A guide to car maintenance for new drivers

Hey everyone, Kate here. Are you enjoying the sun? I know I am! And guess what? The summer holidays are nearly here so that means one thing …. road trip! But before we set off I’m going to check that my car is in tip top condition so I don’t get any nasty surprises along the way.

My test was a while ago now, but I think I remember the basics. I’ve got changed into some old clothes and I’ve got my trusty owner’s manual, so time to check that car!

FLOWERY

When I was learning to drive, one of the best things I learned was to think FLOWERY thoughts. Believe me, it will get you through any car safety check:

F – Fuel
L – Lights
O – Oil
W – Water and Windscreens
E – Electrics
R – Rubber (Tyres)
Y – You

It’s pretty simple. If you just remember those seven things before you set off, your journey should be a breeze.

A little more detail about car maintenance

Ok, I admit it. This only works if you know how to check each section. But don’t worry, I’m here to give you a refresher course in car maintenance – let’s go!

Fuel

Pretty straight forward – make sure you have enough fuel for your journey, or that you have planned where you’re going to stop in advance. You don’t want to be caught short halfway down the M25! Make sure you put the right fuel in too, the amount of times I’ve seen people grind to a halt half a mile from the petrol station is truly baffling!

Lights

Even if you’re driving in the daytime, your lights need to be working perfectly. Grab a friend and get them to tell you if your normal lights, full beam lights, indicators and brake lights are all working properly. I’d always keep a spare bulb in the back of the car too. It always helps to be prepared.

Oil

Engine oil lubricates, cleans and cools your car’s engine. If there’s not enough, you’re at serious risk of damaging your car. Checking it once a fortnight is an essential part of car maintenance. When checking it, make sure the engine is cold and that the car is on level ground so your readings don’t get distorted. Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean with a cloth. Then reinsert it fully and pull it out again. If the oil mark is between the “F” and “L” marks you’re good to go.

If it’s below the “L” mark, find the oil filler cap (your user manual will tell you where it is) and put a small amount of new oil into the reservoir. Recheck the oil level using the same method as earlier, and repeat until the oil level is close to the “F” mark.

Water and Windscreens

We start with water. When mixed with anti-freeze it becomes engine coolant that removes excess heat from a car’s engine – yours has probably been working overtime the past few days thanks to the baking heat we’ve been enjoying! Check your water coolant levels once a fortnight and before a long journey just to be safe.

Your user manual will tell you where the engine coolant reservoir is located. Check if it’s between the min and max mark. If it’s below be very careful. Never undo the coolant filler cap when the engine is hot! Always place a cloth over it as you unscrew it, just to be safe, and do it slowly to allow any pressure to escape. Then it’s easy – fill the reservoir up to the max mark and screw the cap back on – carefully.

A piece of advice; never add coolant water to an overheated engine – give it some time to cool down, and also don’t overfill it as it will blow out the excess as soon as the system starts up again.
Next up are your windscreens – front and back. You should replace your windscreen wipers once a year to prevent smearing. Keep your screenwash levels topped up as it’s a legal requirement that your wipers work when you’re on the road. Occasionally check your windscreens for damage/chips and get them fixed as soon as you can – you don’t want them to grow and crack the window beyond repair.

Electrics

This is an easy one to test, but your neighbours may not like it! Check that all the electrics in your car work properly – windows, door locking, wipers and give that horn a tap to make sure it’s in full working order.

Rubber

Burning rubber isn’t actually a good thing. Checking your tyres for wear, cracking, bulging, pressure or for objects that are caught in the tread is vital car maintenance. Replacing tyres is expensive and time consuming (take it from someone who knows!), but by checking your tyres regularly you can avoid these costs and get your existing ones repaired rather than replaced.

Faulty tyres are highly dangerous: if the police find them to be defective (they don’t have a 1.6mm tread across the central ¾ of the tyre), they could fine you up to £2,500 and put three penalty points on your licence for each faulty tyre. Luckily, tyre manufacturers are on our side, so most tyres have tread wear indicators – six small ribs across the bottom of the main tread grooves. When this becomes level with the ribs, the tyre is at the legal limit and must be replaced.

Also keep an eye on your tyre pressure too – and don’t forget the spare! Correct tyre pressure means that you’ll have optimised braking, handling grip and your car will even be more fuel efficient! Only check when the tyres are cold, and look at that handy owner’s manual to see what the tyre pressure should be in relation to the car’s load – it changes as the car gets heavier.

Use a pressure gauge if you have one, but if not, mosey on down to your local garage. There will probably be a digital air dispenser there that will give you an accurate reading.

You!

After doing all of these car maintenance checks, you might be a bit tired out. Make sure you’re still ok to drive before setting off. I often opt for a nap before a long drive, I suggest you do the same!

Sadly, not every aspect of car maintenance fits into my FLOWERY acronym. You should check your shock absorbers by pushing down on each corner of the car and then releasing it. If the car settles within 2 bounces, the absorbers are in good working order, if not you’ll need to go to your garage so they can assess the situation.

Brakes are also important to check, but often professionals do this on your annual service. Just be aware of how your brakes feel. If they don’t feel right, check the fluid level and fill it up to the top. Be careful though, that stuff is toxic. Keep it from your hands and eyes. Also, never allow water to get into the braking system.

Remember to check your brakes occasionally to – if they’re making odd noises or not feeling very effective. Take your car to a professional to get a proper brakes test done before the condition of your brakes gets worse!

I think I’ve covered everything I can about car maintenance, just remember to think FLOWERY thoughts and you’ll be well on your way to a road trip of a lifetime. See you next time!

Don’t have a decent set of wheels for your summer road trip? Take a look at Perry’s new cars or visit your local dealership.