General Guides | Car Maintenance Checklist

Car Maintenance Checklist

Mon, 13 September 2021

A man looks under his car as part of his car maintenance checks, which include tyre pressure checks

Credit: Pikrepo

Maintaining your car reduces the risk of costly repairs, helps it last longer and ensures that it’s safe for you and other road users. Learning basic car maintenance checks is not only a safety precaution but can save money if you spot and fix minor damage before it gets worse.

Our beginners’ car maintenance checklist highlights all the things you need to do to maintain your vehicle. It groups them into

  • Checks you should make before long or motorway journeys
  • Checks to make after 6,000 miles or one year
  • Mechanic checks.

We give you basic instructions but, if you need more help, look for photos online which are the best way to recognise what you are looking for under the bonnet of your own car!

We also explain how company owners can boost the efficiency of their vehicles by keeping track of their car fuel costs.

Begin by checking your owner’s manual

Your owner’s manual should be the first thing you check before making any maintenance checks on your car.

The owner’s manual for your car gives you insight into specific details concerning your vehicle — checks more unique to it.

But the most important reason to check your owner’s manual is it highlights the maintenance schedule for your car, explaining not only what checks need to be made but when they must be carried out.

If you can’t find your owner’s manual then visit the website of your car manufacturer. Most automakers publish their car manuals online, so it should be no problem for you to find yours.

Long Journey & Motorway Car Maintenance Checks

These are the safety checks you should make every time you drive on a motorway or go on any long road trip.

  1. Brakes
  2. Tyre pressures and condition
  3. Coolant
  4. Oil
  5. Windscreen wipers
  6. Screen wash
  7. Lights
  8. Mirrors
  9. Seatbelts
  10. Fuel level
  11. AdBlue, if you drive a diesel car
  12. Emergency supplies

Brakes

Brakes are obviously a vital safety feature of driving that must be in perfect working order before you go on the road.

Here’s how you check your brakes:

  • Open the bonnet of your car
  • Open the brake fluid reservoir
  • See what the brake fluid level is
  • If the fluid level is fine then you don’t need to add more
  • If the fluid level is low then top up it up (check your owner’s manual to find the right fluid specification)*

You should also keep an eye on your dashboard, as a warning light will come on if there is any wear and tear issues with your brake pads

Brake fluid reservoir in car

*Please note that brake fluid is corrosive. If you’re concerned about this then take your car to a mechanic to check its brake fluid levels.

Tyre pressures and condition

Your car must have roadworthy tyres. If it doesn’t then you could face a fine of up £2,500 and three penalty points for each illegal tyre, with a max fine of £10,000 and ten penalty points — ten penalty points leads to an immediate driving ban of six months.

First, refer to your car manual to be certain of the required pressure for your car’s front and rear tyres – they are often different. You may wish to invest in a portable tyre gauge and pump which is powered by your car battery, connecting via the “cigarette lighter” socket.

Here’s how you check your tyres:

  • Look for any cuts
  • Look for any bulges
  • Make sure the tread depth is a minimum of 1.6mm
  • Ensure each tyre is pumped to the right pressure using a portable tyre pressure gauge or one at a petrol station. You will be able to top up to the required pressure if necessary.

Coolant

Engine coolant stops your engine from overheating and lubricates moving parts in your car, preventing damage to your head gasket, water pump, piston timing and cylinder. You will most certainly destroy your engine if you drive without it!

Here’s how to check your engine coolant:

  • Locate the expansion tank
  • See what the coolant level is
  • If the level is fine then you’re all good
  • If the level is off then top it up with antifreeze
Car expansion tank

Oil

Oil is one of the most important substances in your car. Oil cleans, cools, lubricates and protects your engine’s moving parts, ensuring it doesn’t seize up and break down.

Here’s how to check your engine oil:

  • Make sure your engine is cold and you’re parked on flat ground
  • Open the bonnet
  • Locate the dipstick
Dipstick stored under the bonnet
  • Open the oil tank
  • Clean the dipstick then insert into the oil reservoir
  • Pull the dipstick out
  • Check to see if the level is correct as stated in your car manual
  • If the level is fine then you don’t need to do anything
  • If the level is low then you need to top up your oil with the correct type, as stated in your car manual, and then check the level again
  • Wipe the dipstick clean before replacing it in its clips

Windscreen wipers

If your wiper blades need replacing you will have noticed streaks across your windscreen when it rains, or if you try to clean your windscreen while driving and discover you are just making even worse smears across your field of vision.

The last thing you should risk is making this discover while driving along a motorway.

If this doesn’t convince you, it’s also worth bearing in mind that the DVSA says faulty wiper blades are in the top three reasons for MOT fails.

  • Lift the wiper arm from the glass until it locks in the upright position. Don’t let it spring back against the glass. If the arm doesn’t lock in position, hold it carefully while you check the blade.
  • Wipe the cleaning edge of the blade using a clean cloth dipped in undiluted washer fluid.
  • Run a finger along the edge of the blade to check the rubber for damage. If there are any cracks or splits, you need a new blade.
  • First turn the blade at right angles to the arm. Some blades have securing tabs that need to be released before the blade can be removed. Note which way round the blade fits before removing it, to help when fitting the new blade.
  • Depending on the type of new wiper blade you’re fitting, fit the correct adaptor to it – check the instructions supplied with the new blade for details.
  • Fit the new blade to the arm, making sure that it’s pushed fully home and the securing tabs are closed, if you have them. Then lower the arm gently onto the glass.
  • Check that the wipers work properly before driving the car!

Windscreen wiper blade sizes are measured in millimetres or inches, which refers to the length of the blade. There are a range of wiper blades available, in sizes from 9″ to 32″ or 250mm through to 813mm.

Screen wash

If you don’t have sufficient washer fluid then you won’t be able to clean dirt from your windscreen, which will obscure your vision and could cause an accident.

Here’s how you check your windscreen washer fluid level safely:

  • Ensure your engine is cold and you’re parked on flat ground
  • Open the bonnet of your car and locate the washer fluid cap
  • Check the level inside or on the side of the tube
  • If the level is correct then you’re fine
  • If the level is low then you need to fill it up to the indicated maximum level.
Windscreen washer fluid

Fuel level

Check that you have enough fuel to complete your journey. If you don’t, plan where you will fill up as close to home as possible.

Lights

It’s an extreme safety hazard to drive your car if your lights aren’t fully functioning. Your lights tell other drivers if you’re going to change direction or stop and allow them to see you on the road at night.

Here’s how you check your lights if you don’t have anyone else to stand outside the car and tell you what is working:

  • Park in front of a reflective surface
  • Apply your brakes to see if the brake lights work
  • Turn on your indicators to see if they work
  • Turn on your main beam to see if the lights work
  • Turn on your fog lights to see if they work

Mirrors

Mirrors allow you to see other road users, from cars behind you to cyclists overtaking you. Faulty mirrors can lead you to take actions that cause accidents.

Here’s how you check your mirrors:

  • Make sure you always have a clear view from your rear-view mirror
  • Make sure you always have a clear view from your wing mirrors
  • Look for any cracks in your mirrors
  • Ensure your mirrors are clean

Seatbelts

You should check all the seatbelts in your car regularly.

  • Check that all seatbelts are functioning and not twisted.
  • Yank each seatbelt sharply to make sure it immediately locks instead of unrolling freely, to make sure it will hold the driver and passengers in their seats in the event of a collision.
  • Insert each seatbelt into its lock to make sure it closes and holds properly.

Adblue

A diesel car can get through a litre of AdBlue every 350 to 600 miles, depending on your driving style and the car model.

You should top up your AdBlue as soon as the warning light comes on because your car will not drive without it.

Emergency supplies

The British red Cross recommends that you should have an emergency car kit in your car at all times, containing at least the following items:

  • Ice scraper and de-icer
  • Snow shovel
  • A map in case you need to find your way around diversions
  • Blanket and warm clothes
  • First aid kit
  • Battery-operated torch and spare batteries, or a wind-up torch
  • Battery-operated radio and spare batteries, or a wind-up radio
  • Jump leads

You can buy an all-in kit containing these items, with prices ranging from £30 to £130. Before going on a long journey, check your kits contains everything and that nothing is broken and that the batteries still work.

iCompario tip:

We also recommend adding the following items to your emergency supplies kit:

  • An extra layer of warm clothes in case you break down
  • Ready-to-eat food
  • Bottled water
  • Mobile phone and charger
  • Any essential medication
  • Spare glasses or contact lenses
  • Cash and credit cards
  • A list of emergency contact numbers on paper, in case your mobile phone loses power
  • Baby and pet supplies if needed

Regular Car Maintenance Checks You Can Do Yourself

These are checks you should make every 6,000 miles or every 365 days, which will come sooner if you are a low-mileage driver. You should certainly make all these checks before taking your car in for its MOT.

You will find it useful to make some of these checks more often than that, depending on the weather, how you are using your car and whether you suspect something may not be right based on observation.

You should make all the checks in the ‘Long Journey Car Maintenance Checks’ list, plus the following:

  1. Air conditioning
  2. Battery
  3. Exteriors
  4. Leaves and gunk
  5. Rust
  6. Interiors
  7. Horn
  8. Reversing camera

Air conditioning

Here’s how you check your air conditioning:

  • Start your car, ideally on a warm day, with all the windows closed
  • Turn on the air conditioning (on both settings) at its coldest setting
  • You should feel the car becoming cold very quickly.
  • If this fails to happen, you’ll need to get a mechanic to check the system. They may need to insert new gas and they should check the whole system with a blue dye, which reveals where there is a leak.
  • If your air conditioning system gives off a smell of mould you may need new filters (including pollen filter), or the whole system cleaned. If this is what you need, make sure you specify that to the mechanic so they are clear you are not just asking for the air con to be checked as fault-free.

Battery

Your car battery provides electrical current for your car’s starter, engine and other important electronic features.

Here’s how you check your car battery:

  • Turn on your headlights (without starting your engine)
  • Leave your headlights on for around 15 minutes
  • Start your car after 15 minutes have passed
  • Observe how bright your headlights are
  • If your headlights don’t dim then your battery is OK
  • If your headlights do dim then you should replace your battery before driving

Exteriors

Simply put, your car exteriors are all the important components found on the outside of your car. Some parts of a car’s exterior are covered elsewhere in this guide. This section concerns exterior checks that don’t have a designated explanation.

Here’s how you check your exteriors:

  • Check that both wing mirrors are clean
  • Observe your number plates and see if they’re clean
  • Look at your windows to see if they’re clean.
  • If all these parts of your car are clean, then you’re fine. If any of these parts of your car are dirty then you must clean them
  • Check your wiper blads both front and back. If the rubber is frayed you should replace it promptly, or your vision of the road in poor weather will be dangerously impaired.

Leaves and gunk

Leaves and gunk are exactly what they sound like, they’re debris from plants that can clog up parts of your car. If they clog up parts of your car, it could lead water to build up.

Here’s how you check for leaves and gunk:

  • Check the space between windscreen and bonnet
  • Check the space between your rear windscreen and boot

Rust

Rust may seem like a cosmetic issue but it can lead to serious problems and damage if it gets to the frame of your car. This is why signs of rust in prescribed areas will cause your car to fail its MOT.

Here’s how you check for rust:

  • Check for rust along the frames or rails under the doors
  • Check for rust along the body contour
  • Check for rust inside the wheel wells
  • Check for rust on the exhaust

Interiors

Your interiors are the things inside your car, such as your dashboard, footwells and boot.

Here’s how you check your interiors:

  • Check the seatbelts
  • Make sure the footwells (the space for your feet) are clear or any objects that could roll under pedals.
  • Make sure the dashboard, steering wheel, gear stick and other essentials are clean
  • Make sure you don’t overload your boot with unnecessary items, which will increase your petrol consumption.

Horn

Your horn lets other drivers know your car is on the road, making it an important safety tool when driving in poor conditions.

Here’s how you check your horn:

  • Press it and see if it’s working!
  • If it doesn’t then get a mechanic to look at it, as you never know when you might need to use it.

Reversing camera

Reversing cameras are a great tool for parking, as they allow you to see how close you are to objects (such as other vehicles) and animals (like people, cats or dogs).

Reversing cameras get coated in mud very frequently so you should keep wipes in your car to clean the camera any time you need to. If you need help to locate this tiny camera close to your rear bumper, refer to your car manual.

Here’s how you check your reversing camera is working properly:

  • Take someone with you
  • Park in front of a clear wall
  • Get the person to stand at the rear of your car
  • Begin reversing your car to the camera is activated
  • Ask the person to let you know how far you have to reverse
  • Tally what the person tells you with the images and warning noises from your camera
  • Another thing to check is the quality of the images — they should be clear, not blurry

Maintenance Checks A Mechanic Should Carry out

These are not checks you are likely to be able to make yourself, but you should keep an eye on them and phone a mechanic if they present problems.

  1. Air filter
  2. Exhaust
  3. Transmission fluid
  4. Diesel particulate filter
  5. Electrics
  6. Spark plugs
  7. Tracking
  8. Fuel filter

Do you understand your dashboard messages?

Your dashboard messages alert you to how your vehicle is behaving and performing. Dashboard messages are colour-coded and range from confirming your car is working correctly to highlighting a serious problem that requires immediate attention.

Here’s how you check your dashboard messages:

  • Green: the relevant feature of your car is working correctly.
  • Yellow: the relevant feature of your car has a problem you should check ASAP.
  • Red: the relevant feature of your car has a serious issue and you must stop driving.

Every car has different dashboard symbols, so look at your car manual to make sure you recognise them and be sure to print off a set of images from online to keep in your car if you don’t have a manual.

Air filter

Your air filter is responsible for preventing damaging contaminants, debris and dirt from getting into your car’s engine, such as dust and pollen. This is similar to your cabin air filter, which removes contaminants from inside your car.

Here’s how you check your engine air filter:

  • Open the bonnet
  • Find your air filter
  • Take out the air filter
  • Hold the air filter up to strong light
  • If you can see light coming through then it’s fine
  • If there isn’t light coming through, drop it lightly to shake some of the contents out

Continue lightly dropping the air filter until you can see light coming through it

Car air filter

Exhaust

Your car exhaust is tasked with removing harmful emissions from your vehicle and the environment. The emissions removed by your exhaust include nitrogen oxide, nitrogen monoxide and carbon monoxide.

Here’s how you check your exhaust:

  • Start your car
  • Check for any unusual sounds (like chugging, hissing or roaring)
  • If you hear any unusual noises then get your exhaust checked by a mechanic
  • Look at your exhaust and see if there are any cracks, holes or signs of rust
  • If there’s any sign of damage to your exhaust then get it checked

Transmission fluid

Transmission fluid acts as a lubricant for your car’s transmission. Low or non-existent transmission fluid can lead to transmission failure, difficulty in shifting or gear slip.

Here’s how to check your transmission fluid:

  • Park on a flat surface
  • Put your brake on
  • Start your engine
  • Find the transmission fluid dipstick and insert it into the transmission fluid bottle
  • Remove the dipstick and check the level

If the level doesn’t reach the ‘warm’ line then you’ll need to add more fluid

Transmission fluid
  • Wipe the dipstick
  • Put the dipstick back in its storage position

Diesel particulate filter

A diesel particulate filter (DPF) captures soot and stores it from your car exhaust. It does this to reduce harmful exhaust emissions.

You’ll know if your DPF is blocked because a warning light will come on your dashboard. If this happens then you should get your car checked by a mechanic.

Electrics

There is a huge amount of electrical wiring in your car, running from your lights to your dashboard and all around the car. These are some of the most common signs that your car’s electrics are failing:

  • There’s a smell of burning plastic
  • Engine doesn’t crank correctly
  • You have issues with your battery
  • Lights aren’t working properly
  • Fuses continuously blow

If you notice any of these issues then you should take your car to a mechanic as soon as possible. When the electrics in a modern car stop working, you usually cannot drive at all.

Spark plugs

Spark plugs are a vital part of your car. If they’re faulty then your engine will misfire so it won’t start.

A general rule is to get your spark plugs replaced every 30,000 miles. Have a look at the service history for your car and if it’s been 30,000 miles since the spark plugs were replaced then it’s a good idea to get a mechanic to put new ones in to pre-empt problems.

More of a replacement than a check, but spark plugs are integral to the running of your engine — one or more faulty plugs will cause an engine misfire so it’s worth knowing how to replace them.

If you want to replace spark plugs yourself, you’ll need the right tools. It’s also a good idea to check your handbook or consult a dealer to check that a DIY replacement is possible.

Tracking

Tracking is where your car’s wheels are set to the best position for its tyres.

The clearest indication that your tracking is off is if your steering wheel pulls to one side when you are driving. This could also be a sign that your power steering fluid is low, but this is far less often the cause.

If your tyre alignment is off, then you should get your tracking done by a mechanic with laser tracking equipment for the best precision in alignment. This is particularly important because, in case you have to do an emergency stop, misaligned types could make your car skid off sideways, potentially making a dangerous situation much worse.

Fuel Filter

The fuel filter captures dirt and rust from the fuel so they can’t enter the engine and cause damage. This type of dirt would cause unnecessary wear and tear on the engine components and cause serious damage to the overall system.

Filter housings or connections can leak, or allow air into the system.

Fuel filters can start to cause issues if the correct service schedule isn’t adhered to. Filters should generally be replaced between 20-40,000 miles. Your handbook will have the suggested replacement intervals for your particular car. It’s not a bad idea to replace them more frequently than the recommended service schedule states.

If you don’t know the last time the filter was changed, have it changed as soon as you can. It has a huge bearing on how well your car runs, and they only cost £15 on average.

Compare fuel cards for your business

iCompario is the free online marketplace for business products and services, where managers and owners can research and rapidly compare fuel cards, vehicle tracking systems, insurance, telecoms and other essentials. The team follows up online queries by telephone so every site visitor finds their ideal, future-proof product at the best price possible.

Fuel cards are a great way for businesses to keep track of their diesel and petrol expenses. If you’re ensuring your company’s cars are properly maintained then it could be a wise idea to ensure your business’ fuel efficiency levels are maintained too.

Read more about fuel cards on iCompario

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