Neglect almost inevitably leads to breakdown. That’s why drivers should always stick to a car’s service schedule. And while routine maintenance is boring, it is the best way to steer clear of trouble. Anyone can learn to carry out basic checks, simply by reading through a car’s handbook. It may contain a lot of information but is designed to be easily accessible to non-technically minded owners. Here are some simple steps drivers can take to maintain their car.
On a daily basis
Be alert for any sign of change. If, for example, the engine seems to be running a little less smoothly, the brakes seem less positive than usual, or the steering feels vaguely odd, don't dismiss it as your imagination. Trust your instinct, and investigate the reason, or seek advice.
Many breakdowns are battery related. If when you start the car, the engine turns over more slowly than usual, the battery might be on its way out. If you suspect your battery to be coming to the end of its life, take it to a garage or fast fit operator; many perform battery checks for free.
Keep an eye on the tyres; they’re your only contact with the road. Any cuts, damage or reduction in pressure need urgent attention. Be aware of the fuel gauge. An empty tank is an all-too-common cause of breakdown. As is putting the wrong fuel into the car.
Check tyre pressures, and if necessary adjust them to the correct level shown in the car handbook or on a sticker inside the fuel flap or on the door pillar. Make sure they’re at the correct pressure for the load you’re carrying. Don't forget to check the spare. Give all tyres a look over, checking for lumps, splits and cracks.
Check and top up the windscreen washer bottle, and include an additive to tackle grease and squashed flies in summer, or ice in winter.
Even if you haven't time to clean the car, wash the windows and wipe all the lights to keep you safe. Check for any blown bulbs.
If your car does not have a sealed-for-life battery, check the level in the cells and top up with distilled water as necessary.
Check the level of oil in the engine, and ensure it is between the maximum and minimum marks on the dipstick.
Check for sufficient liquid in the cooling system. Most modern cars have plastic coolant reservoirs, where you can see the level. In an older car, when the engine is cold, unscrew the radiator cap to check the coolant level. Top up as necessary, and include antifreeze in the mixture, in winter and summer. It helps protect against overheating, as well as frost damage.
Give the car a good wash and polish to keep the paintwork in tip top condition.
Watch for the first signs of rust forming, and have it treated before it gets worse. Look for any signs of water leaks inside. Check tyre tread depths and look for signs of uneven wear, hinting at possible suspension problems.
Before any long journey
Check tyre pressures, spare included.
Check all fluid levels and top up as necessary.
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