Make sure your car is healthy and ready for the road with these tips
We don’t hesitate to treat our loved ones over the festive period, yet fewer of us consider the implications of forgetting to give our four-wheeled friends a bit of annual affection.
The average Brit spends around 10 hours driving every week, entrusting their cars to get them safely from A to B. It’s therefore crucial to check that your vehicle is performing as it should, particularly as the winter weather drags on.
Before 2018 arrives, ensure your ride remains roadworthy and up to date with these simple, affordable maintenance checks and upgrades.
Basic winter maintenance
With winter’s cold temperatures and icy weather bringing additional hazards to the road, it’s important that your car is equipped to deal with these extra challenges.
Even if you’re not mechanically minded, there are several basic checks that you can perform to make sure your vehicle is safe to drive during these frosty months.
“Simple checks such as making sure your windscreen wipers are in good condition and that your screen wash is topped up make a difference if you get stuck on a motorway in a blizzard,” suggests Richard Hitchman of Holts, a company that specialises in car care and maintenance products.
“Remember not to use water as this can freeze. You need a winter-ready screen wash.”
Checking your levels of oil, coolant and brake fluid are other easy tasks that can be performed while topping up screen wash. The former two will keep your engine running as it should, while the latter is essential in helping to stop the car.
Elsewhere on the vehicle, make sure that your lights are clean and working correctly – splashes from grimy winter roads will quickly reduce their efficiency. Also check that your battery is healthy. Cold weather is a notorious battery killer, but many garages offer free battery checks to help ensure your car starts reliably on cold winter mornings.
Get to grips with tyres
Tyres are the only things connecting a car to the road, so it’s crucial that their tread, pressure and condition are regularly checked. However, research from Kwik Fit recently found that only a third of drivers check their tyres on a monthly basis, while one in eight admit to never checking them.
“A tyre’s performance on wet roads deteriorates well before it reaches the legal minimum tread depth of 1.6mm,” says Roger Griggs of Kwik Fit.
“Most manufacturers recommend changing tyres when they reach between 2-3mm of tread. You can easily check the tread with a 20p coin – if you put the coin in the tyres grooves and can see the outer band of the coin, the tyres may be illegal and unsafe.”
Roger also advises checking tyre pressure regularly – incorrect inflation reduces grip as well as increasing tyre wear and fuel consumption. If you have a spare tyre, be sure to check this too as it’ll be no help in an emergency if it’s flat.
Jobs for the experts
Automotive technology evolves every year, equipping the latest cars with advanced features that help to make driving easier and safer. Like other safety features, these need to be checked, although their complex nature means it’s usually best to let a professional handle it.
“Many of the latest safety features in people’s cars, like automatic braking and lane-departure warnings, rely on a central Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) which is connected to various sensors around the vehicle,” explains Dr Chris Davies of Autoglass, which provides ADAS checks as well as windscreen repairs.
“Not everyone realises that these systems may need to be calibrated to make sure they are working properly after maintenance is performed on their car.
“It’s really important for drivers to be aware of this. If the information provided by the sensors is off by the slightest fraction, the system may fail to warn the driver correctly about a potential hazard.”
Upgrade your car tech
While not strictly essential, a few affordable car upgrades can help to bring your vehicle up to date for the new year. Dashboard cameras (better known as dash cams) are a particularly popular choice: by filming what happens on the road, you’ll have proof when an accident isn’t your fault, saving you from making a claim on your car insurance and keeping your premium to a minimum.
Modern cars often come with parking sensors. If yours doesn’t have them installed, investing in some will help you to monitor blind spots and obstacles, improving the overall safety of your driving without the need to upgrade your vehicle.
Another popular upgrade is to purchase an in-car WiFi and 4G hub, which will keep you and your passengers connected during long road trips. Just don’t let this distract you when you’re driving: using a phone or other gadget while behind the wheel is a serious offence that could lead to a driving ban and a fine of up to £1,000.