Why car maintenance saves you money and keeps you safe

Simple car maintenance checks explained

Simple car maintenance checks explained - Credit: Archant

Many of us know that quick and simple checks can help improve your car's performance, lifespan and value. A small amount of maintenance goes a long way and can reduce MoT costs and even fines. And that's why we do them.

Or do we? The RAC say that 'modern motorists prefer to rely on others to fix simple car problems rather than attempt to resolve the problem themselves,' and add that 'today's motorists take less care of their vehicle'. 75% of motorists do not carry basic items such as spare water, oil, bulbs or fuses.

12% of all road accidents occur because of mechanical failures, many of which could have been prevented by solving problems that you don't need a trained mechanic to check these.

Feeling fine


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Police perform thousands of roadside checks and find many to be un-roadworthy. Drivers of these cars are often surprised to find themselves paying a fine for committing an offence that they didn't even realise existed – like running out of screen wash. The most common offences committed are:

• Using a vehicle in a dangerous condition

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• Using a vehicle with faulty brakes

• Using a vehicle with defective tyres

• Using a vehicle with faulty lights

Saving money

For those who could do with a quick and easy list, check out Wilco's recent two-minute video: How To Maintain Your Vehicle. Today's motorists could save themselves valuable time and money, simply by making regular checks to the oil and water.

Most of us know how to check our car's oil level but how often do we actually do it? Maybe if we understood our cars better, we'd look after them more… So, without going into molecular detail, here's why those small checks make all the difference.

Oil be back!

Engine oil is the essential lubricant that stops metal from grinding against metal. Without it your engine will seize up immediately 151,000 cars break down because of engine trouble per year, and lack of oil is one reason. Oil transfers heat away from the combustion cycle as well as keeping the engine clean by carrying away waste.

Most cars need a specific grade of engine oil depending on its viscosity or thickness and how hot your car runs, so it's important to choose the right oil for your car or you could find your engine failing you – find yours here.

Keep cool

Your radiator keeps your engine cool. To do this it needs coolant, but to stop the engine overheating or freezing damaging the engine it will need coolant /anti-freeze. The classic 'steam billowing from under the bonnet' is what happens when a car runs out of coolant and the engine overheats. And like oil, you need the right type for your particular car. You can check the Wilco website to find out which type you need.

Engine coolant does all of these things as well as:

• Stops the fluid overheating.

• Prevents rust and corrosion

• Prevents corrosion of rubber and plastic parts

So it may be called 'coolant' but it does a whole lot more.

In the right direction

Checking your power steering fluid is as easy to check as your oil, and done in much the same way with the 'dipstick' principle. You'll know if you have a leak because the steering becomes heavy, especially at low speeds. Power steering uses hydraulics to give effortless power to the driver. This relies on pressure applied by power steering fluid, and if the system springs a leak, the pressure depletes and it feels like you're driving an old tractor.

Brake out

Again, checking your brake fluid is very quick and easy. Simply check the fluid's level through the translucent tank.

Brake fluid is part of the braking system, this time making sure the pressure you put on the brake pedal, applies to all the brakes. It goes without saying that this is one of the most important things to check: not only does it make a car hazardous, but brake issues can invalidate insurance.

All of the above fluids should have warning lights in the dash to alert you if levels are low.

Wiper blades

Having no windscreen wipers or defective windscreen wipers is illegal and police can fine you if your wipers are cracked or damaged. Old rubber loses its flexibility and can harden and crack. So if your wipers smear or make noises, it's worth getting them checked by Wilco.

It's easy to 'see' why wiper health is important, with reduced visibility being dangerous.

Also, damaged wipers may in turn damage your windscreen, so you're saving yourself money by looking after your wipers.

A lot on your plate

The automatic number plate recognition system used by the police speed cameras is unable to read plates that are dirty or have the incorrect spacing. This is why they take unreadable plates so seriously. Incorrect number plate offences can lead to fines of up to £1,000.

Police cameras can trigger spot checks if number plate lettering is obscured by dirt. These cameras read the plates as incorrect and alert roadside police who will stop vehicles.

Let there be lights

127,000 breakdowns are caused by light failures per year. You should check the lights outside and inside your vehicle. Broken headlights, indicators and brake lights can reduce visibility, reduce how visible you are, and fail to alert others to what you're going to do.

Inside the car, a broken warning light in the dash can fail to alert you of a problem that needs attention.

Tyres

This has to be one of the easiest things to check, a 20p piece and your eyes being the only tools you need. Tyre Safe reported that illegal, defective and under-inflated tyres were responsible for more than 1,210 road casualties in Great Britain in a 12-month period.

The obvious thing about worn tyres is reduced grip. As many people observe Formula 1 cars grip more because they have no tread! Your standard road tyres work differently and have a deeper tread to allow for wet conditions.

Water on wet roads has to be squeezed out by the grooves in the tread. If this water is not rapidly dispersed, the car can lose contact with the surface of the road and aquaplane – out of control.

Another problem caused by worn tyres is poor steering, vibration when driving, weird noises (whining and screeching means unwanted friction, which is never good!). While your car may still be driveable the danger comes when facing hazards. Reduced control means you're more likely to end up causing an accident, or making accidents worse.

Correct tyre pressure is important to get right. Over fill and you risk a blow out (very dangerous) or under fill and your tyres become less rigid, effecting steering and braking. Twenty per cent of a car's fuel consumption (that's one tank in every five) is used to overcome the rolling resistance of tyres, and this increases if tyres are under-inflated.

A prime cause of tyre failure is under-inflation which causes tyres to overheat.

You can buy a little air compressor for about £10-15. Owning one means you can check and refill your car's tyres wherever you are. They come in handy for lots of other little jobs too!

While we're on the subject of tyres: 88% of RAC patrols express concern over the number of vehicles that are not equipped with a spare tyre (or puncture repair kit if the car doesn't come with a spare tyre). A punctured tyre is the most common cause of call-outs (200,000 per year), suggests that this lack of time and planning may be partly responsible for the high figure.

So… check your tyres and check your wheel alignment and you'll avoid fines, bad handling and hazardous driving.

To see how you can check these simple and easy things, watch the two-minute Wilco video.

This feature has been sponsored by Wilco

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