Car servicing

How to take care of your car

Your car needs looking after if you want it to run as smoothly and safely as possible, and to help prevent costly repairs. Here are 10 simple tips to help you maintain your car at home.

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By Cazoo editorial team

Your car is likely to be one of the biggest purchases you’ll make so it pays to look after it as best you can. A well-maintained car will run more efficiently, help to keep you safer and be less likely to suffer a breakdown that costs you precious time and even more money.

Even if your car is new and you don’t travel many miles, proper maintenance is vital: A car is a complex piece of machinery that needs some TLC and regular use to keep it in good shape. While some jobs are best left to the professionals, there are some very simple tasks you can – and should – carry out at home. Here are our top 10 maintenance tips to help you look after your car.

1. Keep it clean

It feels good to drive around in a spotlessly clean car but there are more practical reasons for getting out the bucket and the sponge.

You’re actually legally required to keep your car’s number plates, lights, door mirrors and windows clean. Dirty number plates are more difficult to read; dirty lights and mirrors aren’t as effective; and your view can be obscured by dirty windows.

It’s important to keep the interior of your car clean and tidy, too. Dirt and grime around buttons and knobs can stop them working properly. And litter could obstruct the pedals, gear stick and handbrake. Litter trapped under the brake pedal is especially dangerous and can even cause accidents.

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2. Keep the fluids topped up

Cars need many fluids to run properly including oil, coolant, brake fluid and power steering fluid. It’s easy to check the levels of these fluids yourself.

Traditionally, all cars came with a dipstick in their engine bay that allows you to check its oil level. Many modern cars no longer have dipsticks and instead use the car’s computer to monitor the level, displaying it on the dashboard. You should check the handbook that comes with your car to see if this is the case.

If your car does have a dipstick, check the oil when the engine is cold. Pull out the dipstick and wipe it clean. Re-insert it, and pull it out again. Check the gauge towards the bottom. If the oil on the dipstick is close to, or below, the minimum level, the oil needs topping up. Your car’s handbook will tell you which type of oil to add. It’s very important to use the type of oil that suits your engine’s design if you want to avoid problems later.

You can see the coolant, brake fluid and power steering fluid levels in their ‘reservoirs’ in the engine bay. Again, if they’re close to, or below, the minimum level marked on the reservoir, they need topping up. Just take off the cap and pour in the fresh fluid.

3. Look after your windscreen

You need to keep your car’s windscreen clear and free of damage so you always get a good view out. Keeping the windscreen washer fluid topped up and the wiper blades clean is vital.

It’s also worth checking to see if your wiper blades are damaged. Lift them off the windscreen and run your finger along the blade. If it feels jagged, it needs replacing. Blades are available from any car parts shop and are easy to fit. (Just be sure you buy the correct length.)

Any chips or cracks in the windscreen should be fixed as soon as possible. Even small flaws can rapidly become big problems. Any that are too big or in a particular area of the windscreen will cause your car to fail its MOT.

4. Check your tyres

It’s important to keep your car’s tyres at the correct pressure. Low pressure makes your car less fuel-efficient and affects how it drives, with potentially dangerous outcomes. Open your car’s driver’s door and you’ll see a panel on the inside edge that lists the correct pressures for front and rear tyres.

Check your tyres by attaching a pressure gauge (inexpensive and available from fuel stations) to their air valves. Most fuel stations offer air pumps that allow you to type in the correct pressure number and then inflate the tyre to that level automatically.

You also need to keep an eye on the depth of your tyres’ tread. Legally, each tyre must have tread at least 1.6mm deep across the central three-quarters of its width, all the way around. Safety experts recommend not letting the tread drop below 2.5mm, however. An easy way of checking this is to slot a 20p piece into one of the ruts – if you can't see the outer band of the coin (which is about 2.7mm deep), you're ok.

Also look out for any cuts, tears, nails, thorns or other damage. If any damage has exposed the metal structure of the tyre, you need to replace it immediately.

5. Watch that fuel gauge!

Running out of fuel isn’t just incredibly inconvenient – it can also be bad for your car because debris at the bottom of the fuel tank can get sucked up into the engine. Diesels need their fuel systems 'bled' of any trapped air before they can be refilled, as well. If your car’s running low don’t be tempted to drive to a less-expensive fuel station that’s farther away. That could turn out to be a false economy if you end up having to pay for repairs or a recovery if you run out on the way there.

6. Look after your car’s battery

When you turn off your car’s ignition, any electrical equipment that hasn’t been turned off, like the lights or stereo, goes into a standby mode so it turns on automatically when you next start the car. That standby mode draws a bit of power from the battery, so if the car isn’t used for a long time afterwards, the battery may go flat.

The air con system draws more power from the battery when in standby mode than does anything else and it could drain the battery in just a couple of weeks. Be sure to turn off all the car’s electrical equipment before turning off the ignition.

If you know you’re not going to drive your car for a while, and you have a driveway or garage, you could consider buying a ‘trickle charger’, which feeds enough power to the battery from a domestic socket to stop it going flat.

7. Keep the car clear of leaves

If you park your car under a tree, any leaves that fall can work their way into gaps and crevices in the car. It can be a particular problem around the bonnet and boot lid, where leaves can clog water-drainage channels, air filters and even the heater system. This can cause water to leak into the car and even lead to rust. Mud and grime that builds up under the car and in the wheel arches can have the same effect.

Keep an eye out for fauna as well as flora. If your car isn’t used regularly it’s possible for rodents to take up residence under the bonnet. They can cause serious damage, chewing through wires and hoses.

8. Drive your car regularly

A car is much like the human body in that its condition deteriorates if it isn’t regularly exercised. Simply driving your car helps ensure it stays fit and healthy. Ideally, you should go for a drive of 20 miles or so at least every couple of weeks, and make sure that it includes some faster roads. That will get the car’s fluids flowing round its systems, warm the engine through and work any flat spots out of the tyres.

9. Keep the particulate filter clear

If your car has a diesel engine, it might need some extra care. These engines have a device in the exhaust system known as a particulate filter. It’s there to reduce emissions of noxious chemicals like nitrogen oxides, which can cause respiratory problems.

The particulate filter – known as a DPF – collects the chemicals then burns them off using heat from the exhaust. This is only possible if the engine is up to full operating temperature. The engine usually only reaches that temperature on long, fast journeys. If you mostly do short journeys, the filter won’t be able to burn off the chemicals it collects and will eventually clog up, reducing the engine’s power and potentially damaging it. Replacing a DPF is extremely expensive, so if you only do lots of short journeys, it pays to think carefully about whether you need a diesel in the first place.

10. Have your car serviced regularly

By far the best way to keep your car fit and healthy is by having it regularly, properly serviced by a qualified mechanic. Many cars will remind you with a message on the dashboard when a service is due. If in doubt, check your car’s handbook or service record to see when its next service is due.

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