Servicing your car regularly is essential, but there’s plenty you can do to maintain your vehicle in between its trips to the garage. Following a few simple steps might even help you reduce those service bills and keep your car legal and roadworthy.
So why not roll up your sleeves and have a go at our simple but essential maintenance tips? And remember, your car’s manual is your friend - it will walk you through how to maintain your specific model and tell you when certain things need doing.
1. Check your windscreen wash
Make sure it’s topped up, especially in the winter and before long journeys. You may not realise that it’s actually illegal to not have fluid in a vehicle's screen washer bottle, so it’s always a good idea to keep it in check.
2. Keep an eye on your tyres
Check your tyre pressures and increase them if necessary. Overly low or high tyre pressures can change how your car drives and how your tyres wear out, sometimes shortening their lifespan. Tyres must be the right type and size for your model, with at least the minimum legal tread depth of 1.6mm – trying the 20p test is a quick and simple way of checking if your tread is above the legal limit.
3. Top up your engine oil
Ensure your oil level is between the minimum and maximum mark on your car's dipstick. If you’re low on oil, you risk breaking down or causing damage to your car’s engine. Too much oil can cause damage, too, so don’t just pour a whole bottle in.
4. Keep your battery in check
Aim to change your car’s battery every three years, if possible, as a flat or faulty battery is a common cause of vehicle breakdowns.
According to Green Flag, warning signs of battery failure include the engine turning over more slowly than usual when you start it. Also, the red battery light in the instrument display may flicker when you’re driving or take longer than usual to go out after you’ve started the engine.
5. Check if your car is due a service
A service is typically recommended every 12,000 miles or every 12 months, whichever comes sooner. Every car is different, so check your car’s manual and your mileage to avoid leaving it until it’s too late.
6. Top up your cooling system liquid
Despite its name, coolant – a mixture of antifreeze and water – isn’t just for winter. Your car needs it all year round to keep the engine at the right temperature. Check your car manual to make sure you stay on top of your car’s coolant needs.
7. Check your horn
Who doesn’t love sounding their horn? Here’s a legitimate opportunity to give it a blast to check it still works and is loud enough. It’s important to ensure your car’s horn is functioning and clearly audible, in case you need to warn other drivers or pedestrians of any potential dangers.
8. Take a look at your exhaust
Start the engine in a well-ventilated space to check for leaks and listen for any unusual noises or smoke.
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9. Keep an eye on your mirrors
Before every journey, ensure they are clearly visible from the driver’s view. Otherwise, you may need to give them a quick wipe.
10. Clean your reversing camera
While you’ve got that cloth handy, if your car has a reversing camera, you may also want to give the lens a quick clean.
11. Test your brakes
Test the handbrake and footbrake to ensure they work properly. It’s a good idea to do this on your driveway or somewhere without traffic, so you can give your brakes a go safely.
12. Try out your lights and indicators
It’s easy to lose sight of how well your car lights are working. That’s why it’s a good shout to have someone stand outside the car while you test your lights and indicators and confirm if they all work properly, including your fog lights.
13. Put your windscreen wipers to the test
Check they are in good condition, with no tears or holes. While you’re at it, scan your windscreen for chips and, if you find any, get them repaired as soon as possible. Chips can sometimes turn into cracks which can require a replacement rather than repair.
14. Pay attention to your dashboard messages
Lots of people don’t know what the dashboard warning lights mean. Take time to get to know what they’re about and how you should react to each of them, so you’re not caught by surprise if one comes on while you’re driving.
15. Watch out for rust
Watch for the first signs of rust forming and deal promptly with any damage to bodywork to prevent it from setting in. You may think rust is merely a cosmetic problem, but it can actually cause significant damage if it reaches your car's frame.