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 between services. Here are the main tasks to consider tackling at home.
Fluid checks are easy. You can make sure the coolant, windscreen washer fluid and brake fluid levels are correct simply by making sure the liquid reaches the marker on the side of its translucent reservoir.
The only gloops that are not immediately visible are engine oil, gearbox oil and power steering fluid. Gearboxes don't usually consume oil, so you can leave the garage to sort it out as part of the normal servicing schedule.
Steering fluid can leak out of rusty pipes on older cars. If the steering suddenly gets noisy or becomes much heavier, you might have a leak. Again, replacing the pipe is not too complicated, and will be cheaper in the long run than simply topping up the reservoir and coating your driveway in steering fluid.
Check the levels of the engine oil and 'translucent' fluids at least once a month, and always before long journeys. The protocol for checking oil varies between cars but you can find the information you need 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 usually listed in the owner's handbook, marked on the driver's door frame or printed 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 the 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 doing a ‘liquid glass' repair. It's worth catching these flaws early because if cracks are left to their own devices they'll get worse, and total screen replacement is going to be several times more expensive than the early repair.
Your insurance might cover windscreen replacement but there is sometimes a hefty excess to pay, although lots of comprehensive policies will take care of the repair without it affecting your no-claims bonus. Check your policy details to find out.
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 with windscreen washers that are better at washing our cars than they are at cleaning their own screens. Changing the direction of the washer nozzles is often a 10-second fix, and many local garages will perform the 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 indicators and other minor bulbs is simple. Headlamp bulb replacement ought be easy too, but unfortunately it has become less so in recent times because space under the bonnet is limited by designers in the interests of reducing a car's ‘footprint'.
Most manufacturers do still 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.
If the handbrake can't hold your car on a hill, it's 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.
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