Keep your car running smoothly with help from Autoist
Cars are fickle things. We rely on them for so much nowadays and many of us simply get in as soon as we need to be somewhere and expect them to start. When they break down it can be a real inconvenience, not to mention expensive!
The TomTom CURFER that we supply with every Autoist policy does a good job at giving you a snapshot of how your car is running, but there are a few things it can’t check. Fortunately, Autoist is on hand to help out with a guide of the top things you should check on your car. When cars go in for a service the garage or dealer will usually check these for you, but it’s always handy to know what to look out for. If you can spot a problem early it’ll usually save you a lot of money on the repair bill!
Under the bonnet
First on the list is fluids. Just like how we’re always told to top up with water to keep us going, cars also need various fluids to make sure they’re running efficiently and safely. Failure to keep certain fluids topped up could result in a blown engine, or an accident! It’s always a good idea to have a funnel to top up fluids, it stops any spills and makes it much easier to do.
Oil lubricates your engine and keeps all the parts moving freely. You should check the level of your engine oil every few weeks; the dipstick will have a Min and Max gauge for you to check it has enough in the system.
Take some kitchen paper with you to wipe the dipstick on the first pull, if you’ve been driving the oil will have been pumped through the engine and may give a false reading. It’s always best to check the oil on level ground, just like all our fluid checks to make sure it’s a true reading. After wiping the dipstick dip it back in and pull it out to get your measurement. If it sits below Min then just top it up. If it’s above Max then you may need to drain some oil out. If you do top up make sure you do it with the right oil, there are varying weights although plenty of online websites will tell you what you need.
If you find you’re topping up with oil quite a bit or more than usual you may need to take your car to a garage to check it over.
Coolant is another important one for proper engine maintenance. Engines produce a lot of heat, so your coolant needs to be topped up at the right level to cool the engine back down again. Just like engine oil, you’ll find a Min-Max on the reservoir to check how much is in place.
If you find you need to top up with more coolant make sure you let your engine cool down first, the heat in the system will cause pressure to build in the reservoir and the cap can pop off unexpectedly sometimes. There’s different types of coolant available, so make sure you get the right one for your car.
Closer to winter time you may need to add a greater concentration of antifreeze to your coolant solution to keep it from freezing too.
Power Steering Fluid
Gone are the days of mega-muscles where parking your car was a workout before you even set foot in the gym. Power Steering makes it so much easier to steer your car, and you’ll definitely notice it’s absence if it fails.
As with the other fluids we’ve already talked about the Power Steering Fluid is held in a reservoir usually in the engine bay. The cap tends to have a picture of a steering wheel on it to differentiate it from the other fluids. The good news is that it’s not often you have to top up the Power Steering Fluid.
Same as before, check the Min and Max marking on the tank and top up if necessary.
This is the one you want to be extra careful with. Brake Fluid is horrible stuff, and if spilt can easily go through paint and certain plastics. You do not want to spill this, in your engine bay or anywhere else.
Unless you’ve changed your brake pads or discs recently it’s unlikely you’ll have to do anything with the Brake Fluid itself, so check it the same as all the other fluids to make sure there is enough in the reservoir. If you do have to top it up make sure you have something to cover the surrounding area and a funnel to pour into. There are different types of Brake Fluid, the most common ones tend to be DOT4 and DOT5.1. If you’re not confident on topping this one it’s probably best you let a garage do it for you.
The last of the fluids! And probably the one you have to top up the most. Whether it’s clearing the thousand flies stuck to your windscreen driving in the summer or washing all the road salt and muck in the winter there’s always a need for cleaning your windscreen.
Readily available from most places, including Petrol Stations, Supermarkets and the internet there are a variety of different fluids but they’re mostly the same. You can get diluted or concentrated varieties depending on if you need some on the go or are happy to mix some at home.
The colder it gets throughout the year the more washer fluid to water ratio you’ll need, so make sure you check it before you use it in freezing temperatures in case it’s frozen in the pipework.
Not really a fluid but actually a gas, Air Conditioning needs an occasional top-up or clean in order to stay smelling fresh and keeping cool.
This is one that you have to do at a garage or dealer, you can’t do it yourself due to the gases involved.
Easiest way to check if it works is to turn it on and make sure it blows cold. Usually easier to test in the summer when it’s hot outside to make sure its chilling the air and not just blowing the cold outside in!
Outside your car
Leaving the engine bay behind we’ll move onto the exterior of your car. These are pretty quick to check but still important for keeping your car’s health in the green and keeping you safe behind the wheel.
Tyres! There are so many brands, sizes, (thankfully not shapes) and versions of tyres to choose from! Often forgotten about when it comes to checks; but having tyres with little to no tread can not only increase your risk of a crash, but if caught by the Police you can face points on your licence and a hefty fine – not cool. These are the only points of your car that touch the ground and are checked as part of your MOT to make sure your car is roadworthy, so it’s worthwhile making sure they’re still in a good condition.
You’ll need to check the sidewall of your tyres for any marks or damage from where they may have been curbed, as a damaged wall can increase the chance of a blowout. You’ll also need to check the depth of the tyre to make sure it is above the legal limit. Most cars have a ridge inside the tread that marks where the legal limit is, and this is present across the inside, outside and centre of the tyre.
Finally, check the tyre pressure of each wheel. There’s usually a sticker inside the driver’s door of your car that shows the pressure each tyre should be pumped up to depending on if you are carry passengers and luggage or just by yourself. Most new cars come with an air compressor to inflate tyres instead of a spare wheel, but if you do have a spare wheel make sure you check that too.
We’ve checked everything to make sure your car still goes, but it’s also pretty handy if it can stop quickly too…
It’s important to note there are two parts to your brakes on the car. Brake Pads and Brake Discs. Brake components can last a variety of distances depending on how often and how hard you brake. A general rule of thumb is that pads will need changing 2-3 times more often than the discs.
To check your brake discs you can use your fingers to feel the thickness of the disc. Only do this when your car has been stood still a while. After driving or heavy braking the discs can become very hot to the touch, hence why the discs glow in motorsport! Using your fingers feel the thickness of the disc. There's usually a lip around the circumference of the disc, you'll want to check just inside of this. If there is any stepping in the disc or a deep lip it’s likely you should get them checked out. Unless you have access to a set of Vernier calipers and the minimum thickness measurement for your car it’s probably easier to check with a reputable garage.
Last but not least are your lights. You use them to see and communicate with other drivers. If your brake lights don’t work you’re far more likely to have someone drive into the back of you!
In addition to tyres they’re also an important part of the MOT, and one of the most likely things for a car to fail on. With the advent of LED lights it’s true there are less bulbs being blown, but it’s still good to check from time to time. Get a mate to check all your lights work whilst you operate them, or if you have no friends use a wall or window to check via your rear-view mirror. Just don’t use a wall or window that someone might not appreciate you backing up to!