Whether you’re a new car owner or have just never quite managed to get your head around basic car maintenance, don’t panic, this guide will help you look after your car and avoid breakdowns. It can also save you money on mechanic fees and fuel. That’s right, simply checking the air pressure on your tyres will improve the mileage you get out of your tank. So, read on and keep your car road trip ready!
Your tyres are the only thing between you and the road, so you should take care of them. If you notice your miles per gallon dropping, it’s probably your tyre pressure. Ideally, you should check your tyre pressure weekly, but definitely do it at least once a month. And if you’re loading up the car for a holiday or a move, the pressure needs to be adjusted. Your handbook will tell you what the tyre pressure you should be at. If you haven’t got a handbook, there will be a sticker on the driver's door jam. Check the size of your tire and read the chart – some cars have different pressure for front and rear tires. Most petrol stations have digital air compressors now (some are free, mostly at supermarkets), simply key in the pressure you need and wait for the beep. Alternatively, a foot pump will do the trick. Don’t forget to return the dust cap to the tyre. Use a 20 pence piece to ensure the tread on your tyres is good – the tread should be as deep as the border on the coin.
Always have your washer fluid topped up. The simplest way is to buy it premixed, but you can buy it concentrated too and dilute it yourself. Open the car bonnet; this usually involves a lever on the underside of the dashboard and a lever under the bonnet itself. Make sure to secure the bonnet open before beginning. The washer fluid chamber will have a plastic cap (often blue) with a windscreen wiper image on it. Use a funnel or a jug (don’t use one from the kitchen, keep it for the car) and fill her up! If the fluid isn’t spraying correctly, use an extended paper clip to adjust the jet direction or clear a blockage. Clean your wiper blades with a clean cloth dipped in the washer fluid. Check the rubber regularly and replace when perished.
Oil lubricates the engine, and if your oil levels drop, you can cause expensive damage to your car. Park your car on level ground, and don’t try and check the oil on a hot, recently used engine. Locate the dipstick (it’s usually brightly coloured), pull it out and clean the end of it with a paper towel or a cloth and dip it fully back into the chamber. Remove it again and your oil level should be midway between the minimum and maximum marks. If it’s by the minimum level, you need to top up. It is vital you buy the correct oil grade for your car, so check the manual or contact the manufacturer. Find the oil filler cap, it’s usually labelled with an oil can, and pour in about 100ml to start. Use a funnel to avoid spills. Wait a minute or so for the oil to drain fully, then check your oil level with the dipstick. Do not overfill.
Coolant and brake fluid should be checked and filled in a similar manner. Neither of these has a dipstick, the chambers have a minimum and maximum mark. Coolant should be midway between the min and max marks; the brake fluid should be up around the max mark.
Having a few accessories in the boot of the car for emergencies is always a good idea. In the winter, it’s safe to travel with at least warm clothes/blankets and some food & water in case of break down or snow issues.
Funnel & pouring jug
Clean cloth, dirty cloth
Wheel brace (for easier wheel changes)
Cable ties, electrical tape and duct tape
Pliers & a compact tool kit
Buy a basic DIY manual or take a mechanic class to learn how to change your own oil, prep for the MOT, and do other tasks in the car.