How to Make Regular Car Checks


In factories they have checklists that must be run through before a piece of machinery is started. Most would agree this is a sensible precaution to prevent damage to the machinery and injury to staff, yet few of us think of a car in the same way. But a car operates in a far more hostile environment than most factory machinery. It is subject to the often severe forces of speed, braking and cornering. It is battered by weather and debris from the road. Parts of it are asked to run at high temperatures while being doused in icy puddles. And while all this happens, you and your passengers, expect it to safely transport you hundreds of miles.

Walk around

Breakdown organizations say many call-outs could be avoided by the driver making simple visual checks on the car and its systems. For example, if, before you set out, you spot that one of your tyres is flatter than the others, then you’ll avoid having to change a wheel on the motorway, yet most of us just get straight in and drive off.

Regular Car Checks How to Make Regular Car Checks

The most basic check is what pilots call a walk around – a simple visual examination of the vehicle that can be done each time you return to it. It is especially wise if the car is parked on a street where it might be subject to vandalism or knocks from passing vehicles. You are looking for body damage, cracked lights, flat tyres, loose trim, foreign objects in or near tyres and even the neighbour’s cat laying on a wheel.

It also pays to check things as you drive. Look for warning lights, listen for odd noises, be aware of how the car feels and be observant. The noise of an indicator clicker going faster than normal suggests a bulb has gone. The car pulling to one side on the way home when it was fine on the way to work could indicate a slow puncture and the reflection of your lights in other vehicles or shop windows can show you if they are all working.

Check session

But you must also have a regular check session when you give everything proper attention and top up anything that needs it. Your handbook explains where everything is and what the various identification and warning symbols around the engine mean.

How often?

The advice with modern cars is that a once a month check is usually enough. However, if you do more than 1,000 miles a month or have an older car, you should do it more often. Also if you have driven or are about to drive in adverse conditions, plan to carry a heavier than normal load or to go on a long journey, then a special round of checks is worthwhile.

When you get a new car, make the checks about once every two weeks for the first couple of months to get to know the quirks of the car. With your old car you knew it never needed oil between services and a washer bottle fill up normally lasted a month, but you do not know that with your new one. Also, brand new cars often need to settle in, so the tyres may lose pressure a little quicker than normal and the engine may use a little more oil as components bed in.

Equipment

You do not need anything high tech. You need the following:

  • tyre pressure gauge
  • air pump
  • tread depth gauge
  • washer fluid
  • combined window scraper and squeegee
  • WD40 or similar lubricant spray
  • kitchen towel
  • hand cleaner
  • latex gloves for sensitive skin

Regular Car Checks 1 How to Make Regular Car Checks

Tyre equipment

A tyre pressure gauge is essential. Cheap ones can be a false economy, soon becoming inaccurate, and if your car has a space saver spare wheel on which the tyre pressure is high, a cheap gauge may not read high enough. Digital ones are easier to use but make sure they can be switched between imperial pounds per square inch (psi) and metric bar because some car handbooks only give one measurement. An electric air pump that plugs into a cigarette lighter socket is a lot easier than a foot pump and means you do not have to traipse off to the garage to use an air line for a few psi. A tyre tread depth gauge is better than guessing whether you have enough tread, though you don’t need to use it every month.

Glass

Invest in windscreen washer fluid. Plain water will not cut through greasy road grime, tends to smear and freezes more easily. Washing up liquid foams up too much and is often high in salt, which is bad for the bodywork. Similarly, never use coolant anti-freeze in the washer bottle because it damages the wipers and paintwork.

Washer fluid is cheaper to buy in five-litre containers and it is easier to use if you have a separate container in which to mix the correct amounts ready for use – that also saves time when you realise the washer bottle has run out just as you’re off to work.

A window scraper with a foam piece on one side and squeegee on the other makes cleaning the windows easier.

Lubrication

A can of WD40 or similar spray lubricant is also a car owner’s essential. It stops door hinges graunching, prevents locks icing, protects electrical contacts from corrosion and can repel water from ignition cables.

Regular Car Checks 2 How to Make Regular Car Checks

Cleaning up

You’ll need a few sheets of kitchen towel for wiping dipsticks and cleaning things off. If you have sensitive skin it may be sensible to wear thin latex gloves because many fluids in cars, including engine oil, trigger allergic reactions. Get some hand cleaner formulated for grease and oil because ordinary soap or household detergents can’t remove it completely.

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