CHECK YOUR OIL
Time: 30 minutes
Running low on engine oil is an easy mistake to make, but it’s one that could end up costing you in the long run and even lead to lasting engine damage. Checking your fluid levels is one of the simplest car maintenance jobs you can do yourself, although experts say you should get a professional to change your oil every 3,000 miles. Just remember: never check your oil when your engine is still hot. There is no set amount of oil that every car needs – it depends on the type and size of your engine, although the dipstick found in your car’s engine will indicate what the oil level should be.
Step By Step: Ensure your car is parked on level ground and that your engine is cool. Pop the bonnet and locate the dipstick. If you’re unsure where this is, check your user manual – some modern cars are fitted with electronic oil monitors, so may not come with one. Once you’ve found it, pull it out and wipe off all the oil with a cloth or rag. There should be two marks on the dipstick identifying the minimum and maximum oil levels. Once clean, put the dipstick back into its tube, pushing it all the way back in. Let it sit and remove it. If the level is halfway between the minimum and maximum levels on the dipstick, you don’t need to add any oil. If it’s below halfway, you may want to add some. If you do need to top up, make sure you have the correct oil for your car and locate the oil cap on your engine – it’s usually marked with the picture of an oil can. Remove the cap and pour in the oil a little at a time, checking the level with the dipstick to ensure you don’t pour in too much. Replace the cap, the dipstick and clear up any oil spills before closing the bonnet.
Still confused? Watch this instructional video here.
EVALUATE TYRE PRESSURE & TREAD DEPTH
Time: 20 minutes
Well-maintained tyres are integral to a safe, fuel-efficient ride, so try to get into the habit of inspecting your tyres regularly. Check the pressure every month, and before and after you carry extra load, or set out on a long trip. You can check your tread depth using the simple penny method (it’s illegal to drive with tyres whose tread isn’t deep enough) and don’t forget: during colder months, tyre pressure drops by roughly 450g for every 10°C. If you’re still in doubt, your owner’s manual will tell you how much air pressure your tyres need.
Step By Step: Remove the dust cap from the tyre valve and place the pressure gauge onto the tyre valve stem. You can buy your own pressure guage or use one at a petrol station. Press down the gauge evenly on the valve stem to ensure you get an accurate reading. If your tyres need inflating, use a suitable pump (gauges and pumps are often one and the same at petrol stations) and avoid over-inflation by adding small amounts of air at a time. If your tyres need deflating, use the tip of a flat-head screwdriver to push on the metal pin on the valve stem to release air.
TEST THE LIGHTS
Time: 15 minutes
From headlights to brake lights, a faulty electrical system or blown bulb isn’t just dangerous, it’s illegal. To check the system is working, you may need a second person to monitor the lights on the outside of the vehicle while you activate them from the inside. Replacing a bulb is easier than you might think – but always refer to the owner’s handbook before getting started.
Step By Step: Start by turning the ignition on, but not fully so that the engine is running. Begin by testing the sidelights, before moving on to the dip beam, then the main beam and finally the fog lights. Turn all those lights off to work on the rear of the vehicle, specifically the brake and reversing lights. After that, test your left and right indicators, and finally the hazard lights. Always check your user’s manual before replacing any fault bulbs, but most models will ask you to remove the headlamp cover from inside the bonnet, where you can easily remove the bulb. If you know which bulb to replace it with, do so before refitting. If you’re not sure or don’t have the right equipment to hand, defer to a professional.
GIVE IT A WAX
Time: 40 minutes
Waxing your car after washing can help preserve its clean and flawless finish, and protect the exterior from dirt and debris. Even if you’re washing your car with a product that contains wax, experts recommend specifically waxing your car separately once every three months. Cars exposed to harsh elements, such as snow or salt, should be waxed more frequently, as caring for your paintwork can help maintain the vehicle’s value.
Step By Step: Using proper car shampoo and water, thoroughly clean your car in preparation for waxing. Ensure it’s completely dry before applying wax to achieve the best results – always read the instructions on the wax product’s packaging. A top tip: try parking in a shaded area so the wax doesn’t dry too quickly. From there, choose an area of your car to start waxing. Dip the pad into the wax, using a thumb-sized amount and apply using small, circular motions. Apply a thin layer to the entire car, being careful to avoid exterior plastic such as headlights and brake lights. Leave it to dry then use a microfibre or soft cloth to remove the wax, using circular motions to buff it away. After all the wax is removed, your car should appear shiny and have a flawless finish.
INSPECT THE WINDSHIELD & WIPERS
Time: 10 minutes
It’s important to check your windscreen and wiper blades, as any defunct blades or chips and cracks in the windscreen can result in an MOT failure. If you need a windscreen replacement, contact your insurer first to see if they offer a service as part of your premium. For the blades, inspecting the rubber and condition of the blades should help you keep your windscreen in good nick, reducing the chances of any damage that leads to a full replacement job.
Step By Step: To check the condition of your windscreen wiper, start by seeing if your car has a service position which can be activated. If not, gently prise your windscreen wipers away from the screen and check the material between your finger and thumb for any nicks or cracks. Be careful when placing the wiper back onto the screen, so you don’t cause any more damage. Even if they appear to be in good condition, it’s recommended to change your wiper blades every 12 months. If you decided to take this task on yourself, watch this instructional video first.
CLEAR THE AIR FILTERS
Time: 20 minutes
Your car’s air filter scoops air hitting the front of the vehicle and moves it through an air intake tube into the air filter inside the box in your engine. By filtering out dirt and dust particles, any air entering the inside of your vehicle – usually through its air conditioning or fans – is then safe to inhale. Checking your filters are working properly and whether they need replacing is something you should aim to do regularly. They should be changed at least once a year or every 20,000 miles — unless you do most of your driving in a dusty or sandy area, in which case you may need to replace it more often.
Step By Step: To find out if your air filter needs to be replaced, just lift it out – it isn’t fastened down – and hold it up to the sun or to a strong light. In most newer cars, you’ll find it inside a rectangular box called a ‘cold air collector box’ inside the engine. If you can’t see light streaming through it when you hold it up, try dropping it very lightly, bottom-side down, on a hard surface to shake some of the collected dirt loose. Never blow through the filter, as this can cause more dirt to build up. If you drop the filter a few times and it’s still too dirty to see through, it’s time for a new one.
MAINTAIN THE BATTERY
Time: 10 minutes
Many of us will be familiar with that sinking feeling when your car fails to start on a cold winter morning. It’s often a flat battery – one with no electrical charge – that’s to blame. Regularly checking it can help maintain a strong and healthy battery, leading to fewer nasty surprises. Bear in mind that most batteries will perform better in warm weather – and that they like to be exercised too. If your car tends to sit unused or is only driven occasionally, a regular battery check is even more essential.
Step By Step: If you don’t have any other equipment to hand, the only thing you can check is that your battery is properly connected. The owner’s manual should contain an entry titled ‘Charging the battery’ or ‘Checking the battery’ and show you the location of the battery charging terminals on your car. With the bonnet open, if the battery and its terminals are readily visible, you’ll see it has two terminals. The black one marked with a ‘-’ is the negative terminal; the red one marked with a ‘+’ is the positive terminal. The simplest way to perform a car battery check is to use a car battery tester, which is available from any good car accessory retailer and comes with straightforward instructions. The red lead will need to be attached to the positive charging terminal and the black lead will need to be attached or held against the negative terminal. You’re looking for a voltage figure of more than 12.4 volts with the engine switched off. Below 12.4V, the battery will need to be charged. If the engine starts, it may be worth going for a short drive and checking the voltage again when you get back.