Green Flag

Expert advice: how to check your car’s fluids

fluids
It might look complicated but checking fluids is a simple task that anyone can do (Picture iStock/Ljubaphoto)

During lockdown, there’s every chance you won’t have been using your car as much as usual. Before driving it again regularly, it’s a good idea to check it and its fluids thoroughly.

All cars rely on fluids to operate properly. And it’s simple to check oil, coolant, brake fluid and screenwash. Follow my tips for doing so below.

When you’re checking a car’s fluids, it’s important that you park on a flat surface or you may think you haven’t got enough when you have, or more worryingly, vice versa.

How to check your oil

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Expert advice: car care during the COVID-19 lockdown

COVID-19 lockdown
If your car is equivalent to this during its lockdown lay-up, follow our expert tips to keep it in the best shape (Picture iStock/Istanbulimages

Updated: 13th May 2020

Whether you’re now travelling to work again, or if your car is still sat idle, following the advice below is vital to keep your vehicle safe and ready to go when you need it.

Cars are designed to be driven. Some parts rely on regular use to stay in tip-top shape. That means during the COVID-19 lockdown, your car will need some attention to stay fighting fit and ready for any essential journey.

How long you can leave a car parked and expect it to work as it should depends on what condition it’s in. But follow my tips and when you can drive your car, there’s a much greater chance it’ll start first time after a lockdown lay-up.

Look after your battery

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UK COVID-19 lockdown: what it means for MOTs, breakdowns, fuel stations

covid-19 lockdown
The government has suspended MOT tests for six months from 30 March 2020 (Picture iStock/yevtony)

If you’re a Green Flag customer and want our latest advice on what to do if you break down, please visit our important updates page here.

The country is in lockdown due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. The government has told people to work from home where possible and suspended all but essential services. What does this mean for car owners? Read on to find out about MOTs, what’s happening with petrol stations, and what other motoring services are and aren’t available.

What if your car needs an MOT?

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Expert Advice: all about turbo trouble in your car’s engine

turbo trouble
This is what a turbocharger looks like inside an engine (Picture iStock/Kool99)

Ever more cars use turbocharging on their engines. And that makes turbo trouble a problem some drivers might face for the first time. A turbo is a way of getting a smaller, more fuel-efficient engine to match the power of a larger capacity unit.

To work their magic, turbos have to work at high speeds, high temperatures and high pressures so they can be susceptible to failures. But if a turbo packs up, the engine won’t necessarily stop. Here I look at what a turbo is and the kinds of problems your turbo car might experience.

What is a turbo engine?

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Green Flag and smart motorways: how to stay safe

Green flag and smart motorways

The debate about smart motorways is currently raging, so I wanted to clarify Green Flag’s policy on them, and provide the latest information on what happens if you do break down on one.

A quick explanation of smart motorways

Smart motorways are split into three categories:

Dynamic hard shoulder motorways have a hard shoulder on the left-hand side; however, it can be opened for traffic to ease congestion.

Controlled motorways will have variable speed limits shown on screens above the lanes themselves.

All lane running motorways don’t have a hard shoulder, as every lane is used for traffic. You’ll find yellow-painted ‘emergency refuge areas’ every 600m to 1.5 miles. Any driver can use these areas if there is an emergency or they break down.

If you ever see a red X on the screens above the lane, that means the lane is closed. There may be a breakdown or people working on the roadside. Do not drive on this lane until told otherwise (you’ll usually see the red X replaced with a speed limit).

What to do if you break down, but can still drive your vehicle

If you know there’s a problem, but you’re still able to drive safely, try and leave the motorway and then contact us.

If this isn’t possible, then either use an emergency refuge area or move to the left-hand side of the motorway.

Use an emergency refuge area:

If you’re unable to leave the motorway, aim for one of the emergency refuge areas. As these areas can be up to 1.5 miles apart from each other, it’s worth noting when you last passed one so you can work out how close your next area is.

Every emergency refuge area has a phone that you can use to contact Highways England, or you can call them using your mobile on 0300 123 5000. This should always be your first step if you’re broken down in one of these areas.

When you’re in this area, make sure you leave room behind and in front of your vehicle to allow emergency vehicle access.

Move to the left-hand side of the motorway:

If an emergency refuge area is not available, but you can still drive, the next best thing is to move to the left-hand side of the motorway. Use a hard shoulder if it’s available, or get your vehicle as close to the left-hand verge, boundary or a slip-road as possible.

If it’s safe to, have everyone leave using the left-hand doors, and if there’s a safety barrier, get behind it. Move away from the vehicle and stay at a safe distance from the motorway.

Once safe, call Highways England on 0300 123 5000.

What to do if you break down on an active lane

What happens here depends on what lane you are in.

If you’re on the left-hand lane (lane one):

If you break down on the left-hand lane (also known as ‘lane one’), we will be able to come to your rescue. However, there are some steps you need to take to stay safe.

Where possible leave the vehicle by the left doors and follow the instructions above.

If this is not possible, and you can’t safely exit the vehicle, then do the following.

First, make sure your seatbelt is left on and that you’ve put on your hazards. Second, contact Highways England on 0300 123 5000. They will be able to close the lane (using the red X mentioned before) to help keep you safe.

We will come to your rescue, with the help of a fend-off vehicle. This vehicle will sit further back on the lane to help shield you from other vehicles. This fend-off vehicle will come at no extra charge to you.

We will never attempt fix a problem on the lane. We will tow your vehicle off the motorway to somewhere safe. This minimises the amount of disruption to other traffic and enables our technician to inspect your vehicle safely.

If you’re on lanes two, three or four:

Breakdowns on these lanes need to be dealt with by Highways England or the police, as all lanes will most likely have to be closed.

If you are unable to move to any of the areas previously mentioned, make sure you remain in your vehicle with your seatbelt and hazard lights on, then call the police immediately on 999.

If you’re unable to call, stay calm. Smart motorways have control centres that use cameras to monitor the motorways. They will see the problem and will work to get you help as soon as possible. However, always call the police immediately if you are able to.

The future of smart motorways

The smart motorway debate is an ongoing one.

At Green Flag, our priority is – and always will be – customer safety. That’s why we’re an active member of SURVIVE (Safer Use of Verges In Vehicular Emergencies). This is an industry body made up mainly of government agencies and breakdown companies.

I personally sit on this, and we regularly discuss all areas of the breakdown process from the industry’s perspective.

We’re currently debating how well Highways England, which manages the motorway network on behalf of the Government, can support us in trying to increase driver awareness about smart motorways.

In the meantime, I’d like to reassure all drivers that we’re doing all we can to help ensure smart motorways are as safe as possible for everyone.

Read more about smart motorways here.

Damon Jowett is Green Flag’s head of service delivery – rescue

Safety information from GOV.UK (c) Crown Copyright https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3/

Catalytic converter and premium car thefts help fuel spike in car crime

catalytic converter
If you know what you’re doing it’s easy to steal CATs from exhausts for their valuable metals (Picture iStock/BanksPhotos)

Drivers shouldn’t just be worried about having their car stolen. They’re actually more likely to have something pinched from their car. And that could include the catalytic converter.

Figures from London’s Metropolitan Police reveal that in the first six months of 2019, thefts of this component, which makes up a part of the exhaust system, were nearly double the same period in 2018. We investigate the problem and give tips on how you can avoid being a victim of car (and CAT) crime.

Why are catalytic converters stolen?

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Expert advice: how to know if your car is suffering brake trouble

brake trouble
Sudden brake failure is unlikely but faulty brakes still cause crashes (Picture iStock/RapidEye)

Some recent research reveals faulty brakes is the most common vehicle defect to end up causing an accident. The study of official figures by brake maker Pagid showed that dodgy brakes caused 15 deaths in 2018. In the last five years it says 64 deaths have been caused by brake trouble.

We should all check our brakes regularly and if you have any doubts about the system working properly, stop driving and have your car seen to by a professional. Here are some of the main symptoms of faulty brakes, what they mean in real terms, and what you should do about them.

Brake trouble: Soft pedal

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Expert advice: all about the airbags in your car

airbags
Airbags are designed to soften the impact for car occupants (Picture iStock/Therry)

One high tech feature of all modern cars that I never hope you see is the airbag. These are designed to inflate milliseconds after an impact and work with the seatbelts to prevent you hitting any hard surfaces in the car.

They can go wrong but thankfully it’s not something we see very often. But it’s still worth knowing a bit about airbags.

Which cars have airbags?

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Expert advice: what you need to know about new exhaust emissions zones

These signs will be springing up around the country (Picture iStock/ChrisSteer)

Whatever you think about the government and local authorities clamping down on pollution with exhaust emissions zones, we can’t escape them. And as time goes by, restrictions are only going to become tougher. We’ve already heard of some customers being caught out and fined for driving in London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ). Read on to find out what you need to know.

What are exhaust emissions?

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25 years ago, Green Flag was brand new. Here’s what else was going on

25 years ago
Cars have got better but roads have got worse in the last 25 years (Picture iStock/oversnap)

Do you remember what you were doing 25 years ago? What car you were driving, how much you spent on fuel and how congested the roads were?

Even if you don’t, you may recall signing up for cover from a new breakdown company. It was called Green Flag and caused a splash by sponsoring the England football team.

Twenty-five years later and Green Flag is still offering the same great service. Motoring, however, has changed significantly. It might not be quite beyond all recognition but things are certainly very different.

The cost of cars

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