Most of us fear scratching or smashing the glass on our phone screens, dropping expensive equipment, or wrecking our new pair of shoes. Your car should be no different! In fact, it’s likely going to be the 2nd most expensive purchase we make in our lives, and one which could save your life. It therefore makes absolute sense that we take just a few moments out of our busy schedules to check it’s in tip-top condition every now and then.
Don’t just assume your annual MOT will cover everything. By spending a few minutes doing some basic checks, you can reduce your MOT cost, as well as the stress and anxiety of failing an MOT. Checking your vehicle as a habit is a good thing to do. From there, added weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly checks are preferred. As a bare minimum, you should completely check your vehicle as you approach the winter season, or any time you plan on taking a long journey.
Above: A police officer gives a demonstration on how to do some of the basic weekly vehicle checks.
The POWDER acronym is a routine you can go through on a weekly, or as often as you can, basis. Alternatively, a great time to run through these checks are before you go on a long journey or just before the winter season begins. Each letter stands for a different word, and is a part of your vehicle which needs to be checked.
When driving a fuel car, your power is going to come from petrol or diesel. The average fuel tank capacity for UK cars is anywhere between 40-70L depending on the size of your car. How far this fuel gets you is determined by how economical your car is (Fuel-Economy.co.uk 🗗), and how economically you drive (YouTube 🗗).
It’s widely known that these fuels are finite, meaning they’ll eventually run out. Plus, as you’re most likely already aware, they’re also very harmful to the planet.
- You can check how much petrol you have left in your tank or power stored in your battery by either checking your dashboard display, or by the built-in electronic screen.
- Find your chosen refuelling station: whether you need petrol, diesel, or electricity. Petrol and Diesel stations usually come together (Google Maps) 🗗.
- Once there, park up with your filler cap on the same side as the fuel pump nozzle. Open your filler cap, insert the nozzle, and get filling!
Having sufficient engine oil is essential for your car. Engines contain many moving parts which have the potential to rub against each other creating friction. Oil lubricates engine parts to reduce friction and help keep the engine running smoothly. Checking your oil level is easy, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
While under the bonnet, it’s recommended that you also check your brake/clutch fluid level (brake fluid is the same thing as clutch fluid, and is sometimes referred to as hydraulic fluid). It is responsible for moving the various components of your vehicle’s braking system. The fluid operates under high temperatures and high pressure and, without it, your car or truck would not be able to stop when you push the brake pedal inside your vehicle… in short, having sufficient (and clean) brake fluid is very important!
- Locate your engine oil dipstick (usually yellow, orange, or red).
- Pull out the dipstick and wipe it with a clean cloth.
- Re-insert the dipstick back where it came from.
- Pull it back out, this time will get the precise reading.
- Check that it’s in between the min. and max. markers.
- Determine what type of oil your car requires. You can do this by checking your manufacturers handbook, or in this day and age you can simply check online (Halfords) 🗗.
- Once you’ve got the correct oil, locate the engine oil filler cap and undo it.
- Pour oil into the hole trying to make as little spillage as possible. Use a funnel if you have to.
- Pour in small increments, checking the dipstick regularly to see where the level is at.
- Once sufficient oil has been poured in, clean any excess which may have spilled. Twist the filler cap back on fairly tightly then you’re done.
- Locate the tank (it’s often got a yellow lid), and check that it’s in between the minimum and maximum markers.
- Open the lid, and check that the fluid is clean. You can put in a clean piece of kitchen towel to extract some liquid to check how clean it is.
- If level is low, check which brake fluid your car needs (Halfords) 🗗, then top it up with that liquid. If your liquid has become dirty, visit your local garage and get them to replace it completely.
Water really stands for a couple of fluids which need to be checked under your car’s bonnet. Coolant and windscreen washer fluid.
Check engine coolant
- Locating your engine coolant is easy – it’ll have a picture of a thermometer on the filler cap.
- Ensure the liquid inside is between the minimum and maximum levels on the outside of the container.
- If you need to refill, you can use your own simple mixture consisting of distilled water and an appropriate amount of antifreeze (check the bottle for how . You can make a mixture yourself, or buy ready-to-go engine coolant which already has antifreeze in it.
Check windscreen washer fluid
Next, it’s time to check your windscreen washer fluid level – it’ll have the windscreen symbol on the filler cap. The minimum level is usually just the bottom of the tank here, all you have to do is make sure it’s nicely topped up with quality windscreen washer fluid, available at any car store, or even general shops and supermarkets.
Checking your vehicle for damage, or early signs of it, will not only keep it running longer, it’ll look and perform better! Whilst checking for damage, it’s worth giving things a clean if necessary.
- Check all windows for damage and clean as necessary. Get chips fixed early, as these can turn into cracks easily.
- Check side mirrors for damage and clean as necessary.
- Check all bodywork for damage and clean as necessary.
- Check all lights for damage and clean as necessary, including headlights, indicators and rear reflectors.
- Check number plate for damage and clean as necessary.
- Check wiper blades for damage and clean as necessary. To do this, run your finger down the wiper blade to check for nicks and tears.
- Visually check tyres for any damage; cuts, scrapes or bulges on any of the faces of the tyre are possible.
Keeping a topped up battery is crucial. The battery is responsible for a lot more things than most people think: your radio, head and tail lights, windows (if electric), heaters, air con, and more. If your car is having problems starting, it’s most likely (but not always) the battery, as electrical input is needed to start an engine. Get it checked out and replaced if necessary.
- Check that your head lights and tail lights are working. If dim, causes could be an old bulb, or poor battery performance.
- Check that your main beam and fog lights are working. If dim, causes could be an old bulb, or poor battery.
- Check that your brake lights and reverse lights are working. If dim, causes could be an old bulb, or poor battery performance.
- Check that your horn is working.
- Consider replacing your battery. Take note that batteries have an effective life of around five years. Therefore, if you’re coming to the end of this period, consider taking it to a garage or testing it yourself using a multimeter (YouTube) 🗗.
Checking your rubber (tyres) will not only keep you safe, but legal!
Only about a palm-sized section of each tyre is in contact with the road at any time. Four palms is all we have to keep our 1.5+ tonne machines gripped will to the ground as they’re steering and turning all around the country. Having poor tyres is dangerous for you and other road users. For this reason, it’s imperative they’re checked every so often. As well as general damage, it’s important a couple of other features are checked too.
1. Check general condition
Ask yourself: do any of the tyres have any cuts, scrapes, or bulges on the inner or outer sidewalls? Is the tread worn unevenly? If the answer is yes to either of those questions, you should get them checked out.
2. Check tread depth
Your tread depth is how deep the grooves/indents are in your tyres, and they need to be checked that they’re sufficiently deep. The law states that you must have at least 1.6mm, however we really recommend you keep a minimum of 3mm. Having tread depth under 3mm is dangerous and you risk the risk of your tyres losing grip while you’re travelling. New tyres come with around 8mm of tread depth.To check your tread depth, you can use a ruler (as long as it’s an edge-to-edge ruler), a 20p coin (the outer edge is 1.6mm), or a specific tread-depth gauge. Alternatively, you can run your finger along the tyre tread wear indicators. If the tyre is flush with these indicators, you need to replace your tyres!
How to spot
The inside edge, outside edge, or shoulder will show considerably more wear than the rest of the tyre.
Suspension misalignment, a bent strut, a dislocated strut tower, a weak or broken spring, a bent spindle, or collapsed or damaged control arm bushings.
How to fix
Take your vehicle to your local garage or tyre specialist so they can check what’s wrong, and fix it.
Centre of the tread more worn than the shoulders
You may have overinflated one or more of your tyres, causing them to bulge in the middle.
How to fix
You should check your tyre pressure against the manufacturer’s guidelines. The information can be found in your car?s manual.
Shoulders more worn than the centre
How to spot
The alternate situation to the above, the edges of your tyres will have worn more than the centre.
You may have underinflated your tyres, which has caused a dip in the centre.
How to fix
You should look up the recommended tyre pressure, stated in your car’s manual.
3. Check tyre pressure
Lastly, it’s important you ensure your tyre pressure is correct. Typical go-to pressures for regular cars are 33/34 PSI (2.3 BAR) for all wheels, however the precise pressure your vehicle tyres require depends on the size of tyres and the load you intend of having in the vehicle. To find your vehicle’s recommended tyre pressures, check your vehicle handbook, look for a sticker on the inside of the door/door frame, or just check online (Kwik Fit) 🗗. Note that you’ll need to know your tyre size, which can be found on the outside of your tyre. It’ll be in a format of “123-45A67”.
Once you’ve found out what pressure level (PSI or BAR) your front and tyres need, go to a petrol station as most of them have free air pumps you can use. Simply set the pressure you need on the machine, remove your dust caps and insert the nozzle. The machine will beep once it’s at the correct pressure, letting you know it’s time to move on to the next wheel. Only check and adjust your tyre pressure when your tyres are cold, as if they’re warm it’ll give you an incorrect reading. Also, make sure you put the dust caps back on afterwards!
You could also look at changing from summer to winter tyres, as these also offer increased group in snow slush or ice. If you wanted to go even further, you can check your brake pads/brake discs by performing a brake test.
Test brakes periodically
Your foot brake should feel firm, but not excessively spongy or slack. It’s always worth getting your brakes checked by a mechanic if you feel like they’re weak, but there are 2 simple checks you can do yourself first:
- Repeatedly apply firm pressure to the footbrake pedal. Your brakes should feel firm, but not spongy or slack.
- While maintaining constant firm pressure on the footbrake, turn on the ignition.
- The brake should should yield and soften slightly, going down by an inch or two. This is the hydraulic brake system kicking in.
- You have now completed the stationary brake test. If your footbrake doesn’t give way slightly, like described above, then check what type of brakes your car has. If it’s definitely hydraulics, which is very common in newer cars, then get it seen to by a mechanic. If they feel loose, spongy, and “weak” altogether, then get them seen to by a mechanic.
- Somewhere safe and level, start the engine and move SLOWLY – do not exceed 5mph.
- Holding the steering wheel gently, press the brake pedal (and clutch) to stop the car. The steering wheel should remain straight with no noticeable movement to the left or right. If the wheel moves to the left or right, ensure that you are on a road that does not have a steep camber and test again.
- If the vehicle is pulling noticeably to one side, check your tyre pressures are correct and even, and if the road you’re driving on is level. If the car stills pulls with correctly inflated tyres and on a completely flat surface, get it checked by a mechanic.
Carry a car breakdown kit
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
Imagine yourself stranded at the side of the road in poor conditions. Keeping essentials in your car will not only give you peace of mind you’ll be safe in these scenarios, you’ll be seen as an absolute hero when you whip out your thermal blanket and emergency rations while waiting for your breakdown cover to come and rescue you!
Above: Some of the things you should think about keeping in your glovebox or the boot of your car.
Check your cover
Comprehensive breakdown cover is crucial at any time of the year, and will give you the peace of mind of knowing you won’t end up stranded at the side of the road.
So check your policy and remember to take a contact phone number with you on all journeys.
Another extra quick, easy, and free check you can do to ensure your car is in good health, is check 2 of it’s belts (or a belt and a chain depending on your car):
In short, the alternator belt (or serpentine belt) is responsible for generating electricity. This electricity is then shared between your alternator (which keeps your battery topped up with electricity goodness), power steering, water pump, air con, and maybe other things depending on the vehicle.
So, if you’re having electrical problems in your car, the cause could very well be a poor alternator which is not charging your battery properly.
What to do
Locate it, then check that it’s firm. It should be able to turn 1/2 to 3/4 of the way around but no further. Then, check the outer and inner faces (including the edges!) for cracks or other signs of wear.
I recommend that you get a trusted mechanic to replace a worn belt, but if you want to give it a go yourself, here’s a great step-by-step guide (wikiHow) 🗗 .
Your car will either have a cam/timing belt (Wikipedia) 🗗 or chain (YourMechanic) 🗗. Newer cars will tend to have chains, and are slowly replacing cam belts. The belts are more prone to perishing or breaking, while a chain is metal and tends to last much longer. It’s worth knowing which one your vehicle has, so you can know what your mechanic is talking about, and to prevent you from ever getting done by a dodgy mechanic (unfortunately some exist).
Above: This Honda has a cam chain which is located within the engine housing.
With that said, checking (and especially replacing) a cam/timing belt or chain, is labour intensive as it’s housed either mainly or partially within the actual engine, so needs to be intricately taken apart in most cases. The good thing is, this will get covered in a vehicle service.
If you’d like to give a go at checking if your belt or chain is in good working order yourself, then give this guy’s video a watch (YouTube) 🗗.
Get regular services
Vehicle services are provided by reliable garages, and will give a comprehensive checkup of the vehicle, as well as a top up/replacement of a selection of items.
Check to see what will be included in your service, items you should look out for include:
Keep it clean!
Keeping your car clean will help it maintain its value for longer – rust will be deterred, and you’ll be alerted to any problems early as cleaning a car is an opportunity to have the bodywork panels checked. Not only that, but you’ll simply look better and feel better while on the road!
Use the POWDER routine
It’s a simple-to-do routine, and covers the absolute basics which all vehicle owners should be keeping on top of.