Many of us lead busy lives and with so many things to do on a daily basis, general car maintenance often sinks to the bottom of the to do list. Its importance is underestimated – looking after your vehicle will help you save money in the long run. There are various types of basic maintenance which are surprisingly easy to perform yourself. When performed regularly, these will help retain your car’s value, as well as keeping it running at peak condition.
First and foremost, it is essential to follow your manufacturer’s advice on servicing – all cars come with their own handbook advising when a service is needed. Missing a scheduled service will only cause problems as scheduled services keep your service history in line and up to date. They also check the car’s major components and replace any worn parts such as brake pads, spark plugs etc.
Basic Maintenance Checklist
Many of the following checks can be completed with little mechanical knowledge, however any other less straightforward tasks can be carried out at your local garage.
Looking After Your Tyres
Tyres are the only part of the vehicle to come into contact with the road, and play an important role in the overall handling of the vehicle. Tyre tread depth should be checked on a regular basis to ensure you are safe on the road. This is a quick job and can be done using a 20p coin or a digital tread depth gauge, available from most garages at a low cost.
Incorrect tyre pressure be it over or under inflated, will cause uneven wear. It is important to keep your tyres inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure, as this will extend their life as well as optimising fuel consumption. This simple task should take no more than 10 minutes and can be carried out at most petrol stations.
Windscreen Wipers and Fluid
Windscreen wipers should be visually inspected for any cracks or other imperfections on the rubber of the blade itself or on the actual arm. Damage and general wear-and-tear will affect their ability to clear rain, sleet, snow and general dust from the windscreen. Blades that streak and smear the water, or jump rather than glide across the screen, probably need replacing. These are straightforward to install and should be replaced every 12 months to avoid any unnecessary damage to the glass, or poor visibility which may result in collisions.
Windscreen fluid is easily available from garages as well as most petrol stations and supermarkets. Refilling screen wash involves locating the screen wash filler cap, which will be marked, (some cars have two reservoirs) then topping it up with anti-freeze fluid and water.
Checking Your Lights
Always make sure all your lights including headlights, dipped beam, side lights, reverse, brake, indicator and fog lights, are in good working order – replacing any bulbs where necessary. If you’re having trouble replacing your bulbs, your local garage can help.
Regularly Wash Your Bodywork
Washing your car regularly not only keeps it looking its best, but also maintains and preserves the quality of the paintwork. It also prevents layers of dirt, leaves and bird droppings from accumulating – if left, these may permanently damage the paintwork.
More Advanced Maintenance
The following checks can easily be carried out at a local garage or at home by those with some mechanical experience.
How to Check Your Engine Oil
The level of the engine oil should be checked regularly. Checking is simple - open the bonnet and locate the dipstick. Remove the dipstick, and wipe off any excess oil. Replace the dipstick, leave for a few seconds and then remove it to measure the oil level. Top up the oil as and when required. Your car’s maintenance manual will tell you which oil to use.
Oil needs to be changed at least every 10,000 miles, however, this is often covered in a service.
Brake Fluid Change
Most manufacturers recommend changing brake fluid every 1-2 years, as over time, brake fluid absorbs water and becomes less effective. Changing brake fluid involves draining all the fluid from the master cylinder and replacing it with the new fluid until it reaches the full line. This is something your local garage can help you with.
Topping Up Engine Coolant
Coolant or anti-freeze is essential in regulating the engine’s temperature – anti-freeze offers higher performance to prevent the engine from freezing during extreme weather conditions. To do this, the remaining coolant should be drained from the radiator and the new mixture of coolant/anti-freeze and water should be poured into the radiator filler’s neck with a funnel.
Made out of a porous paper like appearance, air filters prevent particles of dust getting into the engine. Over time air filters become clogged and dirty – changing an air filter is not an overly complicated task – it involves opening the bonnet, locating the air filter box, unclasping and opening the box then removing and replacing the air filter. However, if you service your car regularly, filter changes are usually covered.
Power steering fluid will be checked during every service, if however, your steering wheel becomes stiff, it may be a sign that the fluid needs changing. The existing fluid should be flushed and replaced with new fluid.
Most batteries do not require much maintenance and will be tested during services, although it is always a good idea to know where your battery is located. A battery brush can be purchased to brush off any built-up residue, this is more common in older vehicles.