How to care for your car
Car servicing is a major expense - but you can slash the costs if you keep an eye on wear and tear yourself...
You can reduce the costs of servicing and enjoy more peace of mind at the same time by doing easy maintenance jobs yourself in between services. Here are the main points to consider.
Fluid checking is easy. Coolant, windscreen-washer fluid and brake-fluid levels can be visually confirmed against the markers on the side of their translucent reservoirs.
The only gloops that aren't immediately visible are engine oil, gearbox oil and power steering fluid. Gearboxes don't normally consume oil, so you can leave the garage to sort this within the normal servicing schedule.
Steering fluid can leak out of rusty pipes on older cars. If the steering suddenly gets noisy or inordinately heavy you may have a leak. Again, pipe replacement is not complicated, and will be cheaper in the long run than simply topping up the reservoir and coating your driveway in steering fluid.
Check these engine oil and 'translucent' fluids at least once a month, and always before long journeys. The protocol for checking oil varies between cars; the routine will be in the owner's manual, or somewhere online if you don't have that.
At least once a month, check the condition and pressure of your tyres from cold. Recommended pressures are in the owner's handbook, inside the driver's door frame, or behind the fuel cap cover. Legal minimum tread depths are 1.6mm across 75% of the width of the tyre, but your car will drive better and be safer (especially in wet weather) if you replace tyres when they get below the 2mm tread depth barrier.
A high percentage of small chips and cracks in windscreens can be quickly and cheaply mended by a ‘liquid glass' repair. It's worth catching these flaws early, because if cracks are left to their own devices they'll only get worse, and total screen replacement is going to be several times more expensive than the early repair.
Your insurance might cover replacement but there'll almost certainly be a hefty excess to pay, whereas lots of comprehensive policies will pay for the repair without affecting your no-claims bonus. Check your policy details to be sure.
If your screen always seems to have a blurry ‘film' on it, no matter how much washer fluid you squirt on there, it's almost certainly down to your wiper blades. They may look normal, but they're worn out. Replacement blades can be picked up very cheaply on the internet. Soldiering on with old ones makes no sense and is horrifically dangerous on a summer's day, let alone on a wet winter's night.
We've all found ourselves behind cars whose windscreen washers are better at washing our cars than they are at cleaning their screens. Changing the direction of the washer nozzles is more often than not a 10-second fix. Local garages will often perform this adjustment for free.
Ask a friend to check your lights from the outside. Get them to look at the front as well as the back when you're testing the brakes, because bad earths or damp contacts can cause weird things to happen to the lights when you press the brake pedal while the indicators or side lights are switched on.
Replacing blown indicator or other minor bulbs is simple. Replacing headlamp bulbs ought be easy too but it has become less so in recent times as underbonnet space is stolen by designers in the interests of reducing a car's ‘footprint'.
Most manufacturers still do consider the basic needs of the motorist, but a disappointing number will advise you to take your car into a dealer for a new bulb to be fitted.
The ability of the handbrake to hold your car on a hill is more than just an MOT fail; it's potentially dangerous. Again, the adjustment is simple, so don't let cost fears put you off contacting your garage.