Whether you are driving the children a short distance to school or travelling hundreds of miles along the motorway to see relatives, making sure your car is in a roadworthy condition is paramount if you don’t want to end up breaking down.
Carrying out simple and regular car maintenance checks mean you can avoid sitting on the hard shoulder waiting for a breakdown mechanic because you’ve forgotten to give your car a regular check. Doing these simple and easy checks will also ensure that your vehicle is safe for you to drive and will save you money on repairs in the future.
Where to start with car checks?
Familiarising yourself with what goes on under the bonnet of your car is always a great first step. For some, even finding out how to pop the bonnet is an important first step. Find out where you can add water, oil and screen cleaner, so you know those essentials are covered should you need them.
How many other checks you need to carry out really depends on how often you drive and how far you drive. As you can imagine, before a long journey you should carry out more in-depth checks to ensure that your car is in ship-shape condition for the long haul ahead.
Don’t dump the pump: Before every journey, take a look at your fuel gauge to ensure you have enough for your journey – or enough to get to a petrol station. Many modern cars now tell you how many miles you have to go until you run out of fuel, and many also have sat navs which will direct you to the nearest petrol station. Don't let your fuel drop too low as not only could you be stranded on a hard shoulder waiting for your breakdown service, but it can also damage your engine.
Oil be damned: No matter how modern your car is, it will need oil and checking your levels is a fundamental and simple thing to do. Locate your dipstick or listen to the warning on your dashboard to check the level of engine oil at least every couple of weeks and always before a long journey. Your car needs to be on a flat surface and should be cool (leave it for at least 10 minutes after a journey). Lift the dipstick, wipe it clean with an old cloth then re-insert it. When you take it back out, the level of oil should be between the two indicators on the dipstick. If the level looks fine, but you have a warning light, take the car to the garage. If you need more oil add it. You can check the recommended level of oil and type to use in your car's maintenance booklet.
Drink up: Again, cars need water to cool the engine down. Ideally, you should check the water every week, when the engine is cold. It should be anywhere between the MIN and MAX. In particularly cold periods, also check the anti-freeze level too as you will need it during the winter period. Your car maintenance booklet can help with recommended levels.
Don't tire of your tyres: It is recommended that you check your tyre pressure and tyre tread every two weeks. The entire weight of your car is supported by the tyre pressure and because they lose air every month, it's important to keep an eye on them. Always check when the car is cold and use a suitable gauge. The correct pressure varies from car to car so check your car's handbook. Wrong tyre pressures will wear your tyres down unevenly and also more quickly. There is also more of a risk of puncture or blow out – again, picture being stranded on a motorway waiting for your breakdown provider.
It’s important to know where your locking wheel nut is located and to keep it somewhere safe, so that when you do come to change your tyres you can give it to the tyre mechanic straight away.
Driving with worn tyres is an accident waiting to happen and the legal requirement is 1.6mm across the central three-quarters of the tyre. Take a 20p coin, insert it into the tread grooves on the tyre and if you can’t see the outer band of the coin then your tyres are above the limit.
Wash that screen: Flies, mud and all kinds of detritus can end up on your windscreen and there’s nothing worse than not being able to clean it properly while on the go. Therefore, good screenwash and wiper maintenance is essential. Assuming your wipers are in good working order, there's still a high risk of them smearing grime across the windscreen if you have run out of screenwash. To ensure this doesn't happen, keep it well-stocked. Most car manufacturers recommend buying ready mixed or concentrated screen wash, which you'll need to mix with water.
Wipe it away: Screeching windscreen wipers and smeared windows are a pain for all. Old or worn-out windscreen wipers will result in dirty windows and poor visibility. The easiest way to check for them is to lift the arms that the wiper blades are mounted on and run your fingers along the rubber blade of the wiper. If the leading edge of the blade feels brittle, is starting to break up, is missing chunks or is peeling away then you need to change them as soon as possible. Again, check your car maintenance booklet to find the best way to change them.
Light up the road: They lead the way in the dark and help tell your fellow motorists where you are going, so it's important to check all of your car lights regularly as part of your car checks. Test your indicators, reversing lights, brake lights and fog lights weekly. Also, check for broken bulbs and cracks. Check your car owner's manual to find out which bulbs to buy and how to change them.
Don’t let it rust away: They are out in all weathers in the wind and rain and so giving your car a regular exterior once over every now and again is important. Check for rust or any damage and nip it in the bud before things go too far.
Pack a toolkit: You’re always told to do it in the snow – but why not keep it all in your car permanently? Key parts of your car toolkit should be a torch, an ice scraper in your car and jump leads. If you have a spare wheel, you'll need a jack and wheel-removing tools as well as a locking wheel nut key.
Above all when it comes to car maintenance checks, know your car, know where everything is and make sure you heed the warning lights. After all, that's what they are there for.