10 tips to keep your car in great shape

How much do you know about what’s going on under the bonnet of your car? For many, it’s a complete mystery, and at the slightest sign of trouble, the first port of call is to get straight on the phone to a mechanic.

For some jobs, that’s the right thing to do, but there are some simple tasks you can do yourself, which may even save you a little bit of money along the way. There are also some very easy maintenance tasks that will help keep your car in shape.

Here, mechanics Daniel O’Brien, of Hulley Road MOT & Service Centre in Macclesfield, and Shaun Dillnut, of Bristol Street Motors, also in Macclesfield, share their expert advice on some things you can do to keep your car looking and driving well.

Before you start, make sure your car is parked on a level surface with the engine switched off and the handbrake on.

Remember: If you don’t feel confident or safe in what you’re doing, call a mechanic.

Damaged car door

1. Don’t let damaged bodywork rust

Daniel says: “If your car picks up any knocks or scratches deal with them quickly - whether you do it yourself with a touch-up kit, or take the car into a garage. Sorting these issues early will stop rust setting in and weakening your bodywork, potentially meaning a costly repair job, or even replacement panels further down the line.”

Chip in windscreen

2. Chip in your windscreen? Sort it quickly

Daniel says: “If any small cracks appear in your windscreen - these are often caused by small stones and not always easy to spot straight away - get them repaired by a specialist as soon as possible. Although they might look minor, these little chips create a weakness in the windscreen, which could lead to much bigger cracks if left untreated.”

Most comprehensive car insurance policies include windscreen cover as standard.

Pouring screenwash

3. Don’t forget to check your screenwash

Daniel says: “Having enough washer fluid in the tank is important for safe driving, especially if you often drive long distances, as dirt on the windscreen will affect your visibility, and dry windscreen wipers alone often won’t be able to remove it."

“In most cars, the washer fluid is stored in a white plastic tank and sealed with a cap that you can easily pop off by hand. Your user manual will show you how to find it, and will also contain instructions for mixing the right proportions of washer fluid and water for different times of the year. The washer fluid also prevents the mixture from freezing when it gets cold, so you’ll want to use more of it during the winter months.”

Coolant in engine

4. Top up your engine coolant

Daniel says: “To keep your engine from getting too hot, your car pumps a mixture of water and anti-freeze - known as coolant - around it to transfer excess heat away to the radiator."

“Check the coolant levels every two months - refer to your driver manual for instructions on how to do this. Also, be sure to include the recommended amount of anti-freeze, which you can buy from any auto parts shop and even many supermarkets. Not a lot of people realise this is essential all year round because, as well as preventing freezing, it will also help stop the inside of the system from rusting."

“It’s also a good idea to renew all of the coolant in the system every three years to prevent build-up of debris in the system. If you find you need to top up your coolant frequently then there’s a chance you have a leak and you should take your car to a mechanic.”

Checking oil

5. Pay attention to your oil levels

Daniel says: “Your engine needs oil to run smoothly, because it prevents the metal parts rubbing directly together. If the oil runs out, the engine will start to overheat and the increased friction can cause permanent damage.”

“You should check the oil dipstick at least once a fortnight. It should be easy to find - open the bonnet and you’ll notice the dipstick will normally have a brightly coloured handle on the end labelled ‘engine oil’. Remove the stick, wipe it clean with a cloth or some kitchen roll and replace it before taking it out again and reading off the level.

To make this easier, most cars’ dipsticks have a scale indicating the maximum and minimum levels, so it should be obvious if you need to add more. If you do need to top up your engine oil frequently then check with a mechanic that there is not an underlying problem with your vehicle.”

Flat tyre

6. Check your tyre pressure often

Daniel says: “Regularly check the pressure is within the guidelines listed in your car’s handbook - try to get into the habit of checking your tyres when you stop to fill up. If any of the tyres need topping up regularly, they may have a slow puncture. These can quickly get worse, so it’s important to change the tyre as soon as possible."

“Also, check for any obvious signs of excessive wear such as small cracks forming in the rubber or tread depth becoming very shallow. A good tip for checking tyre tread is to put a 20p coin into one of the grooves - the rim around the coin is about 3mm, which is how deep your tread should be.”

Windscreen wiper

7. Fitting new windscreen wipers

Shaun says: “To keep your car safe on the road, you should be regularly checking that your wipers are working properly.”

“One of the most common problems with wipers are that they don’t clean the windscreen properly. For example, if you notice that your wipers tend to smear, or don’t completely remove rain water or dirt this most likely means your wiper blades are worn out and need to be changed. For the vast majority of cars this is a very easy process and new blades can be picked up at any auto parts shop.”

“Not being able to clear your windscreen can be a real hazard, so it’s vital to change them as soon as they stop working.”

Read more about other checks you can do to make sure you’re safe on the road.

Woman checking tyre

8. Repairing a tyre

Shaun says: “If you’re out on the road and get a puncture, you don’t necessarily have to reach straight for the phone number of a breakdown service - with a tyre repair kit it might only take 15 minutes for you to fix it well enough to get you home. Bear in mind there are different types of car repair kits for different tyres."

“The kits include a can of clever sealant which, when sprayed through the valve on your tyre, will form a seal around any holes and stop any more air leaking out. Most kits also include a canister of compressed air that will let you quickly re-inflate the tyre to the right pressure and continue your journey.”

“Repair kits are available from any good auto parts store but remember, this will only be a temporary fix, and you should take your car to the garage to get the tyre changed as soon as possible.”

“Finally, the sealant on repair kits has a use by date so make sure you’re aware of when this is.”

Car lights

9. Replacing broken lights

Shaun says: “For many cars - especially older ones - it’s a simple case of finding the plug that holds the bulb, twisting it out and changing the bulbs over."

“However, bear in mind that this isn’t possible on all cars - for some models, large pieces of bodywork may need to be removed to get to certain bulbs, while more advanced LED-based lights on newer cars will need to be replaced by a qualified professional. Before replacing a bulb consult your user manual because it should advise you on whether you can do it yourself or not.”

“Finally, the sealant on repair kits has a use by date so make sure you’re aware of when this is.”

Car battery

10. Changing the battery

Shaun says: “If your car has difficulty starting, especially on colder mornings, it may be time to replace the battery.”

“You’ll probably need a screwdriver to unfasten the old battery and to secure the new one, once it’s in place. You should also have someone on hand to help you out. Changing a battery may seem like a big task but don’t worry, for most cars it’s simple if you remember a few key rules:

  • Wear gloves and safety glasses when you do it, because batteries contain acid which will harm your skin if you come into contact with it.
  • Remember to always disconnect the negative cable first to avoid damage to your car’s electrical equipment - this is the black cable and the terminal it’s attached to will have a ‘minus’ sign next to it.
  • When you hook up the new battery, connect the red positive lead first - it may help to use masking tape to label the cables if you’re worried about getting them mixed up.”

Swinton Insurance is not liable for any of the views expressed by tradesmen within this article.

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