Car Maintenance Tips for New (and Old) Drivers
It's exciting getting a new car, but without proper care and maintenance, your car can end up costing you a lot if something goes wrong. Learn how to care for your car properly to help reduce the risk of breakdowns and problems (and to save you money in the long run).
Basic Car Maintenance Tips
Your car should come with a set of documents, including the owner's manual for your vehicle. The manual contains all the information you need to know about your car, including details of all its features as well as technical specifications and maintenance recommendations.
If you can't find your owner's manual, it's usually easy to find online, or you can contact your car's manufacturer.
Your car's engine is a complex machine consisting of a large number of moving metal parts. Engine oil (or motor oil) is an essential lubricant that ensures all these parts work together properly.
Engine oil also cleans, prevents corrosion, improves sealing, and helps to prevent the engine from overheating.
- You should check your engine oil levels regularly (every 2 weeks) and before any long journey
- Use the correct grade engine oil (check your owner's manual or ask an authorised dealer)
How to check your oil level
- Park on a level surface and make sure your engine is turned off and cool
- Locate your engine's dipstick (consult the manual if unsure)
- Pull out the dipstick and wipe clean with a cloth/rag
- Replace it, and pull out again
- Ensure the oil is between the two lines/holes in the dipstick
- If it's lower, add some oil and check the level again (don't overfill)
- If you have too much oil, you'll need to drain some off as it can damage the engine
Coolant (or antifreeze) is a fluid found in your radiator, which helps to keep your engine cool. Most cars use a mix of 50/50 water and coolant, but to be certain always check your owner's manual.
- Coolant/antifreeze is dual purpose; it prevents the water from freezing during the winter, and boiling/overheating in the summer
- You should have your cooling system flushed and refilled every 5 years
Your brakes go through a lot, so it's important to get them checked regularly.
- Squealing brakes, grinding or unusual vibrations may indicate your brakes need replacing
- Check your brakes every 6 months or so
Brake fluid plays a crucial role in your braking system. It's main function is to transfer force into pressure (how braking works), but it is also essential for preventing corrosion.
- If your vehicle has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), consult your owner's manual before checking your brake fluid (some ABS systems require you to pump the brake pedal beforehand)
- Replace your brake fluid every 2 years to protect the internal components from corrosion and/or brake failure
Tyres should be checked on a regular basis and before any long trips. With regular maintenance and gentle driving you should be able to get a minimum of 20,000 miles out of front tyres on a front-wheel-drive and around twice that for the rear.
- Rotate your tyres every 5,000 miles or 6 months
- Check for tread wear (legal limit of 1.6mm in the UK)
- Don't forget about the spare!
Tyre pressure is important for safety, ride and fuel economy. Under or over inflation can reduce the life span of your tyres, and also affect how well your car grips to the road.
- Check your tyre pressure at least once a month
- Find your recommended tyre pressure in your owner's handbook, or on the inside of your driver's door
- Only check your tyre pressure when your tyres are cold
Bonus: check out this useful guide for flat tyres: How to change a wheel safety
Often overlooked, front and rear-view windscreen wipers are fundamental to driving safety, as they affect the driver's ability to see the road clearly.
- Inspect your wiper blade for wear and damage at least every 6 months
- Regularly clean the rubber to remove dirt and deposits
Remember to regularly check your windscreen fluid. It may not seem essential, but if you happen to get mud sprayed onto your windscreen by a passing tractor you'll be thankful for it!
Most modern cars have a hydraulic power-steering system that makes turning the steering wheel easier. If you're steering becomes more resistant or you notice a high-pitched whining noise when you steer, you should check your power-steering fluid reservoir.
- Check power-steering fluid levels monthly
- Check your owner's manual - some cars require a brief run of the engine before checking levels
- Check the colour of the fluid - if it's brown or black, it's likely been contaminated and will need replacing
- If your levels are low, add the correct amount of power-steering fluid (don't overfill) - again check the manual for the right type for your vehicle
Your car battery powers the starter motor, ignition and lights. Without your battery, your car would not start, which is why it's important to keep your battery properly maintained.
Batteries have an average life span of 5 years. If your battery has not been replaced in 3-4 years consider a replacement as battery failures often occur without warning.
- Check your electrical connections are clean and tight
- Although most car batteries are sealed, they do usually have a water level indicator. Check the battery's water level every 2 or 3 months. Low water levels mean the electrolyte will be out of balance and the battery cells will become too acidic.
- Ensure your battery is properly tested before being replaced
Frequent short car journeys are a major factor for battery failure. It actually takes around 8 hours of continuous driving to fully charge a modern car battery.
Broken or faulty lights can be dangerous, and illegal. A defective brake light can, for example, see a driver issued with a Penalty Charge Notice that incurs three penalty points and a £60 fine.
- Check all your car's lights are working (get someone to help if you need to)
- Replace any bulbs that are not working
- Make sure to check for correct alignment too - sometimes car headlights get crooked
- Ensure all your lights are clean
Having a clean and scratch-free car not only keeps it from loosing value over the years, but also helps protect your car from rusting and corrosion.
- Wash your car regularly - including the underneath (a pressure hose works best for this)
- Use car wax - it adds a layer of protection which helps prevent corrosion
Scratches & Chips
Scratches and chips are an unavoidable part of being a driver. Learn how to repair these yourself here.
5 Common Car Myths Debunked
1. Higher octane or premium fuel gives you better mileage/more power
Higher octane fuel is not designed to give more power. Designed for performance cars with large, powerful engines, higher octane fuel improves performance and minimizes the risk of pre-ignition. However, in a regular car, higher octane fuel with not make the car faster/more powerful.
With regards to the better mileage, Money Supermarket claim:
"The higher octane rating of super or premium unleaded petrol should make it burn more efficiently, thus delivering more power for less fuel burned. But while some drivers report noticing a small increase in the numbers of miles they could do before refilling the tank when using super unleaded petrol, others find that there is very little difference."
2. Larger cars are safer in an accident
Recent studies suggest that vehicle weight is actually much less important to safety than most people believe. In fact, many small, lightweight cars usually have better safety features, and larger vehicles (like SUVs) have a higher centre of gravity which increases the risk of a rollover.
3. More fuel is wasted when a car is turned on than when it idles
This is technically true, but only for about 5-10 seconds. In fact, anything over 10 seconds of idling uses more fuel than turning your car off and on again.
4. Overdrive makes the car go faster
Overdrive is all about efficiency, not intensity. Overdrive allows your car to 'cruise' at a sustained speed with a reduced engine RPM, leading to improved fuel economy, less noise and a better drive. However, it doesn't make your car go any faster.
5. When it's cold, you should warm your engine before driving
This stems from older 80s cars, which used a carburetor to control the mix of fuel and air being pumped into the engine. Carburetors didn't really work too well in the cold, which is why people would let their cars warm up before driving. However, since the 90s cars stopped using carburetors and switched to electronic fuel-injection systems. These use sensors to keep the ratio of fuel and air just right, and are not affected by the cold (so no need to waste fuel by idling!).
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