I’m sure there are some exceptions to every rule, but I’ve never yet met a student who’s rolling in money. And running a car that keeps on conking out can be like having a hole in your pocket. The key with cars is prevention rather than cure. Keeping on top of regular maintenance will prevent all manner of mechanical mishaps.
But more than that, a regular maintenance routine will actually help save you money. Tyres that are properly inflated don’t wear out as quickly and mean your motor won’t use as much fuel. And having the oil and filters changed when the maker suggests will guarantee your car performs as economically as possible. Read on to see my top car care tips.
Make sure you know the basics before you leave home. That way, you can either ask someone to show you or have a parent help you figure out how to do things. And the ultimate way of being prepared is to have your car serviced before you go. That should detect any major or safety-related components that are on the way out. And it should enable you to leave home with the peace of mind that an expert mechanic has cast his eyes over your car.
That old saying preparing for the worst while hoping for the best springs to mind here. Make sure that the user manual is somewhere in the car and not at home in the garage. If your car’s got one, get the spare wheel out and pump it up to the correct the pressure and check you have the jack and locking wheel nut key in the car. And if you’ve never changed a wheel before, now’s the time to do it, when you’ve got someone to show you how. Having a reflective vest is a good idea too, just in case.
I say weekly jobs but I realise you’ll have plenty to do without cluttering up your life with car maintenance! But if you can do these jobs regularly, weekly or fortnightly, your car will thank you for it.
Give your tyres a visual inspection. This is to make sure there aren’t any nails or screws sticking in them or any bulges in the sides that could indicate an impending blow out. Then check the air pressure on each tyre and also the tread depth. I explain how to do it on this tyre maintenance blog.
Check the oil too. This is the lifeblood of your engine. Some cars never seem to use any oil; some seem to use a lot. But one thing’s for sure you don’t want to risk running out. I explain how to check the oil and top it up in this blog.
While you’re under the bonnet and when the engine is cold, check the coolant level. This is in a clear reservoir and the level should be between the minimum and maximum markers.
Make sure all the lights are working too. This is the work of a moment, simply by turning them on and walking round the car. A friend can help with the brake lights.
Top up the water in the windscreen washer bottle. Don’t wait until you run out: this is bound to happen at the most inconvenient and possibly dangerous time. A good tip is to fill an empty bottle with some screenwash and water already mixed up. That way you’ll know you’ve got the right concentration of screen wash (important for winter) without wasting it by using too much (important for your wallet).
Check the power steering reservoir too. The level of this should be between the minimum and maximum markers. If it’s low, check your car’s user manual to see what fluid you need and how to top it up.
Get breakdown cover
Last but definitely not least, if you’re heading off to uni in the next few months, it’s probably safe to assume you won’t know anyone with any mechanical expertise – at least initially. It’s also safe to say that you never know when a breakdown is going to strike. And the last thing you (or your parents) want is for you to be stranded at the roadside without anyone to help. Breakdown cover need not be expensive. And hopefully you won’t need it. But you never know.
Nick Reid is head of automotive technology at Direct Line Group and a fellow of the Institute of the Automotive Industry