Proper maintenance of your vehicle is crucial to its safe and economic operation. Modern cars have become far more complex than their ancestors, and although it is vital that major work is carried out by a qualified engineer, there are some simple tasks that we should all know how to do and check them on a regular basis.
- Check the engine oil level.
Oil is what keeps the mechanical parts of the engine lubricated in order for them to work properly. It is highly recommended to periodically check the oil levels, especially if your car is old or used frequently. Often, the regular maintenance schedule is not enough as even the smallest leak can cause a significant loss of oil over time.
Although the interval in which we check varies, it should always be done before a long journey, at least once per month, of if you see any signs of oil deposits on the road or your driveway. The oil levels should be checked when the engine is cold and the vehicle parked on a level place.
In order to check the levels you will need to open the bonnet and find the dipstick. The dipstick is one of the engine parts which is normally clearly visible and often labelled. It may look like a circle or ring, or have a small handle for you to grip. To check the levels, pull the dipstick from its holder, carefully, then wipe the end. Reinsert it, again carefully, and take it out again. You should now see a small deposit of oil on the end of the dipstick which should fall somewhere between markers indicating the maximum and minimum levels in the engine.
If no oil is shown, try again. If this is still the case, or if the oil level looks too high, you may wish to seek assistance from a mechanic straight away.
- Check tyre pressure.
Maintaining proper tyre pressure is crucial for maintaining the maximum life and performance of the tyres, as well as avoiding serious problems that can jeopardise the safety and security of the vehicle, such as the loss of stability, an increase in braking distance, and even a high risk blowout.
Tyre pressure can be checked at most fuel filling stations, often for free, where they have calibrated equipment that can tell you the exact pressure in each of the tyres. Checking the pressure of tyres should be done when the tyres are cold and have not run far, and when the vehicle is unloaded.
You should check the vehicle´s manual for the correct tyre pressure, although more modern cars have a plate fitted to the vehicle which tells you this.
- Changing a wheel.
A recent survey revealed that only 25% of drivers know how to change a wheel.
All drivers should know how to change a wheel in the event of a puncture or other damage. Although your breakdown service may cover this, knowing you to change the wheel can significantly reduce waiting times in the event of failure.
Not all cars carry fully specific road-ready spare wheels. Some have modern kits to temporarily repair damage, others have emergency wheels which can be used at a reduced speed until your vehicle reaches a place of safety where the proper tyre can be repaired.
It is important to know what type of spare your vehicle carries, and how to use the tools which accompany it. Check your vehicle´s manual for specific details.
You can practice changing your wheel away from traffic, perhaps on a driveway or private road.
Remember, if you do need to change your wheel on a live road, make sure you are safe, protected by your emergency triangles and high visibility clothing, never put yourself in a live lane, and if there is any doubt or risk, always summon assistance.
- Change the wiper blades.
It is easy to identify wiper blades that are in poor condition as they leave an irregular pattern on the window when wiping water away, or they might squeak when in use. You should never let your wiper blades get to this state as they can cause damage to the windscreen.
Check them on a regular basis, using your windscreen washing system.
Different vehicles require different blades and they are not always changed in the same way. Generally, the blades connect to the arm via a simple clip, although you might want to check with your vehicle´s manual. Most large supermarkets now stock wiper blades and provide a guide to which ones fit each vehicle, including, often, their own brands which can be cheaper than main makes, although you may then want to check them more regularly.
- Changing a light bulb.
We have dealt with lights in a different article, and although it is no longer mandatory to carry spare bulbs as changing them can be almost impossible, checking them is vital.
It is however important that checking our lights is part of our standard and regular checking process, which is why we have also included them in this section.
Remember, although some of these tasks might seem a little complex, you can leave the hard parts to the experts, but it is always good to know the basics to ensure safe motoring whatever the vehicle we choose to drive.