The essential car maintenance checklist
Make sure your car is safe to drive with these regular car checks.
Keeping on top of your car maintenance may seem like a drag, but it will save you money and time in the long run. Your regular car safety checks are really important, but it’s all too easy to forget.
We’re not talking about checking on those yellow flowers in your Mum’s garden. The FLOWER check is a car maintenance checklist to help you remember all the things you need to look at to make sure your car is good to go.
Check how much fuel you’ve got every time you get behind the wheel. Listen, we’ve all been there. You’re mid journey, you glance over at your dashboard and your fuel warning lights on. Then it’s a mad dash to the nearest petrol station. Avoid that panic and check your fuel before you set off.
When the fuel light comes on how much is left?
Generally, your fuel warning light will turn on when there’s around 10% fuel left. This means you’ve probably got around 30 to 50 miles left in the tank. It’s different for every car, but should be enough to get you to the nearest petrol station!
It’s a good idea to check your lights at least once a fortnight as part of your car maintenance. Here’s a checklist to make sure you don’t forget any:
- Side lights
- Fog lights
- Brake lights
- Rear lights
- Tail lights
- Number plates
How to check lights on a car?
It makes it a heck of a lot easier to do this if you’ve got a mate who can help out. Ask someone to do a walk round of your car while you turn on each light one by one. If no ones around, try and park near somewhere reflective like a window so you can check your rear lights. Or you can drive and reverse up close to a wall to check your front and rear lights.
Incorrect oil levels can damage your car so it’s a good idea to check your oil levels at least once a month.
How to check your engine oil?
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 you need to manually check engine oil levels, here’s how:
- Make sure you’re parked on flat ground; otherwise, you’ll get a false reading.
- 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.
- 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.
- Check where the oil line is in relation to the oil level indicators (it will tell you 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.
When we say ‘water’, we’re talking about checking all the liquids in your car. That includes engine coolant (antifreeze), brake fluid and washer fluid.
How to check engine coolant?
Engine coolant, surprise surprise, helps the engine to stay cool while you’re driving. Most newer cars will have a sealed cooling system and won’t need topping up; but even these engines should still be checked regularly for leaks.
Engine coolant is pretty simple to check. Just look at the coolant level in the tank and see if 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 to make sure you use the right ratio of solution to water.
How to check brake fluid?
- Find the ‘brake master cylinder reservoir’…sounds like something from a sci-fi movie, but it’s basically just a plastic canister with a lid on that holds your brake fluid. It’s usually up near the firewall, but you can check your manual if you’re having trouble finding it.
- The reservoir will have a clear ‘full’ line or minimum and maximum level indicators. If it’s not near the ‘full line’ your bake fluid will need to be topped up. Brake fluid is toxic so always go to a mechanic to get it topped up.
- Brake fluid should be a light brown colour. If it’s a dark colour it will need to be replaced by a mechanic.
Where do I put windscreen wash in my car?
Your windscreen washer bottle is located under the car bonnet. The position of the washer bottle will vary depending on your car, but you’ll be able to spot it because the cap will have a symbol with a windscreen and water droplets on it. If you’re struggling, check your car handbook.
You can pick up screen wash for around a fiver from most garages and supermarkets. It’s a good idea to pick up anti-freeze screen wash in winter to avoid it freezing over. Check out our full article on driving in winter to prepare your car for the cold months.
To fill up your windscreen wash, take the cap of the washer bottle and pour in your screen wash, just make sure you don’t go over the full line. Then screw the cap back on and Bob’s your uncle.
All cars need a battery to run. Battery problems are one of the main causes of breakdowns so you’ll want to keep your car battery healthy. Sidenote…if you do ever find yourself in a jam, here’s what to do if you break down on the motorway.
How to check your car battery?
To be honest, this may be a good one to handover to the professionals. You can get free checks at most retail autocentres.
But if you have a voltmeter handy and want to get stuck in, this is how you check the battery yourself:
- First, check your car manual because this will give you guidance for your specific car.
- Remove the battery’s positive terminal cover and connect the positive lead of the voltmeter (it’s usually red).
- Attach the negative voltmeter lead to the negative battery terminal.
- 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.
How long do car batteries last?
Car batteries last for 3 to 5 years. Most modern cars will have a ‘check engine’ warning light on the dashboard to let you know when your car battery is low. Or if your engine is taking longer to start than usual it may be a sign that it’s time for a new battery.
How to keep your car battery from dying?
Car batteries naturally lose some of their charge overtime. But the less you drive, the more likely your battery will go flat. So lockdown is bad news for your car battery. But there are some things you can do to help:
- Start the engine once a week and allow it to run for 15 minutes
- Take your car out for a drive on essential journeys
- Depress the clutch when you start the engine to help ease the strain
The final check is for ‘rubber’. That’s right, we’re talking about tyres. It’s a legal requirement to have tread depth of 1.6mm. Tread depth is the depth of the grooves on the tyres that have contact with the road. It’s important for grip, particularly when you’re driving in winter.
How to check your tyre tread depth?
- Put a 20p into the tread grooves on the tyre
- If you can’t see the outer band of the coin, your tyres are above the legal limit
- If the outer band is visible, they may not be safe and you’ll need to head to your local mechanic
What if your car fails your car maintenance checklist?
If you’re worried about the safety of your car, we’d suggest taking your car into the garage to get looked at by a mechanic. Sometimes it’s best to just leave it to the pros.
If you need to borrow a friend’s car while yours is in the garage, check out our temporary car insurance. We offer short-term insurance from 1 hour to 30 days and can get you on the road in minutes.