A happy, healthy car needs a bit more than a weekly visit to the petrol station and a monthly wash and polish. Cars are complex, but by following basic maintenance advice you can keep it on the road, keep it safe and reduce your spend at the local garage.
Follow our regular car checks to ensure you don’t get any nasty surprises when it comes to the annual health check, better known as the MOT. But note that many modern cars have engine covers and only the items coloured yellow can be touched by a non-mechanic.
It’s a good idea to get into some sort of routine. Put aside 15 minutes on the weekend just to carry out these simple checks. It means you will be able to quickly spot any deviations from the norm, so that you can trace any fault and get it fixed. When you notice a problem and you can’t fix it yourself, take it to a workshop.
Regularly check that all the lights work with a friend doing the honours on the outside. Alternatively, if you haven’t got any friends handy, use the reflection from a shop window or a wall, to provide an instant check.
At least once a month, check the pressure of all your tyres (spare included) according to the handbook recommendations. Take readings when the tyres are cool, otherwise the pressure increases and gives a false reading. If you overfill, release air by pressing loosely against the valve.
Look at the car’s handbook for the definitive information on tyre pressures front and rear, and variations when there are just two passengers as opposed to five. Also check each tyre for wear, cuts in the tread or sidewalls, bulges in the sidewalls and stones or foreign objects trapped in the tread grooves, which should be removed.
Is the tread illegal? The grooved tread on your tyre must be at least 1.6mm deep across the central three-quarters of the tyre tread width and around the outer circumference. Don’t forget to check the spare too.
Keep the various liquids your car needs (screen wash, oil, water, coolant, power steering, clutch and brake fluid levels) topped up.
Check oil levels while parked on level ground. You should check your oil level at least every 500 miles or once a week. On most vehicles there are two marks on the gauge. The oil level should be between the upper and lower marking.
You’ll find how much oil you’ll need to add for topping up in your owners’ manual. Generally, this will be between 0.5 and 1 litre. Don’t rush it, just add a little at a time and return after five to ten minutes to check the level. Large oil loss suggests there may be an engine problem.
Look at the blades, they must not be perished or frayed. Clean the edge of the blade with a cloth dipped in screen wash if you need to.
If your windscreen wipers are smearing, replace them, otherwise you’ll find it difficult driving in the rain. Also, your screen wash should spray onto your windscreen, not over the top of the car. Use a pin to adjust the direction of spray.
Some cars have sealed cooling systems, which do not require regular attention, but it's always worth checking the water level, as you don’t want to overheat.
Never check when the engine is hot and, if warm, use a cloth to remove the radiator cap. Refer to the manual, but usually the water must be visible and covering the level mark.
Something you ought to do at least every few weeks or months. It means that you get to examine the bodywork closely and can spot any problems, faults or leaks more quickly.
Finally, make sure you carry out all the recommended steps for preparing your car for winter (refer to your manual for guidance), and follow the manufacturer’s service schedule. An MOT test only confirms that a car is safe on the day of the test, so it’s best to deal with problems as soon as you spot them.