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How to maintain your car during Covid-19 lockdown

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Tyre pressure check

During these difficult times, most of you probably haven’t considered the impact of the lockdown on your cars and vans if they aren’t getting used.

Keeping your tyres inflated, checking oil and coolant levels, and battery could make all the difference when isolation measures are finally lifted.

Here are our technician’s top 10 tips for general vehicle maintenance.


1, Tyres

Your tyres are your only point of contact with mother earth, each tyre has a contact patch about the size of the palm of your hand!

Considering the forces they have to deal with, we should pay them more attention.

Firstly, you are checking for cuts, gouges or bulges in the sidewall of each tyre. It is also worth checking the wheel rim itself. Anything you are unsure about, have it checked by a garage. Please do not use your car until it has been checked and OK’d.

Check the tyres pressure using a pressure gauge. The correct pressure can be found in the Owners handbook, or often on a sticker in the fuel flap or door shut. If pressures are less than 30-32psi, you may have a slow puncture.

As a temporary measure, the above values can be used to get you out of trouble if you don’t know the manufacturers recommended pressure

Checking tyre tread depth There can be consequences regarding thread depths, so let’s check these. The legal bit is; Minimum tread depth of 1.6mm in a continuous band over ¾ the width of the tyre. If your tyres don’t reach this minimum standard you could be fined £2,500 and get 3 penalty points on your licence – that’s per tyre!

However, below 3.0mm tyre grip in wet weather is pretty marginal, we have the lowest limits in Europe, but not the worst weather. Think about changing tyres at this point.

Fortunately, a 20 pence piece has a rim of approx. 3.0mm use this or a tyre depth gauge to check at 3 points across the tyre. If you can see the rim of the coin, it could be time to think about new tyres.

Link: Tyre pressure gauge, 12v tyre inflators

How often; do this weekly


2, Oil level

Adding engine oil

Oil is literally, the lifeblood of your engine. It’s easy to check the level, so do this every week or so.

Most manufacturers make the dipstick and oil filler caps yellow, if they are not obvious, check the car’s handbook.

To check the oil level:-

1. Preferably, check your oil when the car is on level ground and the engine is cold. If the engine has been running, turn it off and let it stand for 5 minutes to allow gravity to drain the oil into the sump. Do take care if the engine has been running, as everything under the bonnet will be hot and potentially hazardous.

2. Pull out the dipstick and wipe it clean with a piece of lint-free cloth or kitchen roll.

3. Push the dipstick back in until it is fully seated, then withdraw it and check to see where the level is.

Engine oil dipstick minimum-maximum levels

4. You’ll see two marks on the bottom of the dipstick with hatchings between. Generally, the distance between the marks is 1 litre. If the level is halfway between the marks, that is fine. If it is close to the bottom mark, top it up.

5. To top up the oil, undo the oil filler cap and pour in the correct grade of oil, again as per that handbook! Be careful, a little spilt oil goes everywhere. Also, do not overfill. This can seriously damage your engine!

6. Give the fresh oil a minute or so to get down to the sump. Then recheck as per steps 2 – 4.

7. Repeat until you are happy with the oil level.

8. Make sure to replace/secure the oil filler cap and dipstick.

 

Sources for finding the correct oil by vehicle registration number:-

How often; do this weekly


3, Coolant level

Coolant expansion tankAs your engine produces power, it also produces a lot of heat. Cooling systems do an important job and failure can cause serious engine damage.
Definitely, only check the coolant level with the engine stone cold. The coolant is under pressure when it is hot and releasing the coolant tank cap will result in you being showered in boiling fluid, which will spoil your day.
Therefore, with a cold engine. Remove the coolant cap and check that the coolant is either bluey-green or pink and doesn’t have any oil in it. If it isn’t to the maximum mark, top-up to level using a premixed antifreeze of the correct specification. If you have to top the coolant up more than once between services, get a garage to check the system for leaks.
The coolant is coloured to show the type of coolant used and so that it leaves a stain if it leaks, so you can check the hoses and cap itself if the level drops.

Useful link:

How often; do this weekly


4, Brake/clutch fluidBrake fluid tank

Be aware that the brake fluid level of your car will drop as the brake pad material wears. A low level may simply mean that your brake pads need checking or replacing.

Also, your car may not use clutch fluid, but if it does the system is sealed and should never require topping up.

Brake fluid is nasty/corrosive stuff, so if you notice that the level is low, get your car checked by your garage asap. Topping up these reservoirs is messy and you will probably be masking a defect. Better safe than sorry.

Generally, brake fluid has a life span of 2 years as it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere, replacement at the manufacturer’s intervals is recommended.

How often; do this weekly


5, Screenwash

Engine CoolantEasy! Your car manufacturer should make the cap easy to identify, with a wiper symbol on top.

You can top up using your preferred brand of ready-mixed or concentrated screen washer fluid. If using concentrate, I top up the reservoir using water from a filter jug. Be aware that your washers can hold 4–5 litres of fluid.

TOP TIP: I fill up until I can see the water in the filler neck, then put the concentrate in last. This saves the fluid from foaming up and taking ages to fill!

Use a 10% solution in summer and a 50% solution in winter. Please don’t use plain water, this is hopeless at cleaning your screen in summer and freezes in winter, which can be very dangerous.

Links:

How often; do this monthly or as required


Battery dashboard warning light6, Battery & terminals

Most, if not all, modern batteries are sealed and therefore maintenance-free.

Check the battery for security and also that the terminals are tight by giving them a wiggle.

A smear of petroleum jelly on the terminals will keep damp at bay.

Battery TesterTOP TIP: If you’ve parked up a vehicle during the lockdown a battery tester and/or trickle charger that not only keeps the battery charged but also cycles it to keep it in top condition would be a great idea. 

Links:

How often; do this monthly


7, Drive belts and hosesDrive belt damage

We are nearly done under the bonnet. Before closing up, have a visual check of the engine bay.

It is a good idea to give the plastic covers a wipe with a rag and some light oil such as WD40. Once the engine covers are clean, they can indicate problems with turbo boost pipes if the quickly become covered in dust.

Give your hoses a squeeze, they should feel nice and firm, if they are not, ask your garage for advice.

With belts, just check for obvious damage or signs of anything that can foul them. No need to reach into the bottom of the engine bay, there are fans in the engine bay which can start without warning and cause serious harm.

How often; do this monthly


8, Light check

Light bulbSimply check each light to ensure that it is working. Including the number plate lights and the reversing light.

Also, if your car has Zenon headlights fitted, check that the self-levelling works correctly when you start the car.

TOP TIP: It may be easier if you have someone else to help you check brake lights and headlight operation. Otherwise, reverse up to a garage door or wall and use the reflection.

If you have any defective bulbs, your owner’s handbook will once again come to the rescue.

Link:

How often; do this monthly


Cleaning windscreen wipers9, Wipers & windscreen

It’s really easy to check wipers, lift them from the screen and check the rubbers for splits, nicks and tears.

Wipe the rubbers with a piece of kitchen roll to remove grit and debris.

Check the windscreen for stone chips and cracks.

Be aware that your insurance company will often repair a stone chip for free or replace a more badly damaged screen (minus your excess payment)

Links: Windscreen wipers by vehicle registration

How often; do this weekly


10, Air conditioning

Air conditioning switchYour cars a/c system is generally maintenance-free. However, the gas in the system depletes at a rate of 10 – 20% per year so the system will require servicing every 3 years or so.

The system also contains an oil whose job is to lubricate the compressor and seals.

TOP TIP: If you don’t turn you’re a/c on or aren’t using your car due to the lockdown, it is a good idea to use the system at least once a week to circulate the oil and keep the seals nice and plump!

Lastly, use the fresh air setting, rather than recirculation to allow moisture out of the interior and pollen filter. Your car will be less prone to misting up and smell fresher.

Link: Air conditioning deodoriser and sanitiser

How often; do this weekly


Additional useful links:


Authors: UKCC Technicians Ciaran Harvey of Berkshire and Tony Coe of Essex.

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