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  10 Regular car care checks

Here are ten easy ways to give your car a little TLC. It’ll keep you safe, save you money and with any luck, help avoid a breakdown.

1. Check your oil

Without question this is the most important car care check and one you should be making on a regular basis. Try and check the oil level every other time you fill up with fuel to avoid unnecessary engine wear and overheating problems. Remember the oil warning light isn’t your reminder to top up, it’s telling you the oil level is too low so make sure you check your oil before it rears its ugly head!

2. Check your coolant

Coolant is what you get from mixing antifreeze and water and has 3 major functions. The first is to prevent boiling; antifreeze boils at a higher temperature than water so when they are mixed together the higher boiling point stops the coolant turning into a gas. Why is this a good thing? Because gas isn’t very good at transferring heat which isn’t much help if you’re trying to keep an engine cool.

The second major function of coolant is to prevent freezing, stopping the engine, water pipes and radiator from cracking in winter. This lower freezing point is also a benefit derived from the antifreeze which freezes at a much lower temperature than water, usually in the region of -25° to -60°. The third important function of coolant is to prevent corrosion of the cooling system, which is achieved through the chemicals added to the antifreeze.

The cooling system contains a pump which moves the coolant around so the anti-corrosion properties in the coolant stop it seizing up. The main point you should take away from this is that if you’re topping up your cooling system, don’t just use plain old water!

3. Brake fluid

Brakes work by slowing a car down through the use of frictional materials and this friction creates a massive amount of heat. As a result, brake fluid has to cope with some extreme temperatures without turning to a gas. The brake fluid level will naturally fall over time as the brakes wear, meaning you should add it to the regular checks you make under the bonnet. Over time brake fluid also absorbs moisture from the air, lowering the boiling point of the fluid. This makes the brakes less effective and can lead to a spongy feel from the brake pedal which is why the brake fluid should be changed every two to three years.

4. Power Steering Fluid

Depending on the type of power steering fitted to your car, it may use a hydraulic fluid to operate. The level of power steering fluid shouldn’t drop much, so if you’re having to make regular top-ups the system should be checked for leaks. These days more cars are coming fitted with electric power assisted steering (knows as EPAS) which is more fuel efficient. In cars fitted with this type of power steering system there is no fluid to check.

5. Screen Wash

OK, so running out of screen wash isn’t going to cause a breakdown but if you’ve ever run out in the middle of winter, you’ll know how annoying it is not being able to wash away the muck and salt. Fortunately, it couldn’t be easier to top up; mix up some screen wash from a concentrate or buy ready mixed and simply pour it in until full. There are two important things you should remember however;
1. Never use washing up liquid to make a screen wash – the salt and detergents will damage the paint.
2. Don’t cut corners and just use water. Worst case scenario, the washer bottle could crack, as could any of the pipes that supply the washer jets. Best case is that you can’t clear your screen because the system is all frozen up. Screen wash contains a mild antifreeze to prevent all this.

6. Wiper Blades

As above, wiper blades in a poor state aren’t going to make the car come to a grinding halt but they are important nonetheless. Old, perished or split wiper blades are worse than useless at clearing away rain or motorway spray. They also tend to screech each time they attempt to clear the screen, which is reason enough alone to throw them away and get a new set fitted.

7. Bulbs

It’s good to see where you are going in the dark and it’s just as important that other drivers are alerted when you’re slowing down or about to change direction. Headlights, brake lights and indicators should all be checked on a regular basis and you should also add tail lights and sidelights to that list. Of course, if your car is over three years old it will get picked up at an MOT but then it’s going to cost you a retest over something very simple. Equally, drivers of cars under three years old should definitely be making a regular check on their lighting because the only other people that will do it for you in between servicing are the police!

8. Tyre tread depth

New tyres arrive with 8mm tread depth with the minimum legal tread depth of a tyre being 1.6mm across three quarters of the width. That said, the ability of the tyre to disperse water when the tread gets down to 1.6mm is seriously reduced. So much so that it can take up to 50% further to stop the car. The best advice is to change them when the tread gets down to 3mm. A quick visual check of tread depth can be done very easily by looking for the wear indicator that sit in the grooves of the tyre. The indicator shows the minimum tread depth and when it is reached the tyre should be changed immediately. Driving with tread below 1.6mm is an MOT failure and will cost you 3 points on your licence if caught by the police.

9. Tyre pressures

Pumping up the tyres will not only save you money but will make sure the tyre is working as effectively as possible to keep you safe. Remember, tyres are the only things keeping the car on the road and deal with the forces of breaking, accelerating and cornering. Low tyre pressures increase the load on the engine, wasting fuel and also increase the rate of tyre wear. It’s also worth remembering that if you’re planning to carry a heavy load, you should increase the tyre pressures accordingly (your car manual will advise of the correct pressures). Finally, don’t forget to top up the spare! It may look inflated but may go flat as a pancake when you load the weight of the car onto it.

10. Cleaning

A good clean will look after your paint work and prevent potential corrosion or rust, especially in winter when the road salt and grit gives the bodywork a very hard time. Always clean off bird poo straight away as it will immediately start to burn through the paint and can leave marks that can’t be washed off or polished out. The inside is more down to your personal preference, some don’t mind it being a pigsty, although you might want to think about cleaning up your act if your friends start refusing lifts! The main thing is not to let it get in such a state that it can’t be made good when it comes to sale time.


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