Getting behind the wheel of your first car is incredibly exciting – whether you’re driving your mates around with the tunes cranked up or cruising to work in your new wheels.
But passing your driving test doesn’t fully prepare you for running a vehicle – especially if you buy a used car. We’ve put together a list of handy tips to help you find your way around the basics of car maintenance.
1. Check your tyre tread depth
One of the most important car maintenance checks is inspecting your tyre tread. The legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm, which can be easily checked by sticking a 20p coin in the tread. If you can still see the coin’s outer band then the tread could be below the legal minimum and you should change the tyre as soon as possible. While you’re at it, if there’s a spare tyre in the boot check that’s in good condition and correctly inflated.
2. Measure your oil levels
Regularly check your car’s oil levels, especially before a long journey. Cars can get through up to a litre of oil every 1,000 miles, so it’s important to measure the level straight after you buy the car and at frequent intervals. Remove the dipstick, wipe it clean, put it back in and withdraw to see if it needs topping up or not. If you’re unsure where this is, check your car’s handbook, which will also tell you the correct specification of oil to use for topping up.
3. Top up your windscreen wash
Top up with a good concentration of water and windscreen wash. Depending on the season you’ll want to adapt the ratio, adding more screen wash in winter to stop it from freezing when the temperature drops. Never add washing up liquid or other household cleaners, as they can damage paintwork and metallic surfaces.
4. Fill up with fuel
Many cars have a low fuel warning light that comes on when you’re down to your last 50 miles or so but it’s a good idea to get into the habit of refuelling when you get down to a quarter of a tank. That way you’ll avoid the stress of driving on the fuel light and reduce the risk of running out.
5. Pump up the pressure
Tyres that aren’t properly inflated will wear out quicker and increase your car’s fuel consumption. You’ll need to increase your tyre pressures when carrying heavy loads, so be aware of this when packing up to move to university or heading to a festival. Over inflation can also increase wear, so check in your handbook for the recommended tyre pressure and inflate to this level.
6. Don’t let your lights go out
It’s easiest to check if all your lights are working when you’re parked up. Get a friend to stand behind the car while you test your brake lights and check front and rear lights at the same time. Give your lights a decent clean to improve their effectiveness every few weeks.
7. Turn up the heat
If you find that the hot air blowers aren’t very good at defrosting your windscreen during cold winter spells it could be that the cabin pollen filter needs changing. Car manufacturers usually recommend doing so every year or two. If you’ve got air-conditioning you can help keep it in good working order by using it at least once a week. Air-con will eventually lose its effectiveness and will need ‘re-gassing’ but that’s a job for a specialist.
8. Steer clear
The roads are in such poor condition these days that it can be quite challenging to avoid hitting a pothole, and a good thump from a pothole or a kerb can be enough to affect your car’s steering alignment. If you feel the steering pulling to one side or notice uneven tyre wear you’ll need to get the suspension and steering alignment checked by a specialist.
9. Keep it clean
Cleaning your car doesn’t just keep it looking good. Cleaning it by hand is also a good opportunity to check the bodywork over for any minor damage. Get any chips or scratches dealt with promptly to avoid them developing into more serious problems. How often you need to wash it will depend on how much you drive and the season, though you can normally tell by sight if it needs a thorough cleaning.
10. Hit the brakes
Don’t take any risks with your brakes. If you hear any odd noises when you brake, if your brakes feel unresponsive, or if the car pulls to one side under braking then get a garage to check them over straightaway. Keep an eye on the brake fluid level too. Your car’s handbook will tell how to check it.
Image courtesy of iStock.