Looking after your car
The days are long gone when drivers were required to carry out regular maintenance work on their cars. Simple, mechanical engines have been replaced with ultra-sophisticated powerplants controlled by all manner of electronic gizmos. Most modern engines are actively designed to stop people tampering with their innards.
In combination with this increased sophistication has come greater reliability. Modern cars don’t break down half as much as they used to, service intervals have increased and most manufacturers now offer a comprehensive warranty.
This is all good news, but it does not mean that we should adopt a carefree attitude to our cars. Basic, routine maintenance can help to make your car run more efficiency and keep it trouble-free. This basic maintenance is often called “preventative maintenance” because it helps to prevent dangerous breakdowns and costly repairs.
The best and most obvious place to start is with your vehicle’s manual. This will provide a list of the car’s service requirements and detail when and how they should be performed. Some modern cars now have variable service intervals – an on-board computer analyses how the car is being used and determines when it needs a service – but this is still relatively rare.
The vast majority of cars still have fixed service intervals. These can vary from anywhere between 6,000 and 12,000 kms, although every six or twelve months is typical. If you fail to have the car serviced on time, you will risk damaging your car and you might also invalidate the manufacturer’s warranty.
In between these trips to the garage, you should also consider some basic maintenance techniques. How you drive and use the car, for example, will have a dramatic impact on its longevity. It might sound silly, but low speed, stop-start trips can be much more damaging for your car than a long high-speed run. Your car needs to get up to full operating temperature to help burn off condensation in its lubrication system and to prevent the formation of sludge.
Driving smoothly will also be of benefit. Try not to be too brutal with the clutch, gearstick, brakes, throttle and steering – aggressive movements put extra and unnecessary strain on the car. If the stop light is at red, cruise up to it, rather than arriving at full speed and then stomping on the brakes. It’s also important to take it easy when you first get into the car, giving the oil chance to warm up.
Simple, regular checks can also help prolong your car’s life. Make sure there’s water in your windscreen washer reservoir and that your wiper blades are in good order – it’s always a good idea to use screenwash instead of water. Check the oil when the car is cold – an oil and oil filter change every year is recommended. You should also regularly make sure that all your lights are working properly, or risk prosecution. Motorists are advised to carry a spare set of bulbs in case one breaks on a long journey.
That awful screeching noise you often hear when car’s are accelerating is a loose fan belt, which can not only damage your alternator but will eventually lead to a flat battery. Do nothing and you risk both your battery or, even worse, an overheating car. Get it checked by a qualified technician. The engine’s timing belt will also need changing eventually. If it breaks, it can be the end of your engine so change it at the time recommended in the handbook.
Most manufacturers recommend that the air-conditioning system is serviced every two years. You should also try to use it every week to help maintain it. If you’re car ‘pulls’ to one side when you brake, this is a telltale sign that the pads are wearing and you should get it checked. Excessive ‘play’ in the steering – movement of the ‘wheel that doesn’t effect the tyres – could indicate that the wheel alignment is faulty. Even a simple clean and polish can help to protect the bodywork from corrosion, as well as keeping your car looking fresh and desirable.
These simple checks won’t guarantee you a trouble-free future, but they will certainly help.