Once again, Jools the golden Peugeot is trying to either kill me or bankrupt me! A simple Google of his symptoms led me to discover he was leaking brake fluid, so it was off to the garage AGAIN! It only cost £64 to repair, but since I've just used the last of my car fund to buy road tax, it came out of my dwindling emergency fund!
Cars are expensive! Fortunately there are a lot of checks that we can make to ensure the safety and longevity of our cars. Here is a checklist of basic car maintenance, simple enough that even I can do it! (In fact, I hereby challenge myself to complete this checklist this weekend!)
PLEASE remember to check the manual for your car before doing any of this maintenance to ensure you are using the correct materials and methods. I'M A BIOLOGIST, NOT A MECHANIC!
1. Checking Your Tyres
There are two easy checks you can do on tyres. Firstly, check they are properly inflated. This website gives you a good guide to what the proper pressure is for your vehicle, but if you have specialist tyres then you should check the manufacturer's instructions. If your tyres are too inflated, you run the risk that they will burst. If they are not inflated enough, your car will use more fuel and will be harder to steer. If the pressure gets really low you risk damaging your wheels.
Secondly, check the tread. Your car will fail its MOT if the tread is less than 1.6mm deep. It will not grip the road as well and might not stop when you want it to! An excellent tip for checking tyre tread depth, which I saw on Channel 4's Superscrimpers, is to slot a 20p piece into the tread. If the border of the coin is visible above the tread, the tyre needs replacing. Check this before you send your car for an MOT to avoid failing and having to re-test!
2. Checking and Topping Up Engine Oil
When your car is completely cool (several hours after driving) and parked on flat ground, open your bonnet and pull out your oil dipstick. It usually has a loop at the top to hook it out of the engine. Wipe off the excess oil from the end, reinsert it into the slot it came out of then pull it back out. The oil level should be between the minimum and maximum marks, usually denoted by a hatched region on the metal.
If your oil level is too low, find the picture of an oil canister (see this image). Remove this cover and you can pour oil in to top it up. You must check what kind of oil is required for your car, because different cars require different oils. You can find this information online or in your car's handbook. Check your oil level again afterwards to make sure it is now correct.
3. Radiator/Engine Coolant
Caution: do NOT do this when your car is hot, because the steam will scald you.
If your car is water-cooled (most cars are), then you will have a radiator filled with engine coolant. It is an essentially sealed system, with the coolant absorbing the heat from the engine then returning to the radiator to disperse the heat out of the car. However, the level will run down over time. You do NOT want to be driving your car with no engine coolant – it will overheat and could receive irreparable damage.
The cap for the radiator is usually marked as “ENGINE COOLANT”, so it's not hard to find the right tank and have a look. If it needs topping up, you'll need a 50/50 solution of water and antifreeze, which will either be ethylene glycol or propylene glycol. Check which one you need in your manual.
4. Cleaning and Changing Windscreen Wipers
As the video below shows, you can clean your windscreen wipers using alcohol to condition the rubber and extend the lifetime of the blade. If the rubber is cracked and the blades need replacing, the video shows you how to do it yourself easily. Don't pay a garage through the nose to do this simple job for you!
5. Keep Your Car Clean
If you live near the sea, the salt in the air will cause your car to rust prematurely and slowly fall to bits. My main problem is that there are dairy farms at either end of my lane. This means there's always a lot of mud (and worse!) on the road, splattering the underneath of the car and up the sides of the body! This promotes rust too.
It can be really disheartening to clean because you know it's just going to get muddy again the next time you use it, but I need to start keeping Jools cleaner to stop him rusting!
Over to you
Do you have any simple checks or maintenance tasks you perform to save you from costly garage fees? Also, does anyone use that premium fuel? How does it compare to regular?