“It is cheaper to fix your car in the Eastern Cape than it is in other provinces, so they get their cars serviced while they’re here.”
Though the demand for vehicle check-ups is higher over the festive period, Walker and her team are able to monitor activity at all Kelston’s dealerships and increase capacity where needed to accommodate more customers.