Car Care Tips

Breakdowns happen to other people – never me. We all believe this – until it happens, and then you can guarantee that it will be at the most awkward, inopportune moment. You’ll be on the way to a job interview, first date or with small children in the back of the car asking “are we there yet?”.

Not only are breakdowns inconvenient, if you don’t have breakdown cover arranged then it could also turn into a very costly experience. To be on the safe side take a look at all the breakdown policies reviewed here on

It’s not all doom and gloom, the good news is that most breakdowns are entirely avoidable and there are several simple steps that you can take to protect against this most frustrating of events. Below we have compiled some useful tips on how to maintain your car so that you avoid breaking down.

Maintaining Your Vehicle

When you purchase a car you are taking on the responsibility of maintaining that car. Vehicle maintenance is important as it ensures your vehicle is safe to be used on the road and is an important step for you to take if you want to avoid being involved in an accident.

You should make sure you service and MOT your car on time so that your car is in good working condition. However, in between services you should also check the system of your car, below you will find more information and tips on how to maintain your vehicle in between services:

Maintenance: Tyres

Tyre care

Checking the pressure and tread of your tyres is vitally important. Tyres which are under-inflated, even by the slightest degree, can overheat, whilst over-inflated tyres can lead to similarly damaging problems on the road. Before taking any action, you should have a close look at your vehicle handbook to find out the specific recommended tyre pressure for your car (take into account any large items which are currently being carried in your vehicle since this will affect the pressure levels). After finding out the ideal pressure, check it with a tyre pressure gauge. This should be done when the tyres are completely cold. If necessary, inflate the tyres to the recommended level, making sure that you are using a low pressure.

If you fail to take notice of the tread of your tyres, you could run into trouble with the law. The minimum depth of tread on your tyres should always be 1.6 millimetres. This tread must be maintained throughout the tyre’s circumference in the central three-quarters of the tyre. If you fail to maintain this tread, you could pick up three penalty points and a large fine. In fact, you will be fined for each tyre which breaks the law.

Some people do not have access to wear indicators but this is not a real issue. You can use a twenty pence coin to test the tread. Simply position the coin in the tread and ensure that the edge of the coin is completely covered.

Maintenance: Brakes

During an MOT, your brakes will undergo vigorous tests. Their condition and performance will be taken into account, as will their efficiency. If you do not test your brakes, you could end up suffering from a complete braking system failure, which could lead to serious injury or death on the road. To protect the efficiency of the braking system, the optimum friction pad depth must be maintained and this can be done by regularly changing your brake pads. You can check your brake pads by peering through the openings on the exterior of the wheel assembly. Make sure that you view the pad from above and assess the depth visually. If it is under a quarter of an inch, think about taking action in the near future. Screeching sounds when you apply the brakes will also alert to the fact that you need to change the pads.

If your brakes do not feel sensitive when pressure is applied on the braking pedal, take your car to the local garage. You may think that your brake pedal is functioning successfully but we all notice the difference in sensitivity when our car returns from a service.

With regards to checking the brake discs, you will need to have a close look at the visible disc. This disc should be shiny all over and there should not be any irregular patches. Faint lines are not really an issue, since they only indicate minor wear. However, any seriously irregular patches or deep grooves indicate that action needs to be taken, and quickly. Remember that if you need to get your discs replaced, you should always get them replaced in pairs.

Maintenance: Lights

During an MOT, your lights will be thoroughly checked for their general condition, performance, and the colour will also be checked. The aim of the headlamps will also be monitored in order to make sure it obeys legal requirements. If you do not check your lights, you could be putting yourself at risk during the hours of darkness or in conditions which result in poor visibility. Poorly functioning lights could also endanger the lives of others on the road. If your lights are not in good condition, you may be pulled over by the police whilst driving: the last thing anyone wants, particularly on the way to the airport.

To check the condition of your indicator lights, switch on the ignition, apply the hazard lights and then visually check the indicators. The indicators should flash between thirty and ninety times per minute. With regards to the brake lights, simply press down on the brake pedal and either take advantage of reflections in windows, or enlist the help of a friend to check the performance of these lights. No other lights should be visible at the same time as the brake lights, even dim glows. At the same time as this, put your car into reverse and check that the reverse light is working properly.

To check the headlights and tail lights, turn on the ignition and switch the lights on. Walk around the car and perform simple visual checks on these lights. The headlights should be equally bright and the beams should point towards the left and slightly down. At the same time, check the main beam by switching it on and off. To check your fog lights, stay in the vehicle and operate the relevant switch. Make sure that the warning light comes on at the correct time.

You should also make sure that the exterior light covers are not cracked or showing any signs of weakness.

Maintenance: Windscreen

An MOT will check the condition of your windscreen and will also assess the driver’s visibility. Chips or cracks, even minor ones, will lead to the vehicle failing the MOT. The wipers and washers will also be checked for their condition and performance.

If you suffer a chip on the windscreen and do not get it repaired quickly, it could result in a large crack. If this happens on the motorway when you are travelling to the airport at high speeds, your safety and the safety of other road-users could be seriously compromised. Damage to the windscreen of any kind can also impact upon the performance of your airbags.

Autoglass and the AA windscreen & glass repairs service specialise in fixing cracked or chipped windscreens. When you see a chip in your windscreen you should call Autoglass or the AA straight away. They will come at a time and place that suits you to avoid inconvenience. Quite often, both companies will repair your windscreen for free if it is covered under your insurance so you do not need to worry about paying for repairs. They will also deal with your insurance company directly so you don’t have to. However, never leave it too late for a windscreen repair as if your chip turns into a crack you will need a whole new windscreen and new windscreens are not free.

If your washers and wipers are not working effectively, you could be putting yourself in serious danger if the weather turns bad suddenly or you need to remove something from your windscreen in a hurry. You should therefore check the condition of your wipers on a regular basis. Make sure there are no cracks or sections which may split, and replace them if you suspect even the slightest bit of damage. Always make sure that your washer container is topped up to the relevant level. If your container is a bottle, open the top and make sure it is full. Many washer containers do not have the bottle part visible. In these instances, you will need to lift the cap out and check the tube for the current fluid level.

Maintenance: Oil

Put simply, oil is the equivalent of blood to the engine of your car as it is essential in keeping the engine running. If you run low on oil, friction in the engine will increase and overheating and serious breakdowns can occur within a short space of time. You should check your oil levels frequently and, thankfully, this process could not be easier. Simply use the dipstick and make sure oil levels never drop below the minimum mark. Many dipsticks have two lines and the area in the middle of the space in-between these lines represents the optimum oil levels. Ensure that your car is parked on a level surface when performing this check and try to make sure that the engine is relatively warm (but not too hot).

Bear in mind when topping up your oil that putting too much in can also cause damage to your car. High pressure can develop from too much oil, and damaging leaks can also occur, leading to serious engine wear.

Maintenance: Water

Having low water levels in your car battery can cause severe problems. Fortunately, checking water levels in the battery is simple. Open up your bonnet and remove the battery cap. There should be a vent cap, which can be removed, at the top of the battery. If water levels look as though they are running low, even by the slightest amount, simply add distilled water (never use tap water) to the battery. The water level should reach the cell inspection hole. Make sure that you do not overfill the battery, since this could cause problems with the battery acid.

Maintenance: Car Battery

Flat batteries can cause travellers nightmares. There’s perhaps only one thing worse than the car breaking down on the way to the airport and that’s being stuck in the car whilst it is still on the drive as you repeatedly try and fail to turn the engine on. To protect against flat batteries, take your vehicle on a relatively long journey at least once every week. Alternatively, charge your battery overnight once every two weeks to protect against frustrating situations.

To check the voltage of your battery, use a voltmeter. These can be purchased from large hardware stores. The voltmeter should be getting readings of 12 volts or more.

You should also be aware of problems with your alternator. Poorly functioning alternators could stop your battery from charging properly. There are tell-tale signs to look out for which point to alternator problems, including flickering battery warning lights on the dashboard and slow moving windscreen wipers.

Maintenance: Engine Coolant

Cooling systems are extremely important, and, if they are not functioning properly, overheating can lead to breakdowns within a very short space of time. With regards to the cooling system, there are several things which need to be checked on a regular basis. Firstly, you should check the thermostat. Turn the engine on and touch the upper radiator hose. If the hose fails to warm up, it means that the thermostat is not opening properly. Alternatively, you could remove the thermostat and place it in boiling water, at which point, it should open.

Secondly, make sure that your radiator coolant levels are sufficient. Wait until your car engine is cold and open the radiator cap very carefully. Check the fluid level, which should ideally reach the top of the radiator. Make sure you replace the cap properly after this check and also check this area of the cooling system for leaks or cracks.

Finally, old or leaking hoses can cause overheating and serious damage to your car. Once again, wait until the engine is cold and squeeze the upper and lower hoses with your fingers. If they feel at all brittle, or show any cracks or general wear and tear, they will need to be replaced as soon as possible. After this, check the clamps, which will be located at both ends of the hoses. If there is any dampness at all, tighten the clamps, or simply replace them at the local garage.

Maintenance: Clutch

It is important to check the fluid levels in your clutch reservoir. Cars with hydraulic clutches can be checked in the following way. Check the fluid level in the clutch reservoir by removing the cap and ensuring that the fluid level is towards the top. If it is not, simply add more brake fluid.

Make sure the cap is screwed back on tightly after the check. If you find that the fluid level is low on a regular basis, check your car into a garage and ask them to look for a leak, which may be causing this problem. If leaks and fluid levels are left unchecked, the clutch pedal can be rendered completely useless.

Maintenance: Steering

To keep your steering system running smoothly, you will need to check the power steering fluid levels. This fluid is located in a reservoir near the power steering belt. These reservoirs are often transparent, so fluid levels can be easily checked visually. However, others have dipsticks which can be used. If the levels are running low, top up the fluid using a funnel. If levels are low on a regular basis, ask a mechanic to check for leaks.

If you leave this problem unchecked, you could experience problems with steering, which can potentially put you in very dangerous situations whilst on the road, as the vehicle is placed beyond your control.

Maintenance: Petrol, Diesel or Premium Fuels

To pass an MOT, your car will need to have a secure fuel cap. If you notice any leaks or think that your fuel cap is not fitting properly, check your car in to the local garage. Running out of fuel on the way to the airport is a mistake which is sadly all too easy to make. It is easy not to keep an eye on your fuel gauge and, before you know it, the warning light has come on and there may not be a petrol station nearby. This can be a particularly serious problem whilst travelling on the motorway if you don’t know where the next services are.

Never let your petrol levels run low and never rely upon your fuel gauge to alert you in time, since the warning light can sometimes come on too late. It’s vital never to let a diesel vehicle run dry either, as it will cause permanent damage to the engine.


The term “misfuelling” is used to refer to the situation when the wrong fuel is put into a vehicle. According to the AA, over 150,000 drivers fill up their vehicle with the wrong fuel each year. It is an easy mistake to make if you are driving a car you are unfamiliar with. The majority of drivers who make the mistake do so while driving a friend or family member’s car, driving a new car, driving a hire car or driving a work pool car. It is easy for your mind to go into auto-pilot in these circumstance and automatically fill your car up with the fuel you are used to using.

Filling up your car with the wrong fuel will result in your car breaking down and you may need to pay thousands to replace some parts in your car. Therefore, you should always try to pay attention and double check you know which fuel to use in your vehicle every time you fill up. To help you remember, you can buy FuelSure Diesel Fuel caps that make it almost impossible to fill up your car with the wrong fuel. Visit Halfords to find a FuelSure Diesel Fuel cap for your car.

There is not a specific fuel cap you can buy to prevent you putting diesel in a petrol tank because it is actually quite difficult to put diesel into a petrol car. This is because the standard diesel nozzle is bigger than the filler neck on modern petrol cars. Therefore it is more common for petrol to be put into a diesel car than the other way around.

What to do if you’ve mis-fuelled:

If you realise you have filled the car up with the wrong fuel, do not turn on your ignition or start the engine. This is extremely important because as you turn on the vehicle the fuel will circulate in the tank and cause damage to your engine. Therefore, if your realise you have misfuelled you should put your car into neutral and push your car to a safe location.

You should then call AA Fuel Assist. They will travel to your location then drain and flush the fuel out of the vehicle’s system. They will also provide you with enough fresh fuel so you can move on with your journey – find out more

Obviously, quite often people fill up their car with the wrong fuel without realising until they are driving down the road and the performance of the car is affected, if it moves at all. As soon as you realise you have filled up your car with the wrong fuel, stop the car safely, turn off your engine and call AA Fuel Assist on 0870 240 3985 for advice on what to do or contact your local garage if you are not an AA member.

Petrol fuel in a diesel acts like a solvent, reducing lubrication processes in the engine. Because of this, putting petrol in a diesel can cause considerable damage to the fuel pump and other parts in the engine. A small amount of petrol in a diesel car should not do too much damage to the engine as long as it is less than 5 litres of petrol. In this scenario you should top up with diesel and continue as usual unless advised not to by the car manufacturer.

More than 5 litres of petrol in a diesel tank will need professional assistance. You will either need your car drained and the parts cleaned or you may need parts replaced if you have driven with the wrong fuel in your car.

If you end up needing parts replaced it can cost thousands to repair. However, if you do not turn on the engine then you will only need the tank drained and refilled with the correct fuel which will cost hundreds and could save you having to make a claim on your insurance.

As previously mentioned, putting diesel in a petrol tank is less common than putting petrol in a diesel because the diesel nozzle at fuel stations is bigger than the filler neck for petrol cars.

However, we all have our moments and this situation can still happen. If more than 5 litres of diesel is added to a petrol car, the diesel will not ignite the spark plug like petrol would and the car will not move. The car will then need to be drained and the fuel replaced.

If less than 5 litres of diesel is added to a petrol car, dilute it with petrol and the car should be okay although the exhaust may be a bit smokey.

Diesel in a petrol tank is less damaging than petrol in a diesel tank.

Claiming on your insurance

If you put the wrong fuel in your tank and then start the engine, you will probably have to take your car to a garage. If you are lucky, the garage will only need to drain the tank, clean the hoses and remove the fuel from the pumps. However, sometimes the wrong fuel will cause huge damage to your engine meaning parts of your engine or your whole engine will need to be replaced. This sort of repair can cost thousands of pounds.

Some car insurance providers will cover the costs of a new engine and repairs when the wrong fuel has been put into a vehicle. They will usually cover it under accidental damage to the vehicle. However, as more diesel cars come into the market and the problem becomes more common, some insurers are deciding not to cover the repairs for wrong fuel in their policies. Therefore you should always read your car insurance policy wording to see if mis-fuelling is covered.

Keeping your car clean

There are two easy ways to save money, by maintaining your car: Firstly, by avoiding hefty repair costs and maintaining the mechanical parts of your car. Secondly, to maximise the resale value of your car, by keeping the bodywork in good condition.

Although you may not think it will increase the value of your car, a buyer can tell the difference between a well maintained and a neglected car, which could cost you a sale in the future.

To help you take good care of your car, we have put together some useful information on taking care of your bodywork.

Equipment You’ll Need:

  • Car Shampoo
  • Bucket x2 (one for the shampoo solution and another just with water)
  • Sponges x2 (one for tyres and concentrated dirt, another for body work)
  • A high pressure hose (A normal hose will suffice)
  • Hoover
  • Soft bristled brush
  • Micro-fibre shammy
  • Allow Wheel Cleaner

Vehicle Interior

Starting from the inside out is always a good idea as you’ll probably get a little messy washing the outside and it’s a good idea to avoid bringing that into the interior. Start by collecting the bigger pieces of rubbish such as takeaway packaging, empty crisp packets and unwanted receipts. Then get the hoover out to pick up all the smaller pieces and general dust and dirt on the floors and chairs.

The best way to deal with the plastic areas such as the dashboard is simply with a cloth, lightly dampened with water. A mild detergent can be used to tackle any stains as long as it’s well rinsed off any surfaces it has been applied to. Tip: Avoid cleaning the dashboard to a polished finished as this can cause glare on sunny days.

Vehicle Exterior

You should wash the exterior of your car regularly. You can pay someone to do it for you but it should not take too long to do yourself.

Rinse Down

The first step is to remove the dirt and grit from the body of your car with your hose or high pressured jet. It’s important to do this and not get stuck in straight away with the sponge as you might end up just pushing the dirt and grit around which could damage the paint work.

Start from the top

Mix your car wash solution with water and a sponge mitt (don’t use the same sponge you previously used to clean the wheels unless you want the brake dust and dirt from you’re wheels on your car’s body). Rub the car with your wet sponge mitt, starting at the top of your car and working your way down in circles. The bumpers are usually the dirtiest part of the car so should be the last thing you clean. Although it might be tempting to get out there and get cleaning on a hot sunny day it’s actually best to wait until the evening to clean your car, otherwise you risk leaving smear marks on the body of your car if you can’t rinse off the cleaning solution before it dries.

Wheels and tyres

Next we’ll turn our attention to the wheels. It’s a good idea to tackle the wheels early on as the cleaning solution is always the harshest and you’ll ensure that any over-spray is washed off later on

Spray the alloy wheeling cleaning solution and let it do it’s work as per instructions (usually 30 seconds) and then rinse. If there is any baked on dirt you’ll need to use a SOFT bristled brush to dislodge the grim. For a perfect result use an old sponge with a car wash solution to get into all the smaller crevasses.

Finishing Touches

The final finish of the car is what really makes the car shine. It is worth taking a minute or two to finish the car to make washing the car more worthwhile.

Dry your car off
After washing all the soapy residue off the body work with water take a micro fibre or leather chamois (shammy) to dry any excess water.

“Wax on…wax off”
Once your car’s body is completely dry you can apply the wax in a circular motion using a cloth. After leaving it to settle for a few minutes you can then check for any powder residue by swiping your finger along the body and wiping down with a second cloth if needed.

Now you have finished your car just avoid any muddy puddles or cross country driving or all your hard work would be for nothing.

Washing your car is a worthwhile task and will be one step in improving the performance of your vehicle and will contribute in helping you avoid breaking down.

Emergency (first-aid) travel kits

Even if you take every precaution mentioned above to avoid breakdowns, you should always carry an emergency kit with you in the car at all times. This kit can be used in breakdown situations and will also be useful if you are unfortunate enough to become involved in an accident.

This kit should include:

  • Water
  • Food
  • Blankets
  • First Aid Kit
  • Torch
  • Maps
  • Emergency Triangle
  • Flares (make sure you know exactly how to use these in a safe manner)

Optional extras might include:

  • Sun cream
  • Additional water
  • Portable battery-operated fans

Additional items for winter months could include:

  • Snow shovel
  • De-icer
  • Anti-freeze (stored in a child-proof container)
  • Extra blankets
  • Warm and waterproof clothing
  • Tow rope

Last but not least, you should always carry your mobile phone with you and, if possible, an in-car charger for this phone.

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