How to keep your car running smoothly through proper maintenance
After all the hard work of choosing, researching, negotiating, purchasing and insuring the right car, you should enjoy the well-earned feeling of satisfaction as you take it for its first spin. However, it’s always worth remembering that getting into the habit of properly maintaining your vehicle offers the dual benefit of reducing its ongoing costs as well as increasing its value when the time comes to sell it.
All of the following checks and maintenance habits can be easily carried out without specialist tools or knowledge; they only require a fraction of the time and money it would otherwise take if you let a garage handle everything. So instead of overpaying and giving up use of your car for hours or even days, complete these checklists and enjoy the savings that they enable.
Tyre condition: You should routinely check that the air pressure in your tyres fits the manufacturers’ recommended levels, since over or underinflated tyres pose a safety risk and increase the car’s fuel consumption.
Also check that the tyres’ tread depth meets or exceeds the legal minimum of 1.6mm. Driving on worn down or “bald” tyres is hugely dangerous and can adversely affect the car’s steering and suspension.
Oil levels: Oil is the lifeblood of the car and keeps the engine in good condition as it lubricates, cleans and cools it while you’re driving. Letting the oil run low or empty will quickly cause damage to the engine as it can overheat, carbon byproducts will form deposits on critical engine parts and every surface suffers increased wear and tear.
So check and refill the oil regularly, after every 3000 to 5000 miles of driving, depending on your chosen brand of oil. To check it, locate the oil dipstick, pull it out, wipe it clean, reinsert it then pull it out to again to check if the film of oil sits within acceptable levels. If the oil is low, top it up and perform the same steps as required.
A quick safety tip: never check or change the oil when the engine is hot, wait for it to cool first.
Other fluids:Maintaining the correct oil levels is critical but there are other vital fluids that your car needs in order to function safely and smoothly. So whenever you check your oil, also check that the brake, coolant and windscreen washer fluids are all within optimal levels too. Ask a trusted mechanic for checking and refilling methods appropriate for your car if you are at all unsure how to do it.
3 Month checks
Transmission and power steering fluids: As with the other fluid checks, consult a trusted mechanic for appropriate checking and refilling methods specific to your car.
Engine belts: Worn or loose belts can cause serious problems for the engine, particularly if they degrade and eventually snap. Look for worn or fraying sections and listen out for loud squeaking sounds coming from the engine while driving. If you spot an issue, have it addressed as quickly as possible, don’t wait for the next due service.
Car battery: Your car battery will eventually wear down and need to be replaced but you can improve its longevity and reliability by cleaning it to avoid corrosion. Firstly, remove the battery terminals then clean the posts. You can use Coca-Cola for this job but we recommend more professional cleaning products that are available at any local garage or auto-parts store. Finally, rinse gently with a little water and dry with a clean rag.
6 Month checks
All of the above:If it hasn’t had a service recently, give your car a full health check by completing all of the stages previously listed.
Windscreen wipers:Buying and replacing wiper blades yourself is extremely easy and significantly cheaper than having a professional do it. Garages often offer “free installation” when selling wiper blades, which sounds like a good deal but usually requires you to buy the most expensive variety.
The process of attaching the blades yourself will differ slightly depending on what car you own, so consult the owner’s manual before making the attempt. However, the basic procedure is easy to follow:
- Lift the old wiper blades away from the windscreen by hand before removing them.
- Make a note of how the old blades connect to the metal arms.
- Carefully align the new blades to the arms. They should slot in easily enough but be careful not to force or bend them or scratch your windscreen in the process.
- Once the new blades are attached, check by hand that they are secure and tight before testing their operation with the car’s controls.
Keep the interior clean: It might seem trivial, but the interior of a car often makes the most significant impression on a prospective buyer. Oil levels and tyre depth may not be a deal breaker for many buyers, but a dirty interior or a broken radio/CD player is a definite sales turnoff.
So maintain a clean, tidy and properly functioning car interior. Frequently take out the floor mats, vacuum them along with the interior upholstery, clear out the glove compartment, side pockets and cup holders and finally ensure that any interior electronics are kept in good working order.
Keep your logbook up to date: In the UK, paper tax discs and driving license counterparts have been scrapped as their processes become digitised. The V5C ‘logbook’ system has also undergone some changes, as you no longer have to send your V5C off to the DVLA when you want to sell the car. Instead, you simply fill in the small V5C/2 slip – the ‘New keeper’s details’ form/section 10 of the logbook, which you give to the new owner. The rest of the relevant sections are filled out online to inform the DVLA of the change of ownership.
However, maintaining an accurate logbook which covers the vehicle’s record of past owners and service history is still important as it gives prospective buyers a reassuringly complete account of the car’s past. Any gaps in that history can put off buyers they might think that you have something to hide.
Stick to these checklists in a timely manner and you’ll make significant savings and enjoy a safer, cleaner car that will look much more appealing when you feel it’s time to sell.