All drivers should know the basics of car maintenance. Such knowledge can save you money and help to make your car a safer place to be.
Maintaining Car Tyres
It is vital that you check your car tyres regularly, for wear, cracking, bulging, pressure or objects caught in the tread. Not only are defective tyres highly dangerous but if found by the police to be defective (that is with a tyre tread of less than 1.6mm across the central 3/4 of the tyre or in any other way unroadworthy) you will face a fine of up to £2500 and 3 penalty points per tyre.
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.
- You should aim to check tyre pressure, including the spare, once a week.
- Correct tyre pressures results in optimised braking, handling, grip and fuel efficiency.
- 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.
- Only check you tyre pressure when the tyres are cold.
It is vital that you check tyre pressure only when the tyres are cold, after driving no more than two miles. Warm tyres, achieved by driving no more than a few miles, will provide a false reading.
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.
If you don't own a pressure gauge then the easiest way to check tyre pressure is by using a digital air dispenser found at most petrol stations. These are very easy to use and there should be instructions on how to do so on the machine itself.
Correctly inflated tyres provide the best safety, highest mileage and optimum fuel consumption.
Prolonged under-inflation causes excessive flexing, deterioration of the casing and rapid wear of the tread shoulders. The vehicle will also consume more fuel and will have less grip, and so longer braking distance. There will also be an increased risk of the tyre rupturing.
Over-inflation results in an uncomfortable ride, a reduced area of contact with the road, accelerated wear on the tread centre and makes the tyre more susceptible to impact damage.
Car Tyres Explained What tyres to buy and how to maintain them.
Changing A Flat Tyre
Changing a tyre on a public road can be a very dangerous activity. If you're on a motorway then it is probably wise to phone for assistance. Repairing a car on the hard shoulder is a risky business.
- 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.
Dealing With A Tyre Blow Out
A blow out is when a tyre bursts whilst you are driving. If ever you find yourself is this situation here's what to do
- Keep your eyes firmly on the road and both hands on the steering wheel
- Keep the steering wheel in a steady position, making only slight movements.
- Turn on your hazard lights to show that you are having a problem. If you are on the motorway in any lane other than the inside then don't do this straight away as it may cause impatient people to undercut you and increase the chances of an accident.
- Try and identify where you can bring the vehicle to a stop, outside the main traffic flow - if on a motorway this will be the hard shoulder, or you may need to just pull up in a lay-by or at the side of the road, avoiding any bends.
- Don't apply the brake but do take your foot off the accelerator and try to coast - slowing down gently (this is because if you have a faulty tyre, braking heavily can make your car swerve uncontrollably and cause a collision).
- As your car slows down drive into the identified 'safe' spot taking care not to rush and keeping a close eye on traffic around you. If you have your hazards on then hopefully other road users will realize you have a problem and will allow you to leave the flow of traffic.
- Park up and get yourself and your passengers out of the car, taking care that you do not put yourself or them in danger from passing cars. Move a safe distance away from the car.
Checking The Engine Oil
Oil lubricates, cleans and cools your car's engine. If not enough oil is present then the engine is at serious risk of damage. 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.
At regular intervals it is essential to drain the oil from a car engine and replace it with new, unused oil. This should be done at least once every 10,000 miles, however, check your owner's handbook for the manufacture's recommendations.
As a rule, this is done when the car has its annual service, although it is possible to do-it-yourself. Again, the owner's manual will provide instructions.
Checking The Engine Coolant
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 Shock absorbers
To check your car's shock absorbers are in good working order push down on each corner of the car and then release. If the car settles into its normal position after 1-2 bounces then the shock absorbers are in good working order. If it takes longer to settle then it is likely that your shock absorbers are worn out and will need replacing.
Maintaining Brake Fluid Levels
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 Brakes
Your car's braking system is complex and should be checked by a professional every 10,000 miles or at least once a year. For non-professionals, the best ways to check your brakes are as follows.
Whilst driving be aware of how the braking system feels. If the brake pedal lacks firmness or goes almost to the floor before engaging, the system should be checked. It could mean that the brake-fluid level has gotten low or is leaking.
Shaking or vibration in the pedal or steering wheel may indicate that rotors are in need of replacement or resurfacing. A squealing sound indicates that the pads are wearing thin.
The sound of grinding or metal-on-metal can be a sign of even more serious problems. Letting that condition continue is likely to ensure that you'll be needing to replace your rotors as well as your brake pads.
To check the handbrake is in good working order - whilst on a incline pull the handbrake on. If it takes more than a few clicks before the car is securely held then the cable or rear callipers/drums need to be checked by a professional mechanic.
The FLOWERY Check acts as an early warning system, and if done correctly, will point out any faults with your car which can lead to it breaking down, or which can put you in danger. Perform the check at least once a week, and before any long journey.
- Fuel - check that you have enough fuel for your journey, or at least to get you to a petrol station.
- Lights - check all lights, indicators and brake lights are working.
- Water - check the levels of your engine coolant and windscreen washer fluid.
- Electrics - check all electrical features: horn, wipers etc
- Rubber - check the tyres are fit for purpose, and that they are at the correct pressure. Check the wipers blades too.
- Yourself - make sure you are fit to drive, that you aren't tired or under the influence of drink, drugs or medicines.