Glad to see you’ve arrived at car maintenance checks, which is Step 2 of 3 of this series on how to extend the life of your car. In this step you will learn what areas of your car you need to check in order to tick the “well maintained” box and at the same time, become more familiar with the mechanics and operation of your vehicle. In the meantime, if you haven’t read Step 1 of this series, you can click this link to go back to How to Extend the Life of Your Car Step 1.
DIY Car Maintenance Checks
1. Wiper Blades
If there are streaks on your windscreen when it rains, the wipers have probably lost their grip. If they’re really worn down they can cause scratches on the windscreen. Replacement wipers will include instructions on how to fit them.
2. Windscreen Washer Fluid
A good pair of wipers need fluid to wipe! In most cars the windscreen washer fluid bottle can be found in the engine bay with a minimum and maximum mark. Don’t just top up with water, get some decent washer fluid, which won’t freeze up in the winter.
3. Glass Condition
Check your windscreen as the priority and then the rear window, followed by the mirrors and the door glass for any chips or cracks that would get worse under long term vibration and freezing conditions. If the chip or crack on your windscreen is 40mm in size, your vehicle will fail its M.O.T. But if the damage is 10mm in size it will only fail its M.O.T if it falls within “Zone A”, which is the driver’s primary field of vision.
4. Coolant Top-up
Antifreeze diluted with distilled water is available from most hardware and auto shops, and where your reservoir is located will be in your car’s manual. If your engine is low on coolant it will overheat, which can cause catastrophic engine damage. It’s really important to monitor the temperature gauge on your dashboard as an indicator of the car overheating. A car that overheats could be due to coolant leaking.
5. Engine Oil Top-up
A regular oil level check not only ensures that the oil is at a safe/optimum level, but it could also prevent other problems from developing. A low oil level could indicate a sump or rocker cover leakage or blown turbo seals. Use the dipstick to check the oil level, which shows the max and min level and check it when the car is warm and on level ground.
6. Tyre Pressure
Tyre pressures can be checked at most petrol stations using the air compressor and noting the correct inflation limit written on the tyre. If you are driving around on tyres with incorrect air pressure, you risk damaging the tyres because of uneven tyre wear, which might even result in a tyre blow-out!
7. Bright Lights
Of all the car maintenance checks a person can do at home, this one seems to go unnoticed even though is quite noticeable! Make sure all the vehicle lights are working correctly and that the light covers are clean. Having a brake light or headlight out is really not safe especially in fog or when its dark.
8. Stop Rust
Salt gets sprayed over the roads when its icy, which is a main cause of rust. So if you have any scratches in the bodywork that has gone through to the paint, get it repaired or at least layer with thick polish.
9. Suspension Attention
To test the suspension, push down on each corner of the car individually. The car should return to its normal position, but if it seems to bounce the shock absorber is at the end of its life and will need to be replaced.
10. Brakes Check
The brakes will need checking over to confirm that the face of the large round discs are smooth, and there is enough friction material left on the brake pads. The legal minimum level for a brake pad is 1.5mm. The less pad you have, the more ineffective the brakes will be. Less friction material means less heat dissipation, which in turn means your brakes could overheat. The pads are located either side of the brake disc. If you look carefully, you might be able to see the disc and the brake pads through the gaps in your wheel. A good torch would help! You can test the foot brake by pushing quite hard and listen – a grinding or scraping indicates the pads need to be changed, whilst a vibration when braking suggests the disks are warped and will need to be replaced.
Your handbrake is also part of the braking system. Check out this old blog post from our archives, which helps you to identify if your handbrake needs an adjustment.
11. Battery Charge
A dead battery can leave you stranded anywhere, and to make matters worse it can sneak up on you without any signs or symptoms of wear and tear. While many batteries have warranties that last as long as five or six years, it’s not uncommon for batteries to only last around two or three years before needing replacement. Some cars have a battery gauge on the dashboard with the battery voltage, this is a big help and if you notice the voltage dropping significantly, the time may be coming to replace your battery. If you can’t check the voltage, think about how old the battery is and are there any signs on the battery of leaking – indicated by a dried up white substance. Do the battery terminals look secure and not corroded? Has the car been a bit sluggish to start? These are specific signs of wear and if you notice these, get a mechanic to check the battery.
12. Clean Air Filter
Your air filter is responsible for removing debris from the air that’s pumped into your engine. As you rack up the miles on your car, your air filter will become inundated with this debris and need to be replaced. Some cars have a Service indicator, which is triggered after driving a certain amount of miles, check that the air filter is included in a Full Service, especially if it was not replaced at the last service. Always check your manual to see when the recommended Service should occur, or use an annual checkup as a guide especially if you live in a polluted or particularly dusty area where air quality is not so good.
13. Check Hoses and Belts
Air hoses, timing and serpentine belts generally last up to 60,000 miles or more, but can and will usually become a concern after that. Make sure you pay close attention to these parts and look for signs of wear and tear. A broken timing belt can destroy your entire engine and leave you without a car. Even a small leak in one of your hoses can have catastrophic consequences. A visual inspection will at least ensure that any signs of wear, such as cracks or a frayed surface can be noted and even if you are not confident if the hose or belt is still okay, it can be discussed with your mechanic.
14. Replace Old Spark Plugs
Spark plugs need to be replaced every 60,000 to 75,000 miles, depending on your car. Have the spark plugs regularly inspected and replace any that are worn out or completely burnt out. By doing so, your engine will run more smoothly and your vehicle will last longer.
15. Drive Straight
When you drive your vehicle make sure that it tracks straight and doesn’t pull to the left or right. Any strange vibrations especially at speed, could be wheel balancing and although not expensive to have done, go back and check that there has been no damage done to the tyres.
16. Look, Listen, Be Observant
When it comes to car maintenance checks, anything out of the ordinary is not ordinary! Try to be as observant as you can. If you pick up on anything that doesn’t seem right, even if you don’t understand it, could save you from a lot of trouble in the long term. For example, when you start up your car from cold it should start easily and not make any knocking or pinking noises. This could suggest very costly repairs so if you hear any strange noises get a professional to have a look. Also give your accelerator a little blip and take note of any blue smoke coming from the exhaust, which could indicate worn engine components. Listen to the exhaust. If it’s loud it could be leaking. Also, try to understand your M.O.T results. If your car has had a recent M.O.T, check the emissions report; if its high, the catalytic converter could be in need of replacement and this is very expensive.
Whilst all the points above are various car maintenance checks to perform yourself, professional mechanics have specialist diagnostic tools and software to get to the bottom of faults which are harder to diagnose at home. If you notice something is wrong get it checked out by a professional sooner rather than later, before it becomes a major issue.
Any warning lights on the dashboard should be addressed quickly. An Engine Management Light could be indicative of a serious component failure and the car should not be driven until it is checked by a mechanic.
If you lack the confidence to perform those car maintenance checks and repairs at home, you should feel confident that you will be doing what you can by simply ensuring that your vehicle maintains it’s annual M.O.T. At the same time, be sure to follow the guidance from your owners manual, which will tell you how often the car and it’s components should be checked or replaced, such an Oil Service or a Full Service and when to change the Timing Belt. If you are diligent with those tasks, then any other maintenance issues may get picked up at the time by your mechanic.
Follow this link for “Step 3 of 3: How to Extend the Life of your Car“ where you will learn in this final part of how to finally future proof your car.