How to look after and maintain your car – the ultimate guide
There are plenty of ways to maintain and look after your car. From anti-freeze to batteries, there’s a lot to consider. If you are keen to know how to maintain your car, here’s our ultimate guide on keeping it at its best.
How to look after your car on the road & in storage
Cars are more than four wheels and a body. In fact, any component of your car you need to care for generally will also need to be cared for when your car is in storage. Yes, if you’re planning to head off on holiday or apply for a SORN, then correct car storage is key. Storing a car and knowing how to store a car properly are two different things. Do it wrong, and the next time you go for a drive, you may be met with a very dead battery as well as issues like rust.
So, before you put your car to bed for a few weeks, months, or even longer, you should remember to check:
- The engine
- Anti-freeze levels
- Fuel levels
- Car battery
- Car paint
- Winter maintenance
- Car storage
You’ll also have to make sure you’re storing your car in a suitable place. We’ll go into detail about each of these, as well as general car care, below.
How to maintain your car engine
For anyone wondering how to maintain your car’s engine, here are some key processes you will need to follow:
Check your engine oil levels
It is essential to check your engine oil levels on your car regularly to keep your car running smoothly. The oil in your car acts as a lubricant for your engine, helping reduce the engine temperature and maintain fuel efficiency.
Regular fortnightly checks to your oil levels can prevent your engine from failing and minimise the risk of breakdown. To check your oil levels, you will need to ensure your car engine is cool. It’s best to check your oils prior to setting off on a drive:
- Make sure your car isn’t parked on a slope and the engine is cool
- Open your car’s bonnet and find the dipstick
- Pull out the dipstick and wipe off any oil so you can identify the minimum and maximum markings
- Push the dipstick all the way back in and remove it
- The oil level should be marked on the stick. Any less than half way between min and max usually means your car needs a top-up
- Make sure to pay attention to the levels on the dip stick when adding oil, you don’t want to add too much
- Ensure there is no oil spillage when you tighten the oil cap, replace the dipstick, and close the bonnet
In some cars, you may not see a dipstick. If this is the case, your car may have an automatic oil monitor fitted instead. Consult your manufacturer’s guide to see how to get a reading this way. Most often, it will be shown on the dash.
Changing your oil and filters
More than just checking engine oil levels, you should change your oil regularly if you want to maintain your car’s engine and extend its performance lifespan. A standard oil change needs to be done approximately every 3-months/ 3,000 miles. This basic servicing of your engine will help keep your engine clean, protect your engine’s parts, and improve your engine’s performance.
Oil and filter changes are usually standard for a car service. So, if you plan to put your car into storage, or just want it running at its best, book it in with a mechanic.
Checking your fuel levels/electric battery charge
Fuel is essential when looking to maintain your car’s engine and ensuring your car runs effectively. When filling up your fuel tank, make sure you understand clearly whether your car requires petrol or diesel. Each car is different and putting in the wrong fuel could lead to engine damage.
Checking your antifreeze (coolant)
Another essential fluid when it comes to knowing how to maintain your car engine is antifreeze. Ensure you check your antifreeze is filled up between the minimum and maximum level regularly. Then once topped up, make sure to run your engine briefly as this will ensure the new fluids have circulated properly. Do not overfill your antifreeze as this can damage your cooling system due to the antifreeze becoming too hot.
As for changing your coolant, you will need to consider draining and changing your antifreeze every 30,000 miles or so. However, this will depend on your car type and on the coolant required. Check with your manufacturer on how to look after your car’s coolant system according to their specific guidelines.
How to maintain your car battery
Maintaining your petrol or diesel car battery is simple. While it’s perfectly possible to lay up a car and not turn on the engine for weeks, or even months, switching on the engine when you can will help maintain it. Taking 15-minutes out of your day every week or two to run your car’s engine can prevent your battery from draining and running flat.
If you are unable to drive your car, then you will need to connect your battery to a battery maintainer. The battery maintainer will intermittently charge your battery over that period and help keep your engine in good condition for when you are able to drive your car again.
In the case you were unable to do the above successfully, please ensure to recondition your battery after storage. You must recondition your battery if you experience battery failure as this will enable your car to run smoothly and safely again.
Electric car batteries can be connected to trickle charger, though, just like charging an electric car at home on a regular basis, you’ll need suitable off-road parking.
How to maintain your car paint
It’s just as important to know how to maintain your car paint as the engine beneath it. Leaving any significant dirt, debris, or moisture on your car paint can lead to corrosion over time, or especially if it’s in storage. It is highly recommended to wash your car thoroughly on a regular basis, or prior to storing it. To add another extra layer of protection, you can also wax and polish the body to keep your car looking new.
How to look after your car in winter
Once the weather changes, there are some extra steps you can take to care for your car:
Check your brakes
Checking your brakes is important when looking after your car during the winter season and for your safety.
Any unusual sound of rattling, squeaks, or general irregularities in brake sensation is often a sign of a cars braking system needing some assistance. It is also essential to know that any increase in stopping distance will need to be monitored, as stopping distances are significantly increased on icy or snowy roads. Any worn or faulty brakes will only cause this distance to be increased further.
Top up your antifreeze (coolant)
Antifreeze is key to stopping the water in your engines cooling system from freezing, so as you might expect, you will need to ensure your antifreeze is topped up whenever the level drops below the guide marks. Check your engine coolant twice a year, ideally just before each summer and winter season.
Cleaning your lights
Unfortunately, during the winter months, your car may seem to become dirtier — this is often due to the salt and grit laid on the roads for safety. This will subsequently lead to your lights becoming increasingly dirty and you may experience a loss of luminosity. According to road safety charity IAM RoadSmart, it was estimated that you can lose up to 40% luminosity in around 20 miles of driving on a gritted, wintery motorway. Therefore, it is very important to wipe over your lights regularly during the winter season, particularly if your car does not have headlamp washers.
An important tip to looking after your car in the winter season, is accessing your tyres carefully before you expect to encounter icy, wet conditions. Having worn tyres can be dangerous at any time, but this danger risk significantly increases when encountering wet, snowy roads.
The minimum law requirement is to have a tyre thread depth of 1.6mm. However, many service providers recommend a depth of 3mmto maintain a safe stopping distance, especially when experiencing rainy conditions.
There are also additional add-ons you can purchase for your tyres to increase grip, particularly if you live in rural or irregular roads. These include:
- Snow chains
- Tyre socks
- Winter tyres
Wiper blades & windscreen wash
It may sound obvious, but ensuring your wipers are in good, working condition is important when looking to clean your windscreen efficiently. This means you should regularly check for any perforations and ensure to wipe down the wipers with a clean cloth to keep them working effectively. Never pull a blade off a frozen windscreen during the wintery months, as this can cause the rubber to tear.
You may also find in the winter seasons that your washer fluid is used frequently, whether it’s spray from the salty roads, or wet marks from the rain. So, it’s advised to keep an eye on your washer fluid levels, as it’s not only dangerous to have decreased visibility from a dirty windscreen, but it’s also illegal to have no washer fluid in your car.
Testing your battery
The cold, winter weather can sometimes have a toll on your car’s battery life if you are not exercising it regularly. TThe risk of battery failure is far greater in cold weather conditions, subsequently increasing car breakdowns.
Some warning signs of battery failure include:
- Car temperature falling
- Your vehicles speed slowing down or the engine turning over slower
- A red-light battery warning display
- A flicker of your battery light when starting up your engine
If you find yourself experiencing any of the above, please ensure to get your car checked out with your mechanic as soon as possible.
Check your oil and fuel levels
Cars need oil and fuel to run, otherwise, they will simply break down.
So, maintaining your oil level is between the minimum and maximum mark on your car’s dipstick is a key factor to consider before setting off. Poor oil levels could lead to breakdown or engine damage.
Naturally, you must also ensure you have enough fuel for each journey you set off on, otherwise, you wouldn’t want to face breaking down with no fuel in the cold, wintery conditions. In the case of electric vehicles, make sure you have sufficient charge to keep range anxiety at bay. Keep in mind that very cold temperatures can also lead to slower charge times. If possible, try to keep your electric vehicle in a parking position where snow can’t gather under the car where the battery is located.
Protecting your cars paint and exterior
As stated previously, your car naturally gets exposed to dirt and debris from the roads. However, in the winter seasons, your car is faced with the extra grit laid down to help de-ice the roads you drive on. This grit can cause corrosion, so make sure to keep an eye on any paint chips or damages to your cars body. Neglecting your car may lead to noticeable rusting and undesirable exteriors. A comprehensive wax at the start of each winter season is highly recommended to maintain your cars body paint.
A regular car wash with sensible pressure is also recommended to wash off any of the salt and solution your car may be exposed to on wintery roads.
Having the essentials for your journey
Once you have finished prepping your car for the winter and facing the worst, you should also consider your own needs as the driver. Some key advice for driving in winter regards keeping yourself suitably warm and safe should you happen to become abandoned with your car in the snow. This includes carrying the following:
- Warm clothing, blanket, or sleeping bag
- A warning triangle
- Mobile phone with charger
- A torch with batteries
- A shovel (for any snowy conditions)
- Ice scraper and de-icer
- Tow straps
- Bottled water
- Jump leads
- A high visibility vest
Servicing your car
Like many of the tips above, it is important to service your car all year round. Winter makes this a little more important due to the extreme weather conditions your car will need to adjust to.
Servicing your car is usually recommended every 12,000 miles. However, every car is different, and each manufacturer has a different service recommendation. Read your owner’s handbook, and book in a service with your garage in good time, especially if you are just about to go into your winter season.
What happens if you don’t drive your car for a long time?
Even if you do not drive your car for a while, your car will technically be fine — provided that you have stored it properly to begin with. This includes making suitable accommodations like running your car engine for 15-minutes every couple of weeks. Similarly, it is important to leave your car in a dry, well-ventilated environment. This will prevent your brakes from rusting during its time in storage.
How to store a car
If you aren’t planning to use your car, then the conditions it is stored in will be key to getting it back up and running.
Oil, fuel and anti-freeze
Firstly, it is always recommended to fill your fuel tank up prior to leaving your car in storage for several months. This will limit condensation building up in an empty fuel tank and prevent the risk of rusting. Another extra precaution during this process would be to add fuel stabiliser to your fuel. Fuel stabiliser will stop the fuel from going bad when stored for half a year, or more.
The engine oil and filters will need to be replaced with fresh oil and new filters before leaving your car for an extended amount of time. Like we said above, it may be worth getting a mechanic to run a full service on your car before you put it into storage.
Engine spark plugs
Remove the spark plugs and ensure to spray some oil into the cylinders – this will prevent rust from building up in the engine block.
Your car’s storage environment
Keeping your car in a dry, temperature-stable environment is key when it comes to storing your car. This will protect your car from the elements and prevent rusting of your car’s mechanics. Ideally, you should store your car in a functional garage, and not parked on the side of the road. However, if you do not have access to a garage, you can also find public storage locations for reasonable prices.
If you have no choice but to leave your car outdoors, make sure you have covered your car with a weatherproof car cover. This will give your car some level of protection from dirt, debris, and rain.
Keeping it clean
As stated previously, keeping your car clean is very important when maintaining your car’s paint. Leaving any dirt or moisture on your car paint can lead to corrosion. It is recommended to wash your car thoroughly before storing your car for a long-term period. To add an extra layer of protection, you can also wax and polish the body of your car prior to storage.
A bit of admin
If your car is off the road due to being SORN, then remember to apply for a road tax refund as this will prevent you from paying tax your car is no longer eligible for.
Storage – unpainted metal
It is recommended to spray some WK-40 or similar water-displacement spray on any unpainted metal, as this will prevent rusting during long-term storageRust prevention is a key reason to keep your car in a dry, ventilated environment.
Checking your brakes before setting off
It is strongly advised to make sure you drive carefully once you return to the road after not driving your car for a long period of time. Checking your brakes for the first few miles of driving and ensuring you have cleaned any visible corrosion from the brakes before setting off is very important. These precautions will ensure your road safety and maintain your car’s brake efficiency.
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