How to Drive into Singapore

There are several reasons why you might want to drive into Singapore. It is very easy for Malaysian cars to enter Singapore. This guide is to help you make your journey down as trouble-free as possible. But before you begin a long journey, check out the Driving Checklist and ensure that your car is safe to drive first.

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I made 2 crucial mistakes when I first drove into Singapore:

  1. Forgot to top up my fuel tank in Johor.
  2. Forgot to change Singapore Dollars.

Luckily I didn’t have to drive in Singapore so fuel wasn’t a problem. Took the cab most of the time and used my aunt’s car. As for the lack of Sing Dollars, I was fortunate enough to meet 2 friendly Malaysian couples who exchanged 10SGD for me to pay for the Autopass card.

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To avoid jams, try not to enter Singapore between 6am-9am on a weekday. That’s when everyone is rushing to work and you do not want to get caught in the jam.

Get the following items ready when you approach the Tuas or Woodlands checkpoint:

  1. Passports for everyone in the car
  2. Filled disembarkation/embarkation forms for everyone in the car (can be filled at the checkpoint too if you don’t have one)
  3. Autopass card for your vehicle (can be obtained at the checkpoint if you don’t have one)

Disembarkation / Embarkation Forms

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This form must be filled everytime you enter Singapore. Forms are available free of charge from the checkpoints and travel agents. One portion of this form must be kept and surrendered when you leave Singapore.

Autopass Card

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This is an Autopass card. You will need this to drive your car into Singapore. The Autopass card is a prepaid card that can be used to pay for parking and tolls.

If you do not have one, you will have to park your vehicle and apply for one at the checkpoint office. Do take note of your car’s road tax expiry date and make sure that it has not expired.

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Take note of the expiry date because they will need that information.

To apply for the Autopass you will need to fill up a form and pay SGD10. The card costs SGD6 so you will have SGD4 preloaded in your card. The Autopass card is NOT TRANSFERABLE. Also do take note that foreign registered vehicles have 10 free VEP (vehicle entry permit) days to drive in Singapore. After the 10 days are used up, it’s SGD20 per day.

Once you have applied for the card, you can then drive your vehicle into Singapore. When driving in Singapore, especially for Malaysians, the speed limit is indicated by the number in the red circle and you actually have to follow them. Also, pedestrians have the right of way at a zebra crossing. Red lights on the traffic light means stop, as opposed to go. Yellow means prepare to stop, as opposed to accelerate.

By following the above rules, you are guaranteed to have a fun and enjoyable drive (minus the jams) in Singapore. Good luck!

Driving Checklist

It’s a good idea to do a few checks on your car before embarking on a long distance drive. This will ensure that you will arrive at your destination safely and on time.

Tires

Tires keep your car in contact with the ground. So it’s vital that they are in good condition. Worn tires will give you less grip on wet roads and the tyre may experience hydroplaning, whereby the tyre rides upon a layer of water instead of coming in contact with the road. This causes a loss of steering input and may cause the car to skid.

To prevent that from happening, make sure your tires have enough thread. You want tyre threads that look like these:

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And not like these:

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Must have done too many burnouts and hard brakings. This was the condition of my tires when I changed them. I was already experiencing hydroplaning and lack of traction on wet roads. I didn’t know it was that bad. I really got a shock when I saw this.

Radiator water level

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The water in the radiator keeps your engine running at a proper temperature. Too little water and your engine will overheat. High engine temperature may indicate lack of water.

Make sure the engine is cold before opening the radiator cap. Do not open it when the engine is hot or you might get a spray of hot boiling water. If you must open it when it’s still hot, put a wet rag over it and open slowly. Top up the water until it overflows.

Oil level

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Oil keeps the engine lubricated and keeps friction to a minimum. Without oil, the engine will wear out very fast and the excessive friction may cause an overheat. That’s why we must always make sure that the oil level in the engine is correct.

This can be easily checked by using the oil dipstick. Take the dipstick out, wipe it dry with a clean tissue, put back the dipstick and take it out again and read the oil level. It should fall between L and F. Mine is actually overfull so you see the whole stick covered in oil. Not exactly recommended, but doesn’t do any harm.

Battery

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The battery plays an important role in the modern car. Without the battery you will not be able to start your car if you have an automatic transmission. So to prevent yourself from getting stranded in the middle of nowhere, always keep track of the condition of your battery.

If you own a maintenance free battery, there’s no battery fluid to top up. You just have to use the SOC (state of charge) indicator to determine if your battery is in good condition or not (refer to the photo above). Your battery manual will usually tell you how to do that.

If you own a conventional battery, you must always make sure that the battery is filled up properly. You can damage the battery if you let the water level fall too low.

Brakes

If you use your car regularly, brakes shouldn’t be an issue. Be aware when brakes become spongy or when the pedal travel increases. This may mean a defective master cylinder or lack of fluid. Also if you hear metallic noise from the brakes, it may be time to get the brake pads changed. They may be worn down already.

Tyre change equipment

If you are going to be traveling long distances, you don’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere with a flat tyre. Make sure you carry your spare tyre, car jack and tyre iron with you. This will ensure that you will be able to continue your journey in the (hopefully) unlikely event that you get a puncture. Or you can always opt for run flat tyres which will cost you more, but you won’t have to change them if they get punctured.

Alternator

An alternator is a generator that generates power while the engine is running. It supplies power to the different accessories in the car and also charges the battery. A dead alternator will eventually lead to a dead battery. A dead battery will lead to you getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. So it’s important to ensure that your alternator is always working, especially on long drives.

This check requires a voltmeter. Connect the voltmeter to the battery with the engine off. A good battery will give you a reading above 12v. In the picture below, I’m getting around 12.43v.

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Next, with the voltmeter connected, start the car. The voltage of the battery should increase over 13v. This is because the alternator is now supplying power and charging the battery. If you get the same reading, or just a small increase (less than 1v), then it’s time to get the alternator serviced.

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The above are the recommended items that you check before you start a long journey. The list is not exhaustive and it may change from car to car. But paying a little bit of attention to the inner workings of your car will save you time and money and expensive repair bills!

DIY Headlamp Cleaning

If you own a car with plastic headlamps (as opposed to glass), you’ll realize that over time it will start to turn yellow or opaque. This is caused by the dirt and impurities on the surface of the headlamp. Besides reducing the output of the headlamp, it also causes glare to oncoming drivers (more obvious on HID equipped cars due to the higher intensity). Cosmetically it will also look dull.

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Before: Haven’t been cleaned for almost 4 years. Starting to look yellow and “foggy”.

The good news is, you don’t have to have them replaced to make them look new and transparent again. Just buy a bottle of headlamp cleaner. These can usually be found in hypermarkets.

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The cleaner is very easy to use. Just make sure your headlights are clean and dry and dust free.

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Apply a layer of headlamp cleaner with a clean cloth. Apply liberally. Rub lightly in a circular motion. After a few passes, let the cleaner dry on the headlamp without wiping it off.

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After about 20 minutes, use a clean cloth and wipe away the dried cleaner. If your headlamps don’t look clear enough, repeat the above steps.

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With enough rubbing you’ll be able to get the dirt off and have a clean and clear looking headlamp. Cheaper than buying new ones.

Bad Idling Problem

My brother’s car had a bad idling problem. In neutral, the RPM would hunt around 600-800. It’ll rev to 800 then drop down to 600 and the cycle repeats ever second. In drive it’s even worse, going from 600-1200 and sometimes stalling. Revving the engine made it worse. The RPM would jump and after letting go of the pedal, it takes a few seconds before stabilizing at 600-800RPM. All the time the engine felt like it was going to stall.

The car hasn’t been started for a month because he was at Perth for that duration. The mechanic suspected that it was due to fouled plugs but couldn’t look at it till next week because his appointment was full. Since I had plenty of time to kill I decided to troubleshoot

Bad idling can be caused by the following:

  1. Bad spark plugs
  2. Bad idle control valve
  3. ECU malfunction
  4. Damaged spark plug cables
  5. Damaged ignition coils
  6. Damaged ECU wiring harness in the engine
  7. O2 sensor damage
  8. MAF sensor damage
  9. Vacuum leaks

I didn’t have a fault code reader so I had to go through each and every item on the list to isolate the problem.

MAF Sensor

The first thing I checked was the MAF (Mass Air Flow) sensor. A dirty or faulty MAF sensor could cause a slow response to the ECU, resulting in overcompensation by the ECU and the engine to idle badly.

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This is the Bosch Hot Film MAF sensor. If you look into the tube you can see a thin film. This film is heated up to a certain constant temperature. As air flows through it, the film is cooled, therefore more power is required to keep the film at the predetermined temperature. The ECU then uses this information to calculate how much air is flowing through to the engine. There are two other types of MAF sensors, namely the hot wire type and the spring-loaded vane type.

I reasoned that if the film has been covered in dust, it would be effectively insulated from the flowing air and thus give out erroneous readings. Cleaned it with some sensor-safe carb cleaner. Installed it back. Same results. So it wasn’t the problem with the MAF sensor.

Spark Plugs

Fouled or mis-gapped spark plugs can also cause bad idling problems because the mis-gap will affect the ignition timing. I took out the spark plugs and also checked the condition of the wiring and coil packs but they were in good condition. The plugs were in exceptional condition, the ceramic portion showing perfect combustion (slightly brown deposits on the white ceramic). I didn’t take any photos of the plugs but the following diagram will help you in determining your plug condition:

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So I had to rule out the ignition system. Wiring were all good. Engine harness was still in good condition.

Vacuum Leaks

In most cars, vacuum from the intake manifold is tapped for the usage of other systems. One common vacuum user is the master brake cylinder. The vacuum is used to assist the driver in applying brakes. That’s why when your engine is off, it’s very hard to push down on the brake pedal.

Since idling is somewhat affected by the airflow into the manifold, any vacuum leaks will introduce extra air into the engine, thus messing up the fuel scheduling by the ECU. The ECU thinks that there is that much air going in, but in fact there is more because of the vacuum leak.

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The problem was caused by a disconnected vacuum line to ABS module (shown by the red arrow). I’m not sure why I didn’t notice that before. Could have saved me one afternoon.

The engine idled perfectly after reconnecting that vacuum line. No hunting at all, RPM stabilizes instantly once the gas pedal is released after revving the engine.

Sometimes the simplest of solution solves the problem. So the next time before you go check your plugs or idle control valve, check that all the vacuum lines are connected properly. Might just save you a lot of time troubleshooting.

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And I love working on this car because it comes with it’s own set of tools!

Lamborghini Reventon Dash

I tweeted about this a while ago but I’ll put it here for the record. The Lamborghini Reventon probably has the best digital cluster around. There are 2 modes available.

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This is the more traditional styled design, emulating analog meters that we find in most cars. Easy to read and understand. Instead of using moving needles, the circular scale will get filled up.

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The second mode mimics the cockpit of a fighter jet. And rightfully so because the Reventon itself is designed with fighter jets in mind.

Here’s a video of it in action. There are however some errors in the display in the video. The RPM is supposed to be shown in steps of 10, not 1000:

Here’s another video showing the cluster:

Building such a dash should be quite straightforward given the proper graphics engine. A small computer will be needed to run the graphics software and also accept inputs from the car’s ECU. Modern cars with OBDII ECU interface will be really easy to setup as OBDII readers are very cheap now. Older cars will have to manually tap their analog signals from the ECU.

Unfortunately for me I don’t have a car with an OBDII interface so if I ever want to build something like that I would need to get the inputs from the current dash and convert them to digital for the computer. But seeing how cool it is, it will probably be attempted sometime in the future. Perhaps by salvaging a netbook with a decent screen.