Doing regular maintenance checks on your car is very important both for your own safety and for the continued reliability of your car, but many of us just haven't got a clue?
Do you know your car jack from your tyre pump? According to recent research, many motorists haven't got a clue about basic car maintenance.
Nine out of 10 can't name common tools like a wrench or jumper cables, while two thirds don't own items like a tyre pump or car-battery charger, according to a survey by Britannia Rescue.
Seven out of 10 drivers don't know how to carry out basic tests like checking the oil level. More worryingly, one in 10 can't open their car bonnet.
Not only can this prove expensive, but your car can suffer damage if you don't carry out regular checks, or ignore warning signs. There are also obvious safety benefits in learning how your vehicle works, not least avoiding unnecessary breakdowns.
Kayleigh Ryan, a 25-year-old marketing executive, experienced this recently while driving 150 miles from her London home to visit family in Chepstow, south Wales. She said, "I was on the M4 when a light on the dashboard came on that I didn't recognise. There was nowhere to pull over due to roadworks so I headed to the nearest service station to look it up. I discovered the tyre pressure had dropped."
One of the back tyres on Kayleigh's Mini was significantly lower, so she pumped it up and tested it. "When it went down again I realised it must be a puncture," she said. "I've never changed a tyre and while I would have attempted it, I didn't want to risk not doing it properly. Cars are too expensive if something goes wrong. I only had about 40 miles left so decided to continue driving, sticking to 50mph."
But when Kayleigh reached a garage in Wales, she got some bad news. "The tyre had a slow puncture," she explained. "And because I continued to drive on it, it was beyond repair. I had to pay for a new one, and for the garage's time to change it."
Peter Horton, Britannia Rescue's managing director, says basic car maintenance knowledge is dying out. "Compounding this problem is the fact that new cars have very sophisticated technology and owners feel they wouldn't be able to carry out any maintenance themselves. However, learning to carry out simple checks can help cars run smoothly for longer – and save money in the longer term."
But where do you start? According to the AA, your car handbook's a good place. The breakdown service also provides advice via its AA patrol podcasts – free videos showing tasks like changing wiper blades or checking the coolant.
The AA estimates up to half of all breakdowns are preventable through regular servicing and maintenance. Its technical specialist, Vanessa Guyll, gave Telegraph Motoring some basic checks that you can do at home.
Keeping your car in good health
The following checks should be done when your car hasn't been used for several hours and is parked on a level surface.
Remove the dipstick and wipe clean with a lint-free cloth or paper towel. Return it into the tube, ensuring it's fully home. Remove and look at the mark left by the oil. It should be halfway between maximum and minimum. If it's below this level, add a small volume of the correct oil (refer to handbook). Wait a few minutes for it to drain into the engine before checking again. Oil should never be above the maximum mark.
Most cars have a transparent plastic coolant expansion tank. A coloured liquid (usually green, pink, orange or purple) should be visible. The level will sit somewhere between the minimum and maximum marks. The cooling system is sealed and should not lose coolant. If the level drops, get the system checked at a garage. Use the correct coolant if you top up the reservoir – check the handbook.
Check pressures with a hand-held gauge. Recommended pressures are on a sticker on one of the front door's closing panels, or inside the fuel filler flap (also in the driver's handbook). Tyre pressures must be checked when cold – pressures increase during driving as tyres warm up. Check the tyre tread is wearing evenly across the whole tyre. If wear is greater on the inner or outer edge, the steering/suspension should be checked/adjusted by a garage. Between the tread blocks are tread wear indicators – small raised strips of rubber. When the tread wears to the top of these, the tyre must be replaced.
The reservoir for fluid is mounted on or near the bulkhead (the metal panel separating the engine bay from the passenger compartment). Don't remove the cap as the fluid absorbs water from the atmosphere – just rock the reservoir very gently so you can see the fluid move. It shouldn't be below the minimum mark.
Make sure the gearbox is in neutral and handbrake on. Switch on the ignition, then the headlights. Check the headlights and rear lights work, including the main beam. Do the same for the indicators. Brake and reversing lights are trickier but you can check both by reversing towards a wall and looking for the reflection.
SHOW ME TELL ME
Of course we now teach all these aspects for the show me tell me part of the driving test, so when a pupil takes their test with Abarth driving school in Worcester they should already have the knowledge to make sure their car is safe and legal on the road and fit for the driving test. See our Show me Tell me Page for all the show me tell me questions and answers.
Article adapted from an article in the daily telegraph by Linda harrison
Adapted for the abarth blog by Pete Leach