Last updated: 02/09/2021 | Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
Maintaining your car: The basics
Like all machines, vehicles require maintenance to make sure they are running effectively. Luckily, some car maintenance can be done by yourself and can help prevent breakdowns and significant repairs being needed.
In This Guide:
- Routine car maintenance checks
- Routine repairs covered by insurance
- Is it worth getting my car serviced?
Routine car maintenance checks
Car battery issues are the leading cause of breakdowns on British roads according to research.
Most commonly caused by engines not being turned off fully or lights being left on when not using, flat batteries can also be caused by prolonged periods where the vehicle is not used.
Additionally, using the incorrect battery in your vehicle can cause issues; if your vehicle utilises a start-stop system, you need to make sure you use a start-stop battery. These batteries are designed to cope with the demand of restarting your engine every time you stop the vehicle, conventional car batteries are not equipped to deal with this.
Most modern cars will have a built-in battery monitor, or alternatively you can buy a manual monitor to check your battery's health.
It is extremely important to ensure you have enough tread depth on all your tyres; the legal minimum for this is 1.6mm on cars and vans, but we would recommend you change your tyres before they get to this level.
Furthermore, leaving your car in one location for a long period of time can cause the tyre pressure to drop. This can lead to burst or flat tyres if not remedied.
All cars manufactured after 2014 will be fitted with an internal tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS) that will warn you if your car has been stationary for a long time.
You can also use a tyre pressure gauge and should regularly top up tyre pressure when at a local petrol station.
Oil, filters and other fluids
How often you will need to change your oil is dependent on how often you drive and your vehicle, but should still be checked regularly.
For those with newer cars, often you will be notified on your dashboard of when you need to change or top up your oil.
If you do decide to change or top up your oil yourself, make sure you use the right oil viscosity for your motor - the viscosity your car needs will be detailed in your vehicle handbook.
The oil viscosity will be defined by two numbers (with the first number ending with a W). These numbers will read as something line 0W-20, 5W-50, or 10W-40, but there are others.
When changing oil, it is also worth checking and replacing the oil filter and air filters if needed; it is common practice to change your oil filter every time you do an oil change, but air filters usually last much longer.
You should also aim to check all other fluids regularly, such as brake fluid, transmission fluid, windshield washer fluid, and coolant. Most of these checks are performed with a dipstick or visual check, but coolant checks are more complicated.
With every vehicle you own, it’s essential to get to know how your brakes feel and respond. If you notice a change, such as a softer feel on the pedal or a slower response time, then you should get your brakes serviced.
It is also important to listen to your brakes as squealing, rattling, grinding, and intermittent noises all indicate different issues that may be occurring. If the sound of your brakes changes or is concerning then you should book it in for repairs.
Brakes are always checked as part of your MOT so make sure you have any issues rectified before booking in. Read our comprehensive guide on MOTs for more info.
Additional repairs and maintenance
While the above are the core areas for maintenance and routine checks to your vehicle, there are additional things to look out for that could save you from breaking down or having an accident:
- Check belts and hoses
- Change wiper blades
- Check for damage caused by wildlife
- Check spark plugs (petrol only)
- Check DPF (diesel only)
- Regular charging (electric only)
- Electronics and dashboard lights
Check your owner’s manual
Every vehicle will have an owner’s manual - a book of unique information pertaining to your specific make and model. There will be a maintenance section inside, so familiarise yourself with it to ensure you are performing the recommended checks and maintenance to your vehicle.
Routine repairs covered by insurance
Most car insurance policies are not preventative in nature, meaning that vehicle maintenance and routine repairs will not be covered.
In some instances, such as brake failure, your provider may cover the cost of the repair if it has led to an incident. You should always contact your provider before taking your vehicle in for repairs to make sure you are covered under your policy.
If you are concerned about tyres, we would recommend you look into tyre insurance; depending on the policy, this can cover wear and tear, and alloy damage too.
As maintenance is generally not covered, it is up to you to ensure that you have performed all checks to make sure your vehicle is running at an optimum level. Failing to do so could affect your premiums should you need to make a claim.
Is it worth getting my car serviced?
While you will not be able to claim for preventative repairs, the cost of having your car serviced annually (interim repairs typically cost between £80 and £125) is worth doing to avoid potentially losing your no claims bonus, as well as increasing your premiums and paying an excess charge, should you have an incident that could have been prevented.
If you are unsure where to begin when it comes to servicing your car, it is worth reading our page on car servicing - where you can also get a quote for your vehicle.