Maintaining your car isn’t just for owners of old cars. Carrying out regular checks will help the value of your car last longer and possibly save you from a hefty fee due to MOT errors.
Car maintenance is also vital for your safety – by taking good care of your car you’re not only saving yourself a trip to the scrap yard but you could also be saving your life.
Car maintenance is about prevention so don’t wait until something goes wrong. Here’s a step by step guide to the most important car maintenance checks.
1. Check your oil regularly
Many of us avoid looking under the bonnet because it feels foreign but checking and refilling your oils is not at all difficult.
Oil lubricates the engine. Without oil, the friction could cause serious damage to your car – so take these steps to check your oil levels and refill when necessary:
- Park on a flat level surface with your handbrake applied.
- Make sure your engine is off and cooled down. Open your bonnet and securely rest it on the support rod.
- Locate the dipstick – check your owner’s handbook if you’re not sure where it is. Remove and wipe it clean.
- Push it back in and out once more and take a look at the end. There are two marks for your minimum and maximum oil levels – it’s about a litre of oil between these points. Your oil level should always be around the top mark. If it’s below halfway, add more oil in the container.
- Choosing the right oil is also important. You can refer to your owner’s handbook for the right type of oil.
2. Check your tyre pressure
Incorrect tyre pressure can have a big impact on your ability to drive safely. In addition to physical damage of uneven and premature tyre wear, having too low or high pressure in your tyres disturbs handling of the car, reduces your grip of the road and increases braking distance.
It’s best to check your tyre pressure on a monthly basis. Once you know what you’re doing it won’t take you long.
Almost all petrol stations have an air pump which you can just pull up next to and use at a very small charge. So give the below steps a go next time you fill up your petrol:
- Check your owner’s manual to find out correct pressure for your tyres. There’s usually a sticker on the inside ledge of your driver’s door, or underneath the petrol flap.
- Make sure the tyres are reasonably cool. The best moment to check tyre pressures would be before you set off, or after a short drive.
- Unscrew and remove the valve cap on the tyre. Attach the pressure gauge and take a reading.
- You’ll either need to top it up by applying the pressure gauge or release a little air while the valve cap is off.
- Both over- and under-inflating your tyres can have dangerous effects on your car’s stability, and how it reacts in everyday driving or emergency manoeuvring, so make sure you get it between the right values.
3. Check your tyre tread
It’s a legal requirement to have a certain tread depth in your tyres – in the UK that’s a minimum of 1.6 mm in a continuous band around the central three quarters of the tyre. Wearing down your tread depths too much can dramatically impact your braking distances, especially in wet or icy conditions.
There are tread gauges available in garages and online manufacturers but there’s an easy way to check your tyre treads – do the 20p test.
Take a 20p coin and place it in the main tread at different points around the tyre. If you can see the whole outer band of the coin, your treads are too shallow. You should only be able to see the top part of the number 20 on the coin.
Tyre wear should also be examined on a regular basis. Worn tyres could indicate low or high pressure or even improper wheel alignment.
4. Check your fluids
Water is what keeps your car cool. It’s also called the engine coolant because without it the engine would overheat and get damaged.
Just like oil levels, it’s very quick to check your water – but you must do it when the engine is cold! Take the following steps to check and refill your engine coolant:
- Open your bonnet and securely rest it on the support rod.
- Check your owner’s manual if you don’t know where to locate the water. There are minimum and maximum markings on the water tank so it’s easy to see if you need more.
- Many engine coolants are mixed but check what you have as you might need to mix 50/50 water and coolant before you pour it in the tank.
Visibility is just as important as the internals of your car – it’s actually illegal to not have a working screenwash system in the car. There is also a liquid tank for screenwash under your bonnet which you’ll recognise for the windscreen icon; make sure this is also topped up.
You’re legally required to get an MOT for your car by the 3rd year of its registration or every year if your car is over 3 years old.
You’re not legally required to service your car but a yearly service is beneficial to the wellbeing of your car, therefore your safety, and can preserve the car’s value. If you’re not comfortable doing regular checks on your car yourself, having your car serviced annually is essential.
Keeping up with checks is a good opportunity to spot a potentially expensive break-down on time – or to prevent a serious accident.