It’s inevitable that car breakdowns will happen at the most inconvenient moment. You will either be on the way to work, on the way to an interview or 9 times out of 10 have screaming children in the back of the car! Of course not only can a breakdown ruin your day, but it can also be dangerous and potentially very costly. We recommend always having robust and comprehensive breakdown cover in place.
You will be pleased to know that most breakdowns are in fact avoidable if we look after our vehicles. You don’t have to be a fully qualified mechanic, just follow our simple tips below. On top of these DIY checks, make sure your car is kept fully serviced and of course the MOT is up to date. If you think your car is on the verge of a potential breakdown despite your car care efforts then take a look at our guide on Detecting a Car Breakdown.
Looking after the tyres on your car is very important. The golden rule is to keep both the pressure at the optimum level, whilst keeping the tread depth within the legal limit. Under inflated tyres can lead to tyres overheating and handling problems with the vehicle. Check your vehicles handbook which will detail the correct pressures and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Be sure to account for any added weight you may be carrying as this will affect how much pressure is required. Make sure you apply any changes whilst the tyres are cold, as if done whilst hot it will obscure the reading.
As for the tread depth, the legal limit is 1.6mm across the entire tyre. The punishment for falling below this limit is 3 points along with a hefty fine. Don’t forget this applies to each tyre so you could be subject to 12 penalty points if all the tyres are under 1.6mm.
Buying a tread reader is cheap and easy from any hardware store. If this isn’t an option for you take a ten pence coin and place it into the tread. If the milling around the edge of the coin isn’t covered by the tread, it’s time to replace them.
It goes without saying that you must always maintain the brakes on your car. If they fail, an accident is imminent and it could lead to serious injury or even death. Of course at the same time they are vigorously tested during the MOT. If you haven’t looked after them correctly your car will fail the test.
Keeping them in good working order comes down to the brake pads. Always ensure they have sufficient depth left on them, as to not wear down too close to the actual discs. A safe thickness is approximately a quarter of an inch thick, which can be viewed from above the wheel. A tell-tale sign of thin pads is also a grinding or screeching sound when you apply the brakes.
As for the brake discs themselves these also need to be checked on a regular basis. They should appear shiny with no major scratches. Don’t worry too much about minor scratches as this only indicates minimal wear. Serious imperfections need to be addressed immediately, as you don’t want the pads wearing down to the discs. This is dangerous and it’s expensive to change the discs on top of the pads.
It’s not something that naturally springs to mind, but the maintenance of your car lights is very important. Not only are they heavily checked during the MOT test, but of course they are vital for indicating and driving safely at night time. If they were faulty in any way, this could lead to serious problems regarding the safety of you and other roads users. If the police spot any issues, you will be immediately pulled over. Checking your lights is very easy, simply work through our check-list:
• Hazard lights – This also checks the indicators at the same time, they should flash between 35 and 85 times per minute
• Brake Lights – You may need the help of a friend for this one, unless you can see them in a reflection. Press the brake pedal and simply check their performance.
• Reverse Light – Like the brakes this light is on the rear. Simply put the car into reverse and this light should clearly illuminate.
• Headlights – Both lights on the front of the car should be of equal brightness, pointing slightly downwards and slightly to the left hand side.
• Main Beam – Simply flick these on at the same time as checking the headlights. It will be very obvious if these are working due to their increased brightness.
• Fog Lights – Like the main beams the brightness of this will make it easy to check. Be sure to also make sure the warning light comes on inside the car at the same time.
The key to maintaining a safe windscreen is to have any chips or cracks fixed straight away. Chips can develops into cracks very quickly, all it takes is some cold weather or even a bumpy road and it gets bigger and bigger.
Not only is your safety key, but your car will also fail its MOT if the drivers view is obstructed. Getting a chip repaired couldn’t be easier, we’ve all heard Autoglass adverts on the radio and television. Their services are often covered by your insurance and in most cases won’t affect your no claims bonus. In a nut shell, it’s free to get the windscreen repaired if you catch the chip in its early stages. If left, the whole windscreen will need replacing which is a costly procedure.
Finally, keep an eye on your windscreen wipers and washer fluid. It goes without saying that if caught in bad weather these are essential for safe driving. Be sure the wiper blades aren’t developing cracks and always use de-icer in the washer fluid during the winter months.
In short, oil is essential to keeping your car on the road and in good working order. If you run low, friction builds up in the engine which in turn leads to overheating. Of course this is a serious matter and can lead to expensive repairs or worse, complete engine failure. It’s very easy to check your oil levels so do it often.
Lift the bonnet and find what is known as the dipstick. After your car has been left stationary for at least an hour remove this and check the oil is between the recommended lines. Be sure the car’s engine is cold before you check the levels as hot oil will give a false reading. Also be sure the car is parked on a level surface to ensure sure you obtain a correct reading.
If you need a top up, don’t over fill the car as this can actually cause damage too. Top it up a little bit at a time until the desired level is reached.
The battery in your car requires water in order to operate correctly. Fortunately this is easy to check so do it regularly. Simply open the bonnet, locate the battery and remove its cap. At this point you should be able to read the water levels and top them up if needed. Remember you cannot use regular tap water! Purchase distilled tap water that is designed for battery use. Finally, just like with the oil, do not overfill as this will interfere with the battery acid.
The last thing you want is to get in the car early in the morning, perhaps before work or on the school run and realise the battery is flat. Of course this isn’t the end of the world but it’s certainly an inconvenience. Luckily if you use your car regularly, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. If you don’t, then be sure to give your car a reasonable run every couple of weeks to keep the battery charged.
It is essential to keep the cooling system maintained on your car. If you don’t then it can lead to overheating which is a big problem. The first and most simple step is to keep the coolant levels sufficiently and regularly topped up. Always do this when the car is both cold and on a level surface. Check the fluid level in the radiator, top up the coolant if required and replace the cap tightly and securely. Whilst you’re doing this check for cracks or leaks in any of the surrounding pipes, including the clamps which secure the pipes at either end.
If there are leaks this is a problem which needs to be addressed straight away. Check to see the general wear and tear of any of the pipes, are they brittle or needing a change before they spilt? If so take the car for repair ASAP!
Near the power steering belt you will find a reservoir of fluid for the power steering. This needs to be maintained regularly to ensure the power steering remains in full working order. It is very easy to do as most of the time the reservoir is clear and easy to read. Some even have a dipstick so there is no excuse to leave this unchecked. If the fluid is low simply top it up, however if you find yourself needing to do this on a regular basis, you should take the car into a garage.
The last thing you want is a power steering failure as this can be very dangerous if you’re driving at the time.
If your car doesn’t have a secure fuel cap it will fail it’s MOT. If you notice it is cracked, damaged or worse leaking, take it to your local garage to be fixed.
It may sound obvious but always monitor your fuel levels. You’d be surprised as to how many people run out of fuel simply by ‘forgetting’ to check their gauge. Imagine running out of fuel on the motorway, perhaps on the way to the airport. It is always a good idea to know in your head where the next service station is located and never run into the red zone on your petrol gauge. Also ensure you are familiar with the type of fuel your car needs, again it would surprise you to learn how many people accidentally misfuel their cars, we have gone into this in more detail in our Misfuelling guide.
If you want to know where to find the cheapest fuel in Kent, click HERE.