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Basic car maintenance checks during the lockdown

Car maintenance

The coronavirus lockdown has left many people with time on their hands, while cars are parked up for longer than usual.

You could do a lot worse than to use to time to carry out some essential car maintenance because failing to look after your car can be a major hazard to both yourself and other road users – not to mention it could cost you a hefty fine.

Automotive experts Euro Car Parts, the UK’s number one supplier of car parts, have provided some useful tips on how to tell whether key components need changing, to help prolong the lifespan of your car, avoid huge fines, and keep you safe.

Wiper blades

The sound of squeaky windscreen wipers is more than just an annoying soundtrack to driving in the rain, it means your wiper blades need replacing. When the blades aren’t making full contact with the windscreen, they will often squeak, chatter or skip, and may smear or streak the rain instead of wiping away the water, reducing visibility.

Wiper blades should last for six months to a year, but if you start to notice your blades behaving badly, it’s probably best to get them replaced.

Engine oil

As an engine burns fuel, it degrades the oil within it. Regularly changing the oil helps to remove harmful contaminates and replenishes the additives, which help keep your car’s moving parts clean and free from rust and corrosion. All of this helps to prolong the lifespan of your car.

You’ll probably remember being asked to identify the dipstick on your driving test. This is the best way to identify your engine oil levels. Oil changes are recommended at roughly 3,000 miles, or every three months, but you may need to change them sooner depending on a number of factors.

Driving conditions that can result in an increased strain on the engine and therefore requiring more oil changes include frequent stop-start driving and driving in hot weather.

You can change the oil yourself, however you’ll require a good quality filter and it’s vital to follow the manufacturers’ recommendations for oil viscosity as getting this wrong can result in engine damage and poor performance. Garages can sort this quickly and fairly cheaply.

Battery

The battery is one of the most important parts of a car, without it the car simply will not run. They last for around five to seven years but can last as long as 10. Generally, if you drive regularly and don’t leave your car parked for long periods of time, it will live longer.

Over time the battery will lose its ability to hold charge and you’ll see the effects of this. You might notice that your engine is taking longer to turn over when you turn the ignition, or that the dashboard lights flicker when you start the engine.

A handy test is to check your electric windows. If they are slower when the engine is off than when it’s on, that’s a sign your battery is losing charge.

The final straw, and the biggest sign that you need to replace your battery, is when your car will no longer start and you need to be boosted to get it going! Hopefully before this point, visit a garage that can fit a replacement.

There are various ways to preserve your battery, such as a lengthy journey every week, buying a battery charger, and making sure your electronics are off on when the car isn’t running as that’s sure to drain its life.

Lights

Obviously, if any of your lights stop working they need to be changed, but it’s a good idea to replace them before they go completely, as driving with a missing headlight is dangerous and can result in getting pulled over the by police and being handed a fine.

Once a headlight or brake light starts to fade it’s worth replacing. Remember to replace both lights at the same time. Generally, once one goes, the other isn’t far behind.

If you’re driving an older car using halogen lights, it may be worthwhile upgrading to LED or xenon bulbs. These bulbs have a longer lifespan and provide much better visibility.

While you may think the best way of getting into your headlights is from the front of your car, almost all headlights are accessed from the back, so start by opening the bonnet before sussing out the best approach to take. Once you’ve located the bulb, remove it by either unscrewing it, or simply unclipping it from its plastic fitting and then insert your new bulb.

Tyres

It goes without saying that it’s important to keep an eye on your tyres. Driving with tyres that don’t meet the legal requirements can pose a huge risk to yourself and other road users. Need some extra motivation to check your tyres? Getting caught driving with tyres below the legal limit can cost you three penalty points on your license and a fine of £2,500 per tyre! If you were in an accident and were driving on illegal tyres, your insurance will also be invalidated.

Legally your tyres must have a minimum of 1.6mm of tread across the central three-quarters of the tyre. A good way to check this is the 20p test. Simply put a 20p coin in the tread of the tyre, if you can see the outer band of the coin, it means you’re below the limit. If the band is hidden, you’re safe.

It must be stressed that 1.6mm is the absolute minimum and it’s advised to replace tyres once they’re down to 3mm of tread as research has shown a significant improvement in braking distance.

It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on the pressure and health of the tyre. Your car manual will tell you the ideal tyre pressure. Check regularly and before long journeys.

What’s more, if your tyre is bulging, losing pressure consistently, or you can see the canvas underneath the rubber, you need to get the tyre replaced. Get in touch with your local garage or you can also find quality used tyre shops, to save some money.

About Gareth Herincx

Gareth is a versatile journalist, copywriter and digital editor who's worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online. After long stints at the BBC, GMTV and ITV, he now specialises in motoring.

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