Keeping your car running in top shape isnâ€™t rocket science. Hereâ€™s what you should pay attention to:
As air conditioning becomes more common in India, you have yet another fluid level to check. You should run your air conditioning at least once a week, and not just when the weather is hot, to help maintain it.
Vehicle manufacturers recommend servicing air-conditioning systems every two years. A fully functional system brings you several major benefits:
- Ensures that correct temperatures are being reached.
- Reduces pollen and pollution entering your car.
- Saves you money.
- Reduces the amount of chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) in the atmosphere.
- Increases the life of your vehicle's air conditioning system.
- A useful tip in winter is to run the air conditioning to prevent your windscreen misting up.
Air filters are inexpensive, but when they get dirty they can reduce your fuel economy by an appreciable amount, and result in a fine for failing a roadside emissions test. Dirty air filters should be replaced or cleaned as soon as possible. It's an easy job to do but check the handbook if you are unsure, or alternatively take it to a garage.
Most batteries have "maintenance free" stamped on them, and you won't ever have to check the electrolyte level. If your battery is not "maintenance free", you should unscrew the plastic caps and check the level of the liquid inside (electrolyte). If it is low, top it up with distilled water, not tap water. You should also check the condition of the terminals. If they are corroded, take off the wires (negative off first and back on last), clean up with a wire brush and grease with Vaseline or normal grease to prevent corrosion returning. Remember, batteries contain strong acid and you must always be cautious when checking and removing them.
For your own safety, it is important to check your brake pads or shoes. These components are made from a heat-resistant friction material, which deteriorates due to being clamped against the disc or pushed against the drum when the brakes are applied. Also check for fluid leaks caused by damaged brake hoses or worn seals which could result in brake failure. A telltale sign that your brake pads are wearing unevenly is that your car will have a tendency to pull to one side when you brake, and you should get them checked.
On a hydraulic clutch, fluid ensures the clutch operates smoothly and helps prevent wear and tear. If you feel that under acceleration, the engine revs build up faster than the car is actually accelerating, it may mean your clutch is wearing out. If this happens, get it checked as soon as possible - worn clutches eventually fail which means you will not be able to change gear. So it pays to check your clutch fluid level and ensure it is replaced as recommended by the vehicle handbook. This will help to keep costs down and your car running safely.
The best way to keep the running cost of your car minimal is to maintain your car effectively. Cars do not look after themselves and parts do wear out due to the extreme conditions and pressures they operate within. However, if you carry out regular checks on your car, you can extend the life of certain parts and ensure your car runs reliably. Always ensure you have your car serviced as recommended in the drivers manual. Failure to do so may lead to excessive wear on your vehicle, leading to breakdowns and expensive repairs. Failing to have your car serviced may also mean that parts critical to safety are not checked, which can be dangerous.
If your fan belt starts slipping (you will definitely know when you hear the squeal!), it may not be tensioned properly. At best this could result in your battery going flat through not being recharged, and at worst, it could fail to operate your cooling fan, resulting in serious and expensive damage due to the engine overheating.
It may sound obvious, but make sure you have enough fuel before you start a journey. "Breakdowns" caused by people forgetting to do this are surprisingly common. As for the grade of petrol - super unleaded is usually a waste of money and won't improve performance or engine longevity. Normal unleaded petrol will do just fine.
If you do notice any leaks, get them checked immediately. With so many different systems in a modern car relying on specialist liquids or lubricants to run properly, it's better to be safe than sorry.
You should check all your lights and bulbs regularly. As they can sometimes fail in combinations, it's best to ask someone to look at the front and rear while you test them. Check your brake lights and indicators with the headlights on and off, as sometimes a bad earth can cause a fault if both lights are on together. Note: it is illegal to drive with failed or malfunctioning lights. Sometimes you may be dazzled by on coming vehicles at night that appear to be on main beam. Often they are not, it's just the alignment that's incorrect. Make sure yours are adjusted correctly, dazzling headlamps can cause accidents.
Few people realise how important it is to carry spare bulbs, until one fails during a long journey. Fewer still realise that it is compulsory on mainland Europe to carry a complete emergency bulb kit. These are easily bought, stowed in the car and replaced - a small price to pay for peace of mind. Consult the handbook if you are having problems. If the light or lights still do not work after the bulb has been replaced, there may be a fuse fault. Look in the fuse box and find the appropriate fuse; replace it if necessary.
It's important that your engine is protected by the right amount of oil - too little or too much can cause extensive damage. Check the oil level when the engine is cold, if you check it after the engine has been turning over, the oil may be deposited higher up on the dip stick and give a false reading. Changing your oil regularly removes the harmful dirt and contaminants that cause engine wear, so sticking rigidly to service intervals will prolong the life of major engine components. To ensure the oil remains in good condition, you should also change the oil filter. Some argue it is not quite so important on older higher mileage "bangers", but an annual oil and filter change using branded oil can help. Turbocharged and high-performance cars will benefit from an intermediate oil change at around 4,000 miles using high-grade synthetic oil.
Overheating can have disastrous and highly expensive consequences. It is therefore important to check the coolant level when the engine is cold. The coolant is not merely water any more, today's sophisticated multi-valve engines need a correct mix of water and antifreeze with inhibitor to keep the engine cool, and this also protects the internals from corrosion. It's also important to have your hoses checked to ensure there are no leaks.
Check for "play" on your steering wheel - there shouldn't be much movement without the front wheels turning. If you notice you car is pulling too much to one side or the other, check your steering and wheel alignment. To make certain, please test this on a flat road. Most roads have a slight slope, or camber, towards the kerb, which has the effect of very slightly pulling your car towards the kerb as you are driving along.
The timing belt connects upper and lower engine parts, and is usually hidden from view under a plastic cover. If this belt breaks your car either runs very poorly, or the engine may "seize", causing extensive damage. Check you handbook to find out what the recommended interval is for changing the timing belt, and stick to it!
Regularly check your tyre pressures and look for signs of damage to the sidewalls. Worn tyres can be highly dangerous and significantly affect stopping distances. The rules on tyre wear are much tougher now, and it is a good idea to replace tyres when tread depth is around 2mm, just to be on the safe side. Another thing to look out for is even wearing of the tyres. If a tyre is wearing more on one side, you'll need to have your suspension checked. Always try to avoid hitting the kerb while driving. It can be more dangerous than you think, significantly weakening a tyre without showing much damage on the outside. Don't forget to check the spare wheel, not only may you need it at some point, but also it's an offence to carry a spare wheel that's not roadworthy.
Watch for warning lights, note performance changes and listen to your car - any changes or unusual noises are worth having checked before a more serious fault develops.
Always make sure there is enough water in the windscreen washer reservoir and your wiper blades are working properly. You should change your wiper blades every six months, even if they have not been used very often, because the rubber corrodes with exposure to the atmosphere.
We find it's helpful to use a screen wash all year round. In the summer it helps to remove insects, and in winter it can stop the water freezing (check label for appropriate concentrations).
Always check for cracks in the windscreen. If you are not sure, get someone to look at it and advise you.