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Regular car maintenance checklist: tips for looking after your car

Taking good care of your car is the best way to keep it running at its best and stop bigger issues developing.

Regular car checks for car owners

Whether it's your used Ford or a new Audi, car maintenance is a must to help beat the rising MOT repair costs you’re likely to face this year.

Regularly checking your car will not only help it run better, but it will also prevent (sometimes expensive) problems when you least expect them. These checks will go a long way to saving you money – and stress.

Sam Sheehan, our motoring editor, says: “Your local garage may be forced to increase their prices, so maintaining your car’s health is more important than ever. While a car’s MOT fees will still cost up to £54.85, any repairs might see a significant jump this year.

“From watching out for the “side door squeeze” when your parking space is too tight, to ensuring you’ve got enough oil in your engine, there are plenty of car care tips you can use to keep repairs, and costs, down.”

1) Avoid the 'side door squeeze'

While not technically a maintenance ritual, avoiding the 'side door squeeze' can minimise wear and tear.

Parking spaces are becoming harder to climb out of. On average, cars are getting bigger, but parking spaces haven’t managed to keep up. In confined spaces like car parks you may have to squeeze out of your car to avoid a door collision.

Fixing a car door dent can cost up to £450, depending on the garage.

Sam says: “Maintaining a safe parking distance from other cars and barriers isn’t always possible in public car parks. Whether your neighbouring car has parked poorly or your car is larger than the standard, squeezing into tight spots could be costly.

“Car care isn’t only about maintaining and cleaning your vehicle. Having simple tricks on hand to prevent damage, such as a car door dent, is a good idea to keep costs down and your car looking its best.

“Many of us might use our hands to wedge the car open without touching the other car, but if you’re not careful, you might hurt yourself or scratch a car with any jewellery. Instead, place something soft between the two.

“One hack we’ve seen people doing is using a nappy to cushion car doors – and with some costing as little as 5.9p per nappy, keeping one in your glovebox could be useful for tight emergencies.

“For the best coverage, specific car door bumper guards can help reduce damage and provide convenience and reliability – perfect for those tight squeezes with your hands full.”

2) Check your tyres

Tyres are one of your car’s most important components. Check them regularly – especially if you’re taking a long trip – and you minimise the chance of any potentially dangerous incidents.

Firstly, you need to know what the correct tyre pressures for your car is. You’ll find them in the car’s handbook, on a sticker found in the frame of one of the car’s front doors, or on the fuel filler flap.

To be on the safe side, check them every couple of weeks with a gauge that you can pick up from a car accessories shop (or online) or using an airline at a filling station. 

You’ll also need to check the tread and condition of your tyres, looking for any cuts on the sidewalls or bulges that hint at issues that could cause a blowout. 

If you have a spare tyre (many new cars just have tyre repair kits), remember to check that too. It needs to be the right pressure and in good condition, so that it’s road-ready in an emergency.

On a related note, you should know where the wheel-changing toolkit is located. This is usually a jack and tools for removing the wheel, including the key for the locking wheel nut.

Make sure you know where the jacking points to lift the car are, too: you don’t want to be scrambling around trying to find them when you are in the stressful position of having to fix a puncture.

2) Manage engine oil levels

Ensuring your engine oil level is topped up will help avoid most major engine problems, so check it every couple of weeks as well as before any major trip. 

To do this, identify where the dipstick is in the engine bay (the information is in the car’s handbook), take it out and wipe it with a clean cloth. You’ll see two marks – one for the minimum and maximum oil levels. Replace the dipstick and take it out again. You’ll see the current oil level, which should be between the two marks.

If the oil level is low (below the minimum mark, or only a little above it), top it up with the specific product that is recommended for your car by the manufacturer. If you find that you have to top up the oil regularly, you have a problem, so you need to get it checked out.

You’ll also need to replace the oil and the filter whenever you have the car serviced, so it’s important to stick to your car’s service schedule.

Sam says: “Making sure your oil reservoir is topped up can keep your engine from facing problems with overheating, warping, and other performance issues.”

Consistently poor oil levels can cause your engine to overheat and even become damaged. This damage can lead to engine failure and even the need to replace your engine.

A full engine replacement could cost you upwards of £1000 – with even simple repairs costing hundreds.

“While at it, check your car’s coolant and screen wash levels. Keeping your car topped up can keep it working at its most efficient,” says Sam.

3) Are your coolant levels running low?

Regularly checking the coolant level and topping it up is another important maintenance task. This should only be performed when the engine is cold.

When driving in autumn, you’ll need to start thinking about adding antifreeze in autumn. Antifreeze prevents the build-up of corrosion within the cooling system and stops the water in the coolant system from freezing. The concentration should be at approved levels.

When driving in winter, you should have a 50/50 mix of water to antifreeze to protect your engine at temperatures below freezing. 

It’s also worth remembering that if you’ve been topping the water levels up over the summer, the percentage of antifreeze will be lower than 50%. If you want to check the exact proportions, you can pick up an antifreeze tester for just a few pounds at a car accessories shop.

4) Check your windscreen

Check your windscreen regularly for any chips or stone damage: not only can they impair the vision of the driver and prove a distraction, if left unchecked they can spread or cause secondary cracks.

The windscreen wiper blades also need regular attention as they can wear down over time to the point where they start smearing the windscreen. Look to replace them at least once a year. If you’re taking a long trip and they look worn, you should also change them as they’ll have a lot to cope with, from bugs in the summer to rain in winter.

Top up the screenwash level regularly using a good additive, as water alone won’t clear the oily grime thrown up from the road (plus it’s more likely to freeze in winter).

5) Light it up

The light systems in your car are vital for safe driving, especially at night. Any broken or faulty lights can be costly, so you’ll want to check them regularly.

It's recommended that you check all the lights on your car daily, in case of any faults. The advice also includes keeping spare bulbs and fuses in your vehicle so that you can quickly change them if needed.

Sam says: “To check your headlights, simply switch them on and walk around your car before setting off or have a friend check for you.

“If you don’t have a friend with you, you can use surfaces surrounding your car to check your lights are working. If there’s a window in front of your car, you will be able to see the reflection of your headlights and checking for your lights against a wall can let you know if your brake lights are working.”

Depending on your car’s make and model and how easy the parts are to source, you’ll pay between £50 and £100 for a professional bulb replacement. You can, however, do this yourself if you already have the parts – but make sure everything is cool before attempting to remove the broken bulb.

Failure to sort a broken or faulty light can result in a costly fine. In the first instance, you might be given a vehicle defect rectification notice from the police, meaning that you have two weeks from the date of the notice to prove it has been fixed.

If stopped with a broken brake light, you could face £60 and three points on your licence (as well as the additional costs you’ll need to pay for the repair).

Sam adds: “A quick maintenance check on your car lights can help save you money and points on your licence. Any fault or damage should be dealt with quickly and sorted before driving.”

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