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5 car maintenance basics every driver should know

calendar Published on: Wednesday, 1st November 2017 | female icon Author: Aminta Gagnon

For many people, car maintenance can seem like a daunting task. However, failing to carry out regular checks on your vehicle can have dangerous and often costly consequences. Not only can looking after your car improve fuel efficiency and safety, but it can also help to keep it roadworthy for longer and prevent further problems in the future. If you want to keep your vehicle in tip top condition, here are five car maintenance basics every driver should know.

1. Checking your tyres

Tyres with the wrong pressure can compromise braking, handling and grip. Over or under inflated tyres can also increase fuel consumption and are more likely to become damaged and worn. For this reason, itís crucial that you check your vehicleís tyre pressure every couple of weeks or so, including the spare. This can be done using your own air pressure gauge or at a petrol station, and the tyres must be cool to achieve an accurate reading. If you are unsure about what the correct tyre pressure is for your vehicle, check the ownerís manual.  

Itís also important to make sure that your tyres have enough tread, which will be shown on the wear indicators. Bear in mind that the legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm across the central three quarters of the tyre. TyrePlus stocks a wide selection of tyres should you need to replace yours.

Drivers should also look out for any signs of unusual wear or damage, such as cracks, bulges or punctures. If you notice any damage, take your car to the nearest garage to have it looked at by a professional mechanic. 

2. Keep your fluid levels in check

Another important car maintenance basic all drivers should know is how to check the fluid levels in the engine. This includes the oil, power steering, coolant, brake fluid and wiper fluid. Even if you donít learn how to change the fluids yourself, itís well worth knowing how to check them properly as incorrect levels or leakages can cause significant damage to your engine. 

As a general rule, engine fluid levels should be looked at at least every couple of weeks or before long journeys. You should find that most of the fluids have gauges or dipsticks with minimum and maximum marks so you can easily see the optimal level. If the fluid reads as below the minimum marker, top it up as soon as possible. 

When checking fluid levels, make sure the car is on flat ground and that the engine is cold. Remember that you may need to wipe the dipstick or gauge down first to ensure you get an accurate reading. If you are not sure which fluids are which, or you donít know how to top them up or change them, your ownerís manual should provide you with a detailed set of instructions.

Itís also a good idea to keep a close eye on the colour of the oil. If it looks murky, this could indicate a problem with your engine which will need to be checked by a mechanic right away.

3. Make sure your brakes are working

A carís braking system is crucial, and luckily thereís a simple way drivers can check to make sure that itís working. While driving, apply your brakes gently and notice how they feel. If they feel loose and donít engage immediately, you should get the system checked by a professional as this could be a sign that the brake fluid level needs topping up or is leaking. 

If you feel a vibration or shaking sensation when applying the brakes, this could indicate that the rotors need to be replaced. Any unusual noises could also signal that the brake pads have worn down too far. Letting these problems continue without getting them checked can be dangerous and result in more costly repairs in the future. 

To check your handbrake is fully functioning, try pulling it up when positioned on an incline. If you need to pull the handle right up before the car is secure, chances are that the cable needs to be replaced.

4. Inspect your belts

Inspecting your serpentine (you may know this as a fan belt or drive belt) and timing belts is easier than you may think and it can help to prevent serious damage to your engine. At the front of your engine, you should find a number of rubber belts attached to various pulleys. These belts run the alternator, the power steering pump, the air conditioning, and various other accessories. When checking the belts, look out for signs of damage, including cracking, unusual wear or rubbing. If when the engine is running but the vehicle is stationary your hear a loud, unpleasant screeching from under the bonnet (which goes away when the car moves off), this is a big clue that suggests the belt has become damaged.

If you notice any of these problems, itís likely that the belt will need to be replaced. Failing to do so can cause further damage to other parts of the car and prevent the engine from working properly. Again, you ownerís manual will be able to provide you with recommendations for when the belts might need replacing.

5. Make sure your lights are working

Finally, simple checks to your headlights, reverse lights, fog lights and turn signals can reduce the risk of a road accident and should be done regularly. Lights are vital for allowing you to see clearly while driving in the dark and they also let other motorists know your intentions. 

For that reason, you should make sure that all your lights are working properly at least once a week, or more frequently in winter. To do this, have someone else stand outside your car while you test each light or use reflections in windows. 

Make sure that any broken lights are replaced as soon as possible and look out for any cracks or dirt. If one of your indicator lights flashes quicker than normal, this is usually a sign that the other turning signal is broken.

Of course, these are just a few examples of quick and easy maintenance checks you can do yourself, but they should give you a better idea of how to be a more responsible driver. Carrying out regular inspections to your car can help you to spot any problems early, extend the life of your vehicle and save you money, so itís definitely worth getting to grips with the basics.


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