Even if you hate car maintenance, you should still do these basic checks

Image by Chris Reading from Pixabay

If we didn’t LOVE car maintenance, something would be terribly wrong! After all, as a successful independent garage, it’s what we do all day, every day, keeping car owners from Cardiff and South Wales on the road.

But we get it – not everyone thinks like us. Some of you out there would rather watch the meerkats adverts for 24 hours than go near a spanner.

If that’s you, we’ve got bad news and good news.

  • The bad news is that even car maintenance haters need to do some basic checks on your vehicle, especially before going on a long drive. Why? Because these simple steps will massively decrease your chances of breaking down or putting yourself in a dangerous situation.
  • The good news is that almost no technical expertise is required – 99.9% of drivers will be able to do these checks either on their own, or supported by a YouTube clip.

We’ve picked five really basic checks we think every car owner should be doing in between their services and MOTs.

Clean the lights and number plate

See? We told you it was basic.

To extend the life of your bodywork, you should be cleaning your car’s exterior regularly. However, if that sounds like too much work, you should at a minimum check to see your lights and number plates are dirt free. The former because, well, you need to see where you’re going – and it’s surprising how much a bit of mud and dust cuts down the effectiveness of your lights. The latter, because it’s a legal requirement: if your number plate is so dirty that it’s hard to read, you could potentially get a fine.

Check the tyres for condition, wear and pressure

Is this three checks masquerading as one? Maybe. We also cheat at Monopoly.

Tyre problems are one of the most common reasons for failing your MOT, and account for a massive percentage of repair call-outs. Trust us, a quick tyre inspection could save you a lot of hassle down the line. With that in mind:

  • Give your tyres a quick once-over to judge their condition. You’re looking in particular for cracking or bulges in the side walls. If anything seems untoward, then seek advice sooner rather than later.
  • Look at the depth of tread on your tyres. The legal minimum is 1.6mm, but you’ll need more than that to cope with wet conditions. Judging the depth used to be dead easy by using the 20p trick, but if it’s been several years since you even saw a 20p, you can use the tread wear indicators as a guide. Never heard of them? Take a look here. While you’re looking at the overall depth, check to see if the tyre seems to be wearing unevenly (e.g. on the outsides). If the tread is looking dodgy, get the car to an expert as soon as possible.
  • Check the pressure of all four tyres. OK, this takes a step up in ‘technical expertise’ as you have to use a pressure gauge, but it’s not that hard, and there are loads of online guides. The correct pressure should be displayed on the car somewhere, probably on the sill of the passenger-side door, or under the filler cap.

Check your screen wash levels

Screen wash is the least important or interesting thing in human history… up until the moment you unexpectedly run out of it. Driving on a dirty, spray-filled A road with your visibility suddenly cut down to a few metres is horrible. No wonder it’s a legal requirement to keep screen wash topped up. Here’s the ever-helpful RAC to explain how to do it.

Check your oil levels

Speaking of the RAC, they reckon that about one-third of the vehicles they check have dangerously low levels of oil. ‘Dangerously low’ means that the engine is in imminent danger of catastrophic damage. This is, to put it mildly, expensive.

To avoid any problems, do a quick check of your dipstick and top up your lubricant as necessary. And yes, that does sound like an extract from a Carry On script, so here’s a nice Canadian gentleman to explain:

If your oil filler cap doesn’t tell you what sort of oil you need, then there’s the additional step of discovering this from your owner’s handbook, a garage, or online.

Remove excess junk from the inside… yes, really

This might seem a weird choice for essential car maintenance, but hear us out. If your car has gradually become a skip on wheels, there are at least three good reasons to have a spring clean:

  • Under heavy braking, discarded cans and bottles can roll under the pedals, with disastrous results. And anyway, having junk rolling around is a distraction.
  • Sudden braking or cornering can turn junk items into flying missiles. Apparently, unanchored items result in 13,000 injuries a year – we’ve no idea if that’s an accurate figure or not, but the general point holds.
  • Car cabins are the perfect environment for all sorts of health-damaging moulds and bacteria, especially if they’re left to fester under excess junk.

What else should you check?

There are plenty of other things you could and should be checking on your vehicle: your lights, windscreen wipers and coolant levels all spring to mind. However, just the above will get you started and boost your chances of trouble-free motoring.

Remember that if you’re in the Cardiff or South Wales area, we’re here to help with everything and anything car-related. We are an independent garage specialising in the VW group marques, including Audi, Volkswagen, Skoda and SEAT. WVS provides servicesrepairs and MOTs, delivering a main dealer level of care at affordable prices. To book your vehicle in, or for any enquiries, get in touch.

Our blog covers a wide range of automotive topics, from the contentious to the light-hearted.