Maintaining your car

Dashboard warning lights and what they mean

Lots of brightly coloured lights but what are they telling you?

Lots of brightly coloured lights but what are they telling you?

It may be the one thing that every driver dreads, but an illuminated warning light on your vehicle’s instrument panel could save you and your car from expensive damage. This is what the symbols mean and what to do if they appear.

Chris Rutt, service delivery manager for Volkswagen UK says it’s vital drivers pay attention to their car’s warning lights. “They are designed to alert drivers to a fault with their car or van and aren’t as complicated as some drivers may think. A red light indicates the driver should stop the vehicle as soon as is safely possible to investigate further; an amber light is an advisory signal. So while there is no need to stop immediately, the reason for the light should be investigated as soon as is practically possible by a servicing agent.”

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The Scenic Route: Technician’s top tips for trouble-free touring

The Jump star Joe Swash spent two days taking the Scenic Route into the Scottish Highlands. Along the way, he swam in a freezing lake, took a heart-pumping ride along a zip wire and enjoyed an action-packed afternoon learning how to drive his Land Rover off-road. But he also had to cope with a couple of mechanical breakdowns. Our Scenic Route technician’s top tips are ways that every driver can prevent their car suffering a similar fate, as explained by expert Jamie Girvan.

Scenic Route technician’s tips: Don’t take your tyres for granted

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DIY car cleaning that looks like it’s been done by a professional

DIY car cleaning

Cleaning your car to a professional standard is easy when you know how

The changing British seasons, with their equally changeable weather, also mark a time when drivers all over Britain go in for some DIY car cleaning.

But washing a car is not as straightforward as most of us like to imagine. At least, that’s the view of expert car cleaner, Sean Longworth-Smith of Ultimate Finish. The car care and detailing company, based at Brands Hatch in Kent, has been helping drivers primp and preen their cars for 15 years. And Sean knows what it takes to give any car the professional finish.

“You have to establish a routine – cycles – and stick to it each time you clean the car. That way you won’t miss anything and you’ll get the best finish for the bodywork,” says Sean. Here’s an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide to cleaning a car.

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Can you change a wheel? Majority of British drivers say they can’t

55% of British drivers say they can't change a spare wheel

55% of British drivers say they can’t change a wheel

Complaining about the state of Britain’s roads is one of the most familiar grumbles amongst motorists. Whether it’s collapsing verges that can drag cars into hedgerows, potholes that will swallow a wheel whole or drains that seem to do a better job of acting like a plug than, well, a drain, there’s no shortage of hazards that can cause damage to cars.

So the results of a survey of 1000 British drivers paint an alarming picture. Despite our cars most vulnerable parts coming under daily assault, the majority of drivers admit they don’t know how to change a wheel.

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Parking perfection: how to fit parking sensors to a car

Guide to fitting parking sensors to cars and the best systems available

According to a survey, the majority of British drivers are hopeless at parking and admit that poor parking etiquette is their worst driving habit.

But in defence of drivers, is it any wonder most of us find parking brings us out in a cold sweat? Cars have grown and parking bays haven’t. The average car is now said to be two inches wider than the minimum 5ft 11ins gap they have to squeeze into.

So despite parking systems becoming increasingly common, it’s little wonder that thousands of motorists regret not choosing a used car fitted with parking sensors, or wish they’d spent that little bit extra on a new motor and added the sensors as an option.

However, help is at hand. Parisian-style bump-and-grind parking can be banished by fitting aftermarket parking sensors to a car. Here’s how to attain parking perfection.

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How to zap tree sap: top tips for shifting marks on car paintwork

How to remove tree sap from a car's paintwork

If you’ve ever left your car parked under trees on a hot day you’ll know just how tough it can be to remove sap from its paintwork.

If left in place, sap can damage bodywork, eat through the wax and clear coat finish that sits on top of the coloured paint, and leave unsightly blemishes that look a little like a water stain.

Sap transports vital water, nutrients and hormones through a tree, and can leak from the tree naturally or be produced after pruning. Given that many trees are pruned in the autumn and winter, it means that sap isn’t only abundant in hot weather, when pressure builds in trees.

So drivers who find the sticky goo on their car should roll up their sleeves and use a spot of elbow grease to get rid of it. Here’s how.

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How to charge and care for a car battery

How to charge and care for a car battery

A car battery is a bit like the family pet dog. With the right care and attention, it will be faithful and obedient. But drivers who don’t give it a moment’s thought could find it lets them down and goes flat when they need it the most. And unfortunately, that’s most of us: a flat battery is one of the most common causes of car breakdowns for Green Flag members, and the most common in winter.

That goes some way to explaining why this Thursday (18 February) has been named National Battery Day. Knowing how to care for a car battery means knowing how to charge it from time to time. Researching the charging process will throw up all manner of well-meaning amateur and professional advice with conflicting guidance. So this guide is intended to help drivers understand how to better care for their car and charge its battery. Continue reading

Advice for new parents: check your car’s tyres before leaving hospital

Parents

Janine McCarthy’s car rolled six times after a tyre burst; she urges mums-to-be to check their car’s tyres (Picture © TyreSafe)

When it comes to offering advice to new or first-time parents, everyone has words of wisdom to speed mums and dads towards a blissful time with baby. From sleep routines to feeding, pushchairs to car child seats, the parenting tips come think and fast. But it’s rare that those who mean well would ever advise checking your car’s tyres.

However, that’s the message to proud parents across the nation, as a safety campaign gets under way, aimed at parents of the 695,000 babies born in England and Wales each year. It suggests that checking the condition of car tyres is just as critical as making sure babies are taken home from hospital in an appropriate child seat if travelling by car.

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Car servicing: save money and get the best service by shopping around

Car servicing: a Which? investigation found drivers can save over £200 in many towns and cities by shopping around 

Most drivers appreciate the need to have their car serviced on a regular basis. They will follow the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended service intervals, or with modern digital systems, keep an eye on a display in the dashboard which counts down the miles or days until a car next needs servicing. But when the time comes to have the job done, how many of us shop around to save money and get the best standard of work?

The answer is probably not many. It’s all too easy to go with convenience, such as a local garage. And with younger cars, drivers are often swayed by sticking with franchised dealers.

However, the hourly labour rates that greatly influence how expensive a car’s servicing bill vary greatly.

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To chill or not to chill: when to use a car’s air-conditioning in the winter

Driving in winter with air conditioning

Once upon a time, air-conditioning in cars was the ultimate luxury, available only on the most expensive motors. Now it’s a standard feature in the most affordable cars on our roads: the small Dacia Sandero, Skoda Citigo and Vauxhall Viva city cars offer it. But drivers often think that it will be more economical and save on fuel if they don’t use it over winter, when the air rarely needs cooling. So the question is this: to chill or not to chill in winter?

Should you switch a car’s air-conditioning off in winter?

Air-conditioning expert Sam Sihra from Alpinair, in West London, has been servicing cars’ air-conditioning systems since 1972. In his view, switching off a car’s air-conditioning system for weeks on end when the weather is cold, and perhaps only running it occasionally, is a mistake.

Why should drivers use air-con in winter weather?

Air-conditioning is the best way to dehumidify, or dry, damp air. With it running, the inside of a car’s windows won’t mist up; switch it off and it could seem as though you’re driving in dense fog. Equally, using the air-conditioning is a great way of de-misting the car if it steams up when you first get in it on a cold day. Continue reading