Car Maintenance Tips

Protect yourself against breakdowns and costly repairs by checking out our car maintenance tips.

Published: 27th January 2017

Car maintenance is an important part of owning a vehicle, and helps to ensure that you don’t find yourself at the risk of breaking down – or in need of costly repairs.

Going to a mechanic for a car service isn’t always necessary – there are many basic car checks you can perform yourself at home to maintain the safety and performance of your car. Though some aspects of car maintenance may require a professional mechanic, knowing the basics when performing your own car inspection can be just as important in helping to prolong the life of your car. ALA GAP Insurance has compiled these car maintenance tips to help keep you and your car on the road.

Engine Oil: Do you need an oil change?

Using a dipstick, check oil levels in your engine every two weeks and before any long journey you take to avoid getting caught short. Top up if necessary. However, you should also know how to check if an oil change is necessary. An oil change should be strongly considered if any of the following applies:

  • The oil looks black and gritty instead of a honey brown colour
  • Your engine is running louder than usual
  • You can’t remember when your oil was last changed
  • Your engine warning light keeps flashing, or stays on
  • The oil level has dropped to an extreme level, which indicates that the oil is no longer as effective at its job so the engine is consuming more of it faster to compensate

If you are confident in your abilities it is possible to perform an oil change yourself, however it is advisable to have the oil change done professionally by a mechanic at your local garage.

Tyres

It is a legal requirement for your tyres to be ‘fit for purpose’ for the roads. Driving with damaged or worn tyres can result in fines, points on your license, and accidents whilst driving. When checking your car’s tyres, remember TIPS – Tread, Inflation, Pressure, Same.

With tyre tread, familiarise yourself with what is normal for your tyres and what isn’t. By law, a car’s tyres MUST have a tread depth of at least 1.6mm across the central three-quarters of the breadth of the tread and around the entire circumference. As such, keep a sharp eye out for any defects or cuts in your tyres that could become worse over time and never let your tyres’ tread fall below the legal minimum.

With tyre inflation, ensure that your tyres are ALWAYS correctly inflated to the specifications recommended by both your car’s and tyres’ manufacturer. Should you sustain a flat tyre while driving, stop as soon as it is safe to do so and either replace it with a spare if you can or call a breakdown service. Conversely, make sure that your tyres aren’t overinflated either. Whether underinflated or overinflated, in either case your car’s braking and steering will be negatively affected so always ensure specifications are followed

With tyre pressure, this should be a weekly check that you perform yourself when your tyres are cold before driving. Warm or hot tyres could give a false reading.

Also, ensure that all four of your tyres are compatible with each other, i.e. the same. This is also a legal requirement.

Wheel Alignment

Wheel alignment (aka ‘tracking’) is a check often overlooked and can be most commonly identified by unusual and rapid wear on your tyres. If there is premature wear on the inside or outside shoulder of your tyres, or if your steering wheel pulls to the left or right when driving on an even surface, then your wheels could be incorrectly aligned. In turn, this could affect the safety and handling of your car. If you notice this, especially after hitting a kerb or driving into a pothole in the road, then get your wheels checked by a mechanic as soon as possible. Otherwise, an annual check at the very minimum is recommended. If alignment is checked regularly, the lifespan of your tyres could be prolonged by up to 12,000 miles and your fuel efficiency should see marked improvements.

Brake Check – Fluid Levels

Brake failure whilst driving can be obviously catastrophic. As well as the danger risk on the road, failing to maintain an effective braking system in your car can result in prosecution, so having your car’s brakes checked regularly is very important. Check the brake fluid level in your car on a weekly basis. A low brake fluid level may result in brake failure whilst driving and a subsequent crash, so ensure it remains topped up and keep an eye on the car’s fluid warning lights if present.

Lights, Battery and Number Plate

On a weekly basis, confirm that all the bulbs of your car’s lights are working. This includes the fog lights, indicators, brake lights and reversing lights. Additionally, make sure that these lights are kept clean and free from grime and dirt, as dirt on the headlamp unit can cause glare for others on the road. It’s not always obvious when a bulb has blown on your car, especially while driving, so keep an eye out for tell-tale signs such as low visibility when lights are active or other drivers flashing their own lights at you to warn you of a light failure. Should one of your car’s bulbs need replacing, it’s recommended to replace them in pairs so that optimal light output is always assured.

Bulbs can be changed by a professional or you can attempt to do so yourself. If you choose to do so, then ensure the following:

  • The bulbs are turned off
  • The bulbs are cooled down (wait if they’ve been on recently)
  • Check your car’s handbook for instructions before you begin
  • Avoid touching or holding the bulb by the glass if it is halogen. Try to wear goggles and gloves due to handling glass
  • Check that the bulb works after fitting it and ensure that the headlight level is re-aligned if replacing a headlamp

Your car’s battery powers all your car’s electrical systems such as the lights and is the only source of power that gets your car started. Having the condition of the car battery checked regularly is therefore vital. Cold weather and the use of in-car technologies such as entertainment systems, air conditioning and satellite navigation systems all put strain on your car’s battery and can lead to a premature failure. As such, regular battery checks are even more important in today’s technological age to avoid a breakdown or failure to start. Some professionals will offer a battery checking service for free if you are in any doubt.

Your number plate must also be kept clean and clear like the lights so that your vehicle can always be identified when necessary. This could result in a £1,000 fine if not followed and a failure of your car’s MOT test.

Other Fluids

Like when checking brake level fluid, checking the other fluids in your car on a weekly basis is also recommended. Such fluids include your hydraulic fluid reservoir, the fluids in your screen-wash system and anti-freeze (in winter).

Windows, Wipers and Windscreen

Ensure that your windows and windscreen are kept clean and free from any obstructions to your vision. Dirt and grime can build up quickly on your windscreen all year around, so wash it regularly and keep windscreen washer fluid topped up to maintain visibility. Small chips in your windscreen could rapidly deteriorate into a bigger problem, so it’s best to get these fixed as and when they are spotted if possible.
Like many other parts of your car, your windscreen wipers will deteriorate over time, so it is generally recommended that they be replaced annually. However, this may need to occur sooner should any of the following occur:

  • The wiper blade is not making contact with the windscreen
  • The wiper blades are leaving streaks on the windscreen
  • The wiper blades aren’t reaching all the areas of the windscreen they should be, leaving sections wet and dirty
  • The rubber sections of the wiper blades have noticeable cracks/splits in them
  • The wipers make an unpleasant squealing noise when passing over the windscreen
  • The wipers judder over the windscreen instead of moving smoothly

Unnatural Smells

If your car smells strangely of things like petrol, an electrical fault or burning rubber then investigate the source of the smell immediately. Failure to do so could result in a fire.

Visit ALA Connect to read more Guides today.

Published: 27th January 2017
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