How do I know if my car is safe to drive?
Checking your car is safe to drive is absolutely crucial. If your car is in a dangerous condition, you may gain 3 points on your licence and be given a fine of up to £2,500.
Before you set off on any journey, there are three simple things you must check to ensure that your car is safe. First, make sure the windscreen, mirrors, and windows are all clean and that you can see clearly. Secondly, check that all your lights are working so that you’ll be able to see in the dark. Thirdly, check that both your hand and footbrakes are fully functioning.
There are more checks that you should carry out regularly, but not every time you drive. Your vehicle handbook will clarify how often you need to check the following steps, but we recommend that you check them every few weeks.
Having a tyre tread depth of 1.6mm is a legal requirement. Tread depth is the depth of the grooves on the tyres that have contact with the road. Driving with a tread depth lower than this can make your car lose its vital grip on the road which will in turn decrease your braking speed. If stopped by the police, it can result in a fine of up to £2,500 and 3 penalty points per tyre. You can check your tyres’ tread depth by using a 20p coin and inserting it into the tyre groove. If the outer band of the 20p coin is obstructed when in the groove, then you’re above the legal limit. If your tyres’ tread depth is less than the legal limit, then you will need to replace your tyres by going to your local mechanic.
Before you dive in and open the bonnet of the car, check your vehicle handbook. Some newer cars have changed from the manual dipstick check to an electronic oil monitor. But if your car requires you to manually check its oil levels, make sure you’re parked on flat ground; otherwise, you’ll get a false reading. Then, with the car’s ignition switched off, open the bonnet and look for the oil dipstick – it normally has a brightly coloured hoop on the top to help you identify it. Once you’ve found this, pull it out and wipe away any excess oil on it with a tissue. Replace the dipstick into the tube and pull it out again. Next, check where the oil line is in relation to the oil level indicators (it will specify what these are in the vehicle handbook). If the oil is between the two indicators, then you’re good to go. If the oil level is close to or below the minimum indicator, then you’ll need to add oil to the car.
While you have your bonnet open to check the engine oil, you can also check the windscreen washer fluid. The position of the washer bottle will vary depending on the vehicle, but its location will be in your vehicle handbook. Once you’ve found it, fill up the washer bottle with screen washer fluid. Refit the bottle top and you’re good to go!
Don’t put your bonnet down just yet, as you’ll need to check your engine coolant. This helps the engine to stay cool while driving, and prevents it from overheating and potentially causing a serious hazard. However, most newer cars will have a sealed cooling system and won’t need topping up; but even these vehicles should still be checked regularly for leaks. To check, simply inspect the coolant level in the tank by identifying whether it’s between the minimum and maximum indicators. If it’s below the minimum required level, it will need topping up with anti-freeze solution and water. Follow the instructions on the bottle of anti-freeze as to what ratio of solution to water you should add.
The check for brake fluid is very simple. Once you have located the reservoir, after checking the vehicle handbook, look to see if the fluid is between the minimum and maximum level indicators, and that it is a light brown colour. If it is below the minimum required level or is not a light brown colour, then the vehicle needs to be taken to a mechanic to get this fixed; you should never try and fill the reservoir up yourself.
Lastly, it’s time to check your battery. To do this, you will need a voltmeter. If you don’t have one, you can get free checks at most retail autocentres. If you do have a voltmeter, then you can check the battery yourself. First, remove the battery’s positive terminal cover and connect the positive lead of the voltmeter (it’s usually red). Next, attach the negative voltmeter lead to the negative battery terminal. Finally, check that the voltmeter presents a voltage of between 12.4 and 12.7; anything lower than this means your battery needs to be charged. Higher than 12.9V and you’ll need to drain the battery a little – this can be done by turning on your high beams.
After that, you’re all done and ready to safely drive your car. Enjoy the ride!