A guide to Basic Car Maintenance

Its important that all drivers have at least a basic understanding of how to make sure their vehicle is road worthy and safe. Long term good maintenance can also save you a lot of money bt helping you to avoid breakdowns

Vehicle Tyre Checks

Checking your vehicle tyres has to be one of easiest and most vital aspects of regular car maintenance, remember your tyres are what kepp your car in contact with the road and their condition can make a massive difference to your vehicles handling and stopping distance.

You should check your cars regularly for any cracks or buldges as these if go unoticed can lead to blow outs at high speed. Your tyres should also have a minimum tread depth of 1.6mm across the central 3/4 of the tyre and around the entire outer circumfrence.

Most car tyres have tread wear indicators, usually six small ribs across the bottom of the main tread grooves. When the tread surface becomes level with these ribs the tyre is at the legal limit and must be replaced.

Tyre tread depth

Tyre Pressure:

Another important thing to check regulary is your trye pressures. Correct tyre pressures results in optimised braking, handling, grip and fuel efficiency where as low tyre pressure will increase your car's fuel consumption, shorten the life of the tyre and increase risk of tyre failure. High tyre pressure will cause diminished grip, reduce stability in braking and cornering and increase the risk of impact tyre damage.

You should check your tyre pressures including your spare often, ideally once a week, but its important to remember to check your tyre pressures only when your tyres are cold as hot tyres will cause the air in them to expand and give you a false reading of the tyre pressure

The correct tyre pressure for your particular car will be listed in the owner's manual and/or on a placard mounted on the car. The correct tyre pressure will relate to the load the car is carrying - the higher the load the higher the pressure.

Changing a Wheel

Getting a puncture or flat tyre  while out and about is not only inconvieniant but depending on where you are when it happens can also put you in danger. If you need to change a flat tyre for the spare please condsider how safe it is in your present position to change to the spare wheel. If you are on a busy road with fast moving traffic or a motorway then it might be safer for you to call breakdown assistence to help you with the task.

Changing the wheel on your car is going to require some basic tools, first your going to need some kind of jack that is able to take the weight of the car and raise the car even higher off the ground so you can remove the faulty wheel. A wheel brace will also be essential for removing the wheel nuts as these should be possible to remove by hand alone. Locking wheel nut key, most cars now adays come with locking wheel nuts as standard especially if you have fancy wheels on your car that might be tempting for someone to steele.

  • Make sure it is safe to change the wheel
  • Remove the spare wheel, wrench and jack from the boot of your car.
  • Making sure the handbrake is on put the car into first gear (park for an automatic). Refer to your car's user manual to find where the jacking point is.
  • Making sure the jack is on firm ground attach the jack then use it to lift the car up just above the ground.
  • Remove the wheel nuts
  • Remove the wheel
  • Fit the spare wheel, tighten the wheel nuts then lower the jack.
  • Go to the nearest garage and get your damaged tyre fixed or replaced.

Checking your oil level

A good oil level is essential for the cool running of your engine. As well as keeping your engine and its componants from overheating the oil also keeps all the internal parts of your engine moving. If you dont have enough oil in your car then your engine can seize up and become unusable.

 The amount of oil an engine uses depends on:

  • the type of engine
  • the amount of wear
  • how the car is driven.

You should check the engine oil level at least once a fortnight and top up as necessary. Never add too much oil, as this will create excess pressure that could damage the engine seals and gaskets, and cause oil leaks.

To check the engine oil levels:

  • Make sure the engine is cold and the car is on level ground.
  • Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean with a cloth. Reinsert it fully, pull it out again and check that the oil mark is between the "F" and "L" marks.
  • If the oil is below the "L" mark then you will need to add more oil. To do so-
  • Find the oil filler cap, usually found on the top of the engine and marked 'oil'. Unscrew this carefully and place to one side.
  • Pour in a small amount of new oil and recheck the level with the dipstick. If needed repeat until you have the correct oil level.

If the oil does need topping up then you should make sure you use the correct oil, the same as what is already in the engine. Your owner's manual should give you full instructions. If you don't know which specific oil to use then you can use high quality general engine oil such as Castrol.

Checking your engine coolant level

Engine coolant helps remove excess heat from your car's engine. It is a mixture of water and anti-freeze. If coolant levels are too low your car's engine can overheat causing the engine serious damage. Check your coolant levels once a fortnight or before a long journey. To do so-

  • Locate the engine coolant reservoir. Your users manual will show you where. Check that the level is between the Min and Max marks. If below the Min mark you will need to add extra fluid.
  • Never undo the engine coolant filler cap while the engine is hot. Serious scalding could result from hot fluid under high pressure escaping from the radiator. Place a cloth over the cap and unscrew it slowly. This will allow any pressure to escape.
  • Fill the reservoir to the Max mark. Replace the cap.
  • Never add cold water to an overheated engine, let it cool for a while first.
  • Never overfill or the system will blow the excess out as soon as it warms up.

If any of the coolant gets on your skin or on your car's bodywork wash it off immediately. It is poisonous to you and can cause paint damage to your car.

Checking your brake fluid level

When you press on the brake pedal you are actually pushing against a plunger which forces brake fluid through a series of tubes and hoses to the braking unit at each wheel. So no brake fluid, no brakes.

To check the brake fluid level:

  • locate the brake fluid reservoir (check users manual). If the fluid is below the 'MIN' level add brake fluid up to the 'MAX' line.
  • If you find yourself adding brake fluid frequently then a professional mechanic should check the braking system because the system may have developed a leak.
  • Brake fluid is very toxic. Keep it away from hands and eyes, and avoid spilling it on the ground. Dispose of empty containers carefully. Be especially careful not to spill brake fluid on your car's paint.

Never allow water to get into the braking system.

Checking your lights are working

Its important to regularly check your lights on your car, this can be the headlights and sidelights, both important for you to see where you are going both at night and in bad weather conditions.

Your tail lights should also be checked and its important to make sure none of your lenses or reflectors are cracked or damged and that no white light is showing from the rear lights. You may need to turn your ignition on as well as your lights to get all the lights working.

Dont forget to also check your main beam as you may need this if driving at night on unlite roads.

Brake lights are very important and are used to warn following vehicles that you are slowing down, with out brake lights you are in danger of being rear ended by following vechles. In order to check your brake lights are working you will need someone to stand at the back of your car while you press the pedal, if no one is around then you can use a reflective surface like another car or a garage door etc.

Indicators are important for letting others know your intentions, they are essential for changing lanes and turning into junctions. To check your indicators you can switch on your hazard warning lights and walk around the car.

Other lights that might be overlooked are your warning lights on the dashboard, these can be important in warning you of any faults with your vehicle. To check them turn on your ignition and the dashboard lights should come on. Please see below for what they are and what they mean.

Dashboard warning lights

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Engine Temperture

Indicator light means the engine temperature has exceeded normal limits. Check coolant level, fan operation, radiator cap, coolant leaks.

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Battery Charging

Indicator light means that the car’s charging system is short of power or is not charging properly. It normally indicates a problem with the battery itself or the alternator.

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Oil Pressure

Indicator light means loss of oil pressure, meaning lubrication is low or lost completely. Immediately check the oil level and pressure.

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Brake Warning

Indicator light turns on when the handbrake is on. If it lit continuously, it means that hydraulic pressure has been lost in one side of the brake system or that the fluid level in the master cylinder is dangerously low.

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Tyre Pressure

Indicator light means the pressure is low in one of your tires.

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Engine Management

Indicator light turns on whenever the engine is turned on to check the bulb. If the light stays illuminated, the car’s diagnostic systems have detected a malfunction that needs to be investigated.

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Traction Control

Indicator light means that the vehicles TCS (traction control system) has been deactivated.

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Service

Indicator light turns on when there is a fault condition in an area of the vehicle chassis systems.

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ABS

Indicator light means there may be a malfunction in the ABS system.

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Seat Belt Indicator

Indicator light means that a seat belt has not been secured for a passenger in the vehicle.

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Master Warning

Indicator light usually accompanied by another warning light and indicates that one or more warning systems have been detected.

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Icy Road

Indicator light turns on when the outside air starts to reach freezing temperatures, around 35°F or 3°C.