The holiday season is upon us and the chances are you’ve not checked your car’s tyre pressures or fluid levels since, well, ever. Let’s face it, you’ve always got something better to do than crawl around your car making sure it’s not about to expire in a cloud of steam.
But neglect your car and hassle is guaranteed, because like any machine, your car wears out. It needs new parts, adjustments to be made, and preventative maintenance that’ll stop small issues becoming big ones.
If you wait until something goes wrong before you open your wallet though, the chances are something will fail catastrophically sooner or later. This will be when the repair bills will be astronomical and you could also end up putting your life in danger because something lets go when you’re driving at speed.
When the AA polled 21,510 drivers, it found that 8% of them don’t service their car at all while 12% have delayed or missed a service. According to the breakdown organisation, drivers in Wales and South-west England are the most likely to skip or delay servicing while those in Northern Ireland are the best at keeping their car serviced.
The problem for many car owners is that they feel modern cars are so complex, that even the smallest task has to be performed by a qualified mechanic. As a result, with garage costs so high, maintenance is put on the back burner – and that can be disastrous. But there are all sorts of things you can do to reduce the risk of a breakdown, including these:
Car Maintenance : Coolant
Your engine and radiator are filled with coolant to stop it overheating. Coolant is a mixture of water and anti-freeze, the latter preventing it from turning to ice in the winter. If your coolant needs to be topped up, don’t just add water; add anti-freeze so the coolant doesn’t become too dilute. However, the cooling system shouldn’t need to be topped up as it’s sealed. If the level drops, get it checked for leaks.
Car Maintenance: Brake fluid
Brake fluid absorbs water over time, making it more compressible, leading to a spongy pedal. There’s also a danger of the fluid boiling as it becomes more dilute, which is why it must be replaced every two or three years. Check the level regularly to ensure the level isn’t dropping, suggesting leaks in the system. The brake fluid reservoir is mounted under the bonnet, below the windscreen on the driver’s side. Don’t remove the cap as the fluid absorbs water from the atmosphere; just rock the reservoir gently so you can see the fluid move. It shouldn’t be below the minimum mark.
Car Maintenance : Lights
Lights aren’t there just to see – they also help other road users see you, and to help you communicate with them. If one of your brake lights fails, or a headlamp, it takes just one more bulb failure and you could be invisible at night, so regularly check that everything is working. Put the gearbox in neutral, check the handbrake is on, switch on the ignition, then the headlights. Check the headlights and rear lights work, including the main beam. Do the same for the indicators. Brake and reversing lights are trickier but you can check both by reversing towards a wall and looking for the reflection.
Car Maintenance: Oil level
Run your car without oil and the engine will soon die. That’s why you need to check the level before the warning light illuminates on the dash – not after. Here’s how:
- Park your car on level ground and switch off the engine.
- Open the bonnet and leave the car for five minutes, for the oil to settle.
- Pull on the loop of the dipstick and take it all the way out.
- With a clean rag, wipe the oil off the dipstick.
- Put the dipstick back in the engine, pushing it all the way in.
- Pull the dipstick back out; towards the bottom end will be two markings. The oil level should be somewhere between these; if there’s no oil showing at all, the engine is dry and it’ll soon be wrecked.
- If the oil on the dipstick is below the line marked ADD, put in a small amount of oil.
- Add oil by unscrewing the oil filler cap, on top of the engine.
- Using the correct type of oil (check the handbook), top up the level.
- Check the level again and add more if necessary; don’t add too much oil as removing oil is much harder than adding it.
- Put the oil filler cap back on and make sure it’s tight.
- Make sure the dipstick is back in place as well.
Save money: do more yourself
When you get your car serviced the biggest cost is usually for the labour – and there’ll be a mark up on the parts too. But you could go to your local motor factor and buy the parts more cheaply, then do at least some the work yourself – potentially saving hundreds in the process.
We’re not suggesting that you rebuild your car’s engine or gearbox, but there are lots of things you can do yourself to minimise the chances of your car breaking down – and by doing these things yourself you’ll save hundreds. Dig out your car’s handbook, buy a workshop manual or check out some of the numerous podcasts and online videos that are available.
Above are some of the simple things you can do yourself, but if you want to go further, sign up to some evening classes to learn how your car works. That way you can tackle some more ambitious jobs like changing the brake pads or brake fluid, or maybe even swapping the cam belt – this latter job can easily cost £500, even though the parts are rarely more than £50. If there was a way of shaving 90% off the cost of any other necessary expenditure, you’d be mad not to look a bit more closely. Wouldn’t you?