Motoring Guide - Car Maintenance
- Recommended pressure figures are for cold tyres, so you'll get a falsely high reading if you check them after driving for more than a few minutes. Always check tyre pressures cold.
- Pressure is measured in pounds per square inch (psi) and the right amounts for your car should be listed in your owner's manual. It's common for different amounts to apply to the front and rear tyres.
- If the amount on the pressure gauge is below that mentioned in your owner's manual, you will need to inflate the tyre. To do this, connect a pump or an air line on a garage forecourt and fill until the right amount is shown on the pressure gauge.
- If you put too much air into the tyre, depress the pin in the centre of the valve to let some out.
- Don't forget the pressure of your spare wheel. Your owner's manual should tell you the correct pressure.
- Check the level at least once a fortnight, if possible when the engine is cold and the car is on a level surface.
- The dipstick usually sticks out from one side of the engine. On more modern cars it may have a coloured handle: usually red, orange or yellow.
- Pull the dipstick out and wipe it clean with a rag. Return it to the full extent, pull it out again and check that the oil mark is between the upper and lower limits on the dipstick.
- Make sure you use the right oil, and the same as what's currently in the engine. Your owner's manual will contain these details.
- Find the oil filler cap - it's usually 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. Repeat until the level is about halfway between the maximum and minimum marks on the dipstick.
- Oil is usually replaced at every service inspection of your car. This is usually once a year or at a maximum of 10,000 miles. Refer to the owners' manual for details.
The two emissions tested in the MOT are carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrocarbons (HC). If your car fails on either of these tests you will need to get the problem solved by an authorised service centre.
Check that there is no sign of brake fluid in the footwell, whether on the pedal, floor or carpets. This indicates a leakage.
Pump the brake until the pressure builds up and the pedal becomes rigid. Hold your foot on the pedal, feeling for any loss in pressure. If the pedal starts to give way, there is a leak in the system.
- Likewise if there is a great deal of pedal movement before the brakes begin to bite, the brakes need adjusting.
- If the pedal feels spongy and braking lacks sharpness, this indicates air in the system. A home brake bleed kit can cure this.
Brakes are crucially important for safety, of course, but complicated to fix. If there's a problem, avoid using your car until an authorised service centre can perform repairs and adjustments. Ask the service centre to check the overall condition of the braking system.
- If it's winter, make sure that there is sufficient anti-freeze in the cooling system.
- Check that your battery is charged. Battery chargers are not expensive and it is worth giving it a boost. If you're going to be away for a long time (and you aren't using an immobiliser/alarm) disconnect the earth strap to prevent the battery losing charge
- Remove all valuables.
- Use a car cover to protect it from rain, dust and the habits of birds.
- Fit a visible steering lock.
- Make sure you keep valuables out of sight when your car is unattended.
- Always close and lock doors, boot and sunroof. If it hasn't already got one, fit an alarm and immobiliser.
- Have the windows and windscreen etched with your car's numberplate.
- Try to leave your car in the most visible location, especially if it's staying there overnight.
- If your car is fitted with alloy wheels, replace one nut on each wheel with a locking version that needs a special adapter to remove.
- If the driver's view forward is obscured in any way by windscreen damage, it will need to be repaired or replaced - likewise, if wiper movement is interrupted.
- Your rear-view mirror should be secure and capable of being adjusted.
- Your front and rear numberplates must be in good condition, securely fitted and easily read.
- Under the bonnet there should be a small metal plate bearing the vehicle identification number (VIN). Make sure it's visible.