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Is your vehicle ready for your holiday?

There are a number of car checks you can perform both around the car and under the bonnet to help keep it in good running order and prevent a breakdown.

Getting your hands dirty under the bonnet might sound like something you should leave to the professionals, but there’s no reason why you can’t maintain some things yourself. 

Spending five minutes carrying out these simple checks every few weeks – and certainly before a long journey or an MOT – can save you a lot of time and money in the long run, not to mention help keep you safe on the roads.

To keep things simple, here are 12 simple car checks you can carry out today to keep your car safely on the road and on the right side of the law. We also have a quick video from RAC patrol Matt Woodbridge demonstrating four simple under-the-bonnet checks:

When it comes to preventing a breakdown, remember the acronym FORCES, which stands for Fuel, Oil, Rubber, Coolant, Electrics, Screen wash.

1. Fuel

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Use the correct fuel.

Check you have plenty of fuel in your tank for your journey. It may sound obvious but you’d be surprised just how many people run out of fuel, particularly in harsh winter weather.

2. Oil

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Use the correct Oil.

Check your oil level is between the minimum and maximum mark on your car’s dipstick and top up if necessary.

If you don’t know which type of oil you need to use, refer to your owner’s handbook or speak to your local dealer.

3. Rubber

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Use good quality wiper blades.

When it comes to rubber, check both your tyres and wiper blades on a regular basis.

Check your tyres for general wear and tear, splits or bulges, and crucially tread depths (remember to check the inner tread too). Minimum tread level is 1.6mm, although in winter it’s advisable to have 3mm of tyre tread to help with traction and grip.

Also ensure you’ve got the correct pressure in your tyres, checking your owner’s handbook if you don’t know the correct inflation.

Examine your wiper blades and make sure they clear your screen effectively as these won’t last forever and need replacing from time to time due to splits and cracks.

In winter, you can prevent your wiper blades freezing to the windscreen by placing a thin sheet of plastic or cloth, between the wiper blades and the windscreen. Or you can try using de-icer or warm water to free them up before starting your engine.

4. Coolant

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Use the correct coolant.

Check your car’s coolant level. The last thing you need is a frozen engine or for your car to overheat.

Although it’s a sealed system and shouldn’t need to be topped up, you should always double check, especially before a long journey.

Check your coolant levels when the engine is cold and look in your handbook for the location of the filler cap and for the correct coolant and mix to use should you need to top it up.

5. Electrics

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Make sure bulbs are fitted correctly.

There are plenty of electrics in your car – from headlights and fog lights to your battery – and they all need to be checked regularly to keep you safe.

Walk around the car and make sure your lights are all working, even the number plate lights, as you can be fined for having a registration that can’t be seen.

You should also check your battery, making sure the terminals are clean and tight (cleaning off any corrosion with hot water and applying petroleum jelly) and that the engine starts correctly.

If your engine struggles to start when you turn the key, get the battery checked out at a garage. If your battery is over four years old it may be getting to the end of its life and could let you down.

When you’re having your battery tested, ask them to check the starting & charging system and whether anything is draining your battery – this will give a better picture of your car’s overall electrical health.

If you are having your battery test ask them to check the charging system and the drain on your battery – this will give a better picture of your car’s overall electrical health.

6. Screen wash

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Use proper screen wash.

Check your screen wash level in the tank under the bonnet (check your manual for its location), topping up if necessary with a quality screen wash additive or pre-mix, which you can pick up in most petrol stations.

Screen wash is important all year round. In winter snow and grit cause dirty windscreens, while in summer bugs and pollen can easily smear your view – so never put off checking your levels

Make sure you’re prepared for a breakdown and are kept safe at the roadside.

Aside from the vital FORCES checks and if you feel confident enough it’s also worth carrying out a few additional car maintenance checks on other parts of your vehicle to extend its life and avoid a breakdown.

7. Engine air filter

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Use good quality air filters.

A faulty or clogged-up air filter could reduce your fuel efficiency and lead to reduced engine power, which is why mechanics recommend getting it replaced every 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first.

If you think your filter needs checking or replacing, simply locate the filter (usually in a black box under the bonnet) and remove it, making note of how it fits before you insert the replacement and fasten the box back shut.

Check your vehicle handbook for instructions.

8. Spark plug (petrol engines only)

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Use good quality spark pugs

More of a replacement than a check, but spark plugs are integral to the running of your engine – one or more faulty plugs will cause an engine misfire so it’s worth knowing how to replace them.

Generally, spark plugs need replacing every 30,000 miles or so and you’ll need the right tools if you want to replace them yourself. Also check your handbook or consult a dealer to check that a DIY replacement is possible.

9. Brakes

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Don’t fit cheap brakes.

It’s hard to underestimate the importance of properly-functioning brakes, so keeping them maintained is essential.

Start off by checking the brake fluid level and if low, top it up – check your vehicle handbook for the correct fluid specification Be careful as brake fluid is corrosive, and if you feel unsure then get a professional to take a look at it.

Brake fluid should be changed at certain mileage intervals – again, check your handbook for service details.

10. Air conditioning

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Whether it’s 35 degrees outside or barely breaking freezing, it’s essential your aircon unit is fully functioning. However, apart from visual checks of the pipework, there is not a lot for you to check yourself.

Air conditioning system servicing should be carried out by a competent person with the correct equipment. A typical complaint is when the air conditioning does not feel cool enough on hot summer days, this may indicate that the system requires re-gassing – specialist equipment is required and so should be entrusted to an authorised service centre.

11. Interiors

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No-one wants their car to be known as a “skip-on-wheels”, so keep things clean with a regular interior clean, clearing out your footwells, wiping down your dashboard and keeping only the essentials in your boot.

It’s not just about being a neat freak, a clean interior also keeps you safe on the roads – you don’t want any discarded bottles dangerously rolling underneath your pedals.

12. Exteriors

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Keep the outside of your car clean with a regular wash. If you’re doing it by hand, focus on the headlights, brake lights and number plates as these help you see and be seen on the roads.

Keep all windows clean and clear at all times. As well as being unsafe, an unclean windscreen that limits your view of the road could see you fined for driving a car in a “dangerous condition.”

Should I take my car to a garage?

If you carry out these simple car checks, your car should stay on the road without seeing a mechanic for longer, but if a more serious problem arises you should always seek professional help.

Aarons Autos car service garage.

Your friendly car garage in Derby

Give us a call at Aarons Autos for more info.

Renault TWIZY Gear Oil and Brake Fluid Change.

The Renault TWIZY is a 100% electric vehicle, consisting of a battery power source, electric motor and gearbox. It is an urban electric two-seater that is super fun to drive on warm sunny days.

This particular TWIZY came in for a few service items to be carried out to keep it in tiptop condition ready for our UK summer.

First job was the ‘Gearbox oil change’ but as the TWIZY is to small to fit on our ramps we had to carry this out on the floor using jacks and axel stands.

The Renault TWIZY’s gear box can get noisy over time due to the additives in the oil failing due to age and heat so it is advised as a service item to have it changed.

The little Renault TWIZY getting a gear oil change.
  • Once the TWIZY is safely up on the axel stands remove the under tray which will allow you ta see the gearbox.
  • Remove the 6mm allen key drain bung from the bottom of the gearbox and allow the oil to drain into a catch bowl, the drain bung has a small magnet on it which is designed to catch any small metallic filings from inside the gearbox, make sure you check for this and clean it before replacement.
  • Once the oil has completely drained refit the drain bung making sure to use a new sealing washer.
  • To refill the gearbox remove the 6mm allen key fill bung located above the drain bung (looks more like a bolt).
  • Fill the gearbox using either a fluid pump or gravity bottle, as the fill hole is very small it can take a while to get the oil in.
  • Refit the under tray, remove axel stands and carry out a road test.

Brake Fluid Change.

The second job on this little TWIZY was to carry out a full brake fluid flush, which consists of sucking the brake fluid through all four brake callipers until all the old fluid in the system is replaced with new fluid.

The reason for brake fluid changes is that brake fluid has hygroscopic properties which basically means it absorbs moisture from the air.

Brake fluid can reach some very high temperatures under heavy braking but it has a boiling point of around 250 degrees Celsius. As the Brake fluid starts to absorb moisture from the air this boiling point starts to get lower until eventually it becomes so low that even under normal braking the fluid will start to boil and cause brake fade.

This being said a lot of garages use ‘Brake Fluid Changes’ as a regular add on to a Service. We however carry out a moisture content test as part of our Service and only replace it when it is required, unless it is stated for warranty purposes of course.

Aarons Autos car service garage.

Your friendly car garage in Derby

Give us a call at Aarons Autos for more info.