Car Care Tips

Air filter
Air filters are inexpensive, but when they get dirty they can reduce your fuel economy by an appreciable amount, and result in a fine for failing a roadside emissions test. Dirty air filters should be replaced or cleaned as soon as possible. It's an easy job to do but check the handbook if you are unsure, or alternatively take it to a garage.

Most batteries have "maintenance free" stamped on them, and you won't ever have to check the electrolyte level. If your battery is not "maintenance free", you should unscrew the plastic caps and check the level of the liquid inside (electrolyte). If it is low, top it up with distilled water, not tap water. You should also check the condition of the terminals. If they are corroded, take off the wires (negative off first and back on last), clean up with a wire brush and grease with Vaseline or normal grease to prevent corrosion returning. Remember, batteries contain strong acid and you must always be cautious when checking and removing them.

For your own safety, it is important to check your brake pads or shoes. These components are made from a heat-resistant friction material, which deteriorates due to being clamped against the disc or pushed against the drum when the brakes are applied. Also check for fluid leaks caused by damaged brake hoses or worn seals which could result in brake failure. A telltale sign that your brake pads are wearing unevenly is that your car will have a tendency to pull to one side when you brake, and you should get them checked.

On a hydraulic clutch, fluid ensures the clutch operates smoothly and helps prevent wear and tear. If you feel that under acceleration, the engine revs build up faster than the car is actually accelerating, it may mean your clutch is wearing out. If this happens, get it checked as soon as possible - worn clutches eventually fail which means you will not be able to change gear. So it pays to check your clutch fluid level and ensure it is replaced as recommended by the vehicle handbook. This will help to keep costs down and your car running safely.

The best way to keep the running cost of your car minimal is to maintain your car effectively. Cars do not look after themselves and parts do wear out due to the extreme conditions and pressures they operate within. However, if you carry out regular checks on your car, you can extend the life of certain parts and ensure your car runs reliably. Always ensure you have your car serviced as recommended in the drivers manual. Failure to do so may lead to excessive wear on your vehicle, leading to breakdowns and expensive repairs. Failing to have your car serviced may also mean that parts critical to safety are not checked, which can be dangerous.

Fan belt
If your fan belt starts slipping (you will definitely know when you hear the squeal!), it may not be tensioned properly. At best this could result in your battery going flat through not being recharged, and at worst, it could fail to operate your cooling fan, resulting in serious and expensive damage due to the engine overheating.

It may sound obvious, but make sure you have enough fuel before you start a journey. "Breakdowns" caused by people forgetting to do this are surprisingly common. As for the grade of petrol - super unleaded is usually a waste of money and won't improve performance or engine longevity. Normal unleaded petrol will do just fine.

If you do notice any leaks, get them checked immediately. With so many different systems in a modern car relying on specialist liquids or lubricants to run properly, it's better to be safe than sorry.

You should check all your lights and bulbs regularly. As they can sometimes fail in combinations, it's best to ask someone to look at the front and rear while you test them. Check your brake lights and indicators with the headlights on and off, as sometimes a bad earth can cause a fault if both lights are on together. Note: it is illegal to drive with failed or malfunctioning lights. Sometimes you may be dazzled by on coming vehicles at night that appear to be on main beam. Often they are not, it's just the alignment that's incorrect. Make sure yours are adjusted correctly, dazzling headlamps can cause accidents.

Few people realise how important it is to carry spare bulbs, until one fails during a long journey. Fewer still realise that it is compulsory on mainland Europe to carry a complete emergency bulb kit. These are easily bought, stowed in the car and replaced - a small price to pay for peace of mind. Consult the handbook if you are having problems. If the light or lights still do not work after the bulb has been replaced, there may be a fuse fault. Look in the fuse box and find the appropriate fuse; replace it if necessary.

It's important that your engine is protected by the right amount of oil - too little or too much can cause extensive damage. Check the oil level when the engine is cold, if you check it after the engine has been turning over, the oil may be deposited higher up on the dip stick and give a false reading. Changing your oil regularly removes the harmful dirt and contaminants that cause engine wear, so sticking rigidly to service intervals will prolong the life of major engine components. To ensure the oil remains in good condition, you should also change the oil filter. Some argue it is not quite so important on older higher mileage "bangers", but an annual oil and filter change using branded oil can help. Turbocharged and high-performance cars will benefit from an intermediate oil change at around 4,000 miles using high-grade synthetic oil.