Even with regular servicing and your annual MOT, it’s important to regularly check your car yourself and ensure everything is running at its best.
It’s especially vital during periods of bad weather, before a long journey and after the car has been stationary for a while – perhaps when you get back from a fortnight’s holiday. But if you’re a novice, we’ve put together this handy at-a-glance guide.
How to check your oil
Oil is your engine’s lifeblood, and it’s vital to make sure it has enough. Oil levels will gradually deplete over time with normal use (as much as a litre for every 1,000 miles), so make sure you’ve got a bottle in your garage (or, failing that, the boot) so you can top up from time to time. Halfords has that will tell you which engine oils suit your car; you just need your registration number.
To check the oil, pop the bonnet and look for the dipstick. You’ll need to make sure the car is on flat, level ground to get an accurate reading. Remove the dipstick by the handle and wipe it clean using a dry cloth.
Replace the dipstick all the way in, then remove it again immediately. The residual oil on the dipstick will tell you how deep the oil in the reservoir is; if it doesn’t reach the minimum mark on the dipstick (or is likely to reach that point soon), it’s vital you top up to prevent engine damage. Refill by unscrewing the cap (usually marked with an oil can icon) and putting in a good glug.
How to check your tyres
Your tyres are possibly the most important safety feature of your car – they’re the only bit in contact with the road. Low tread can reduce grip and present a huge danger to both you and other road users, and of course can also earn you penalty points on your license.
Check the depth of your tyre tread regularly; it’s best to do it in good lighting. You can pick up a proper tool for checking the depth of your tyre tread online for just a few pounds, but there’s an even cheaper way of doing it: with a 20p piece.
Insert the coin into the main grooves of the tyre, and if you can’t see the outer band of the coin, you’re above the legal limit. Check at several points around the tyre, and across a few grooves. If you find that the tyres are wearing unevenly, the car might have a problem with its tracking, which can be rectified at a garage fairly easily.
How to check your lights
Park up somewhere that you don’t present a danger to other road users (a driveway or petrol station works perfectly), and turn off the engine. Leaving the ignition on, turn on the lights and step out of the car for a few seconds to check they’re working. While you’re at it, check the lenses for cracks.
You should check all the lights, including reversing, fog lights, side lights, full beams and indicators. You’ll need a second person to help you check the brake lights. If any bulbs have blown, you need to get them replaced ASAP.
How to check the water/coolant levels
Your engine needs water to keep cool. You should be able to view the reservoir simply by looking under the bonnet near the radiator; make sure the liquid inside is between the MIN and MAX lines. You’ll need to do this when the engine is cold.
You can top it up using a 50/50 mix of regular tap water and anti-freeze. Anti-freeze prevents the water from freezing during wintry weather.
A few other things should be checked periodically:
- Check that all the seatbelts pull out and retract with ease monthly, or more often if you regularly carry passengers
- Test the horn weekly (not always necessary if you’re an ‘enthusiastic’ driver who uses it regularly anyway…)
- Inspect the bodywork for damage and rust every few weeks
- Check that the windscreen washer pump works effectively, and the screenwash reservoir is topped up, at least weekly