If you, like many others, are resisting the urge to splash out on a new car in your efforts to save money, it's never been more important to make sure that your current set of wheels are well looked after. Basic car maintenance is a must; particularly if your car isn't protected by a manufacturer's warranty as breakdowns can be hugely expensive and always seem to happen when you can least afford it.
Taking good care of your car is an easy way to prolong its driving life and cut costs. All it takes is a few minutes every week or so to carry out the checks that will help to keep your car in tip top driving condition. We explain how:
Regularly checking your car's tyre pressure and keeping all 4 tyres correctly inflated will go a long way in cutting fuel consumption, reducing wear and tear and making your car safer on the road.
You car's optimum tire pressure (psi) should be detailed either in your handbook or in a 'convenient place' such as on the side of one of your doors.
It's always best to check your tyre pressure when your tyres are cold as the reading will be far more accurate and you'll avoid the risk of over-inflation. For this reason it can be a good idea to invest in a manual tyre pressure gauge and a foot pump and do it at home rather than driving your car to your nearest garage.
You will also need to check the depth of the tread on your tyres as this is subject to a legal minimum. The law states that the tread on your tyres should be at least 1.6mm deep across the central three quarter breadth and around the entire circumference of each, although a depth of at least 3mm is generally recommended for optimum grip, especially in the winter.
You should also check for any bulges, cracks, cuts, or foreign objects stuck in your tyre.
Keeping your car's oil levels topped up is a must if you want to keep it running at its best. If you're not familiar with how to check your oil levels you should look in your car's hand book to identify the dipstick, choose a time when your car's engine is cold, pull out the dipstick, wipe it and dip it back in the engine as far as it will go. When you pull it back out you should be able to see whether your car's oil level sits comfortably between the 'minimum' and 'maximum' markers.
If there is too little oil in your engine you should top it up with a suitable oil (you should check your car's handbook to find out which type of oil is suitable for your car's engine) - but be careful not to overfill though as this can do more harm than good.
To extend the life of your car's engine it's generally considered a good idea to have your oil changed either once a year or every 10,000 miles. This can usually be done as part of a service if you're not sure how to do it yourself.
Checking that your headlights, tail lights, brake lights, indicators, full beam and fog lights work is vital. You should replace any bulbs as soon as you realise they have blown (your instruction manual should explain how to do this) and it can be a good idea to keep a spare set in the boot just in case.
In winter sludge and mud can coat your headlights so it's worth giving them a wipe over with a damp cloth at least once a week.
Regularly checking your brakes is a must for your own safety if nothing else. You can do this while you're on the move simply by feeling and listening to how your brakes respond when you want to slow down. If you notice any squeaking, your wheel vibrates, or the car veers to one side when you apply the brakes it's a good idea to get a specialist to take a look as leaving a brake-related problem unchecked could compromise your safety and end up seriously damaging your car and your bank balance.
Wiping your windscreen wiper blades with a cloth dipped in white vinegar will help to keep them in good condition and your windscreen sparkling and smear free. As soon as they start to leave dirty marks or small scratches on your windscreen it's time to change them. You should also make sure that your screenwash is topped up with an appropriate solution so that you don't get caught short.
Your car battery should last you at least 4 or 5 years but with a little bit of tlc you may be able to extend this even further.
Try to remember to switch off your car's electronic controls before stopping your engine as this will allow the extra charge to run back into your battery and help to extend its life. This includes lights, windscreen wipers, heaters, air conditioning, heated seats, radios and cd players and any other electronic gadgets that are powered by your car's battery. Also, if at all possible, store your car in a garage when not in use. This is particularly beneficial during the winter months as car batteries don't respond well to the cold.
Washing your car on a regular basis will not only help it to look shiny and new (even if it's years old) but will also prevent the build up of dirt, grime and potentially corrosive winter salt, helping to protect both the bodywork and other essential components from damage.
While getting your car serviced on a regular basis does up the cost of running your vehicle, ultimately it should save you money. This is because a well maintained car is likely to cause you fewer problems and require far fewer expensive repairs as it ages than one that has not had this attention.
You're also likely to find that when you come to sell your car you're able to command a far higher price (on both the private-sale and part-exchange markets) for a car with a complete service history than a car with an incomplete log book.
Once any initial warranty has expired you may find that you can cut the cost of a service considerably by using an 'approved repairer' rather than an official dealership so it's worth ringing around to get some quotes.
It sounds obvious but always check that you're using the right pump when you fill up at the petrol station as getting it wrong can be a costly mistake.
If you do top up with the wrong fuel then it's essential that you get help right away as your car will need to be drained and assessed for damage. Trying to move, start or drive your car will only exacerbate the damage and make the situation a lot worse so keep it where it is until assistance arrives.
make sure your car is topped up with screen wash and antifreeze in the winter months. It is also worth putting together a 'just in case' kit in your car whenever you travel so that you're prepared for if you breakdown or get stuck in a hold up. A warm blanket, charged mobile phone, bottle of water and snack are all a must.