Basic car maintenance and what to check to stop your car from breaking down

You don’t have to be a mechanic to know how to maintain your car and what you need to check to make sure it runs properly. A few basic and simple checks on your car can be the difference between you breaking down – or even having to take your car to a garage for costly repairs.

We’ve put together a list of the basic car checks you can make before you hit the road and how you can prevent your car from breaking down, including:

  • Basic and essential car maintenance
  • Why it is important to maintain your car
  • Looking after your car’s tyres
  • How to check your car’s fluids
  • How to look after your car’s battery
  • What to have in your car in case you break down

We have a range of breakdown covers starting from £18.86* per year.

Top 5 tips on basic and essential car maintenance

It’s really important to carry out basic maintenance on your car and look after it well. Just a few simple checks on your car can help to make sure it runs smoothly, reduce the risk of you breaking down and potentially having to pay hefty repair bills.

Here are our top five tips at a glance:

  1. Maintain your car battery – if you’re not using your car very often, turn your engine on at least once a week and let it run for 15 minutes. Car batteries can go flat on a car if it hasn’t been driven for a while or if lights are left on – so don’t forget to turn them off!
  2. Stop your brakes from seizing – when your car is running, move it back and forward a few times. Brakes can seize on a car if it hasn’t been driven it for a while
  3. Top up your car fluids car fluids lubricate a car’s engine, prevent it from overheating and make sure it’s in tip-top condition. Check your car’s oil, coolant and windscreen wash regularly and top up as needed
  4. Tyres – your tyres need to be in good condition to make sure your car is safe and efficient to drive. Check your car tyres regularly and look out for cracks, splits, blistering, bulges and general wear and tear. Anything that looks out of the ordinary could mean you need new tyres. You must also regularly check your tyres’ tread as if it’s not deep enough, this could mean they’re bald. It is illegal to drive a car with bald tyres so make sure you keep a close eye on this
  5. Observation – keep checking your car’s overall condition so you spot any niggles or problems as they arise and prevent them getting worse to prevent costly garage and mechanic bills. Things to look out for include externally include rust, chips in your windscreen, damage to paintwork. When inside your car, don’t ignore any odd noises or warning lights that come on your dashboard!

How to check a car’s tyre tread

New tyres tend to have a tread depth of around 8mm – however, over time this will wear down. Eventually it your tyre tread will wear down so much it is no longer safe – and commonly called a bald tyre.

By law, motorists are required to have tyres on their cars with a minimum tread of 1.6mm. Any less than this and you are breaking the law. This applies to each tyre too, so you could face a fine of an eye watering £10,000!

Why is important to check a car’s tyre tread?

A car’s tyre tread makes sure your vehicle has enough grip on the road, particularly in the snow and rain. The tread on your car’s tyres is crucial to your vehicles driving safety and performance. There are many types of tyres available with different types of tread which give them the ability to grip the road, accelerate, break, corner – and even reduce fuel consumption. The type of tread you need depends on the type of car you drive, where and how you drive – and of course your budget.

What happens if my car’s tyres don’t have enough tread?

Car tyres that don’t have enough tread are not only dangerous, but illegal. Here’s why a car tyre with no thread is dangerous:

  • Your car won’t have enough grip on the road, particularly in wet and icy conditions. Your breaking distance will be affected, and you’ll be more at risk of aquaplaning. Essentially your car will be a danger to you and others on the road
  • A tyre with no tread will have less protection to its casing and so objects such as glass and nails will puncture the tyre more easily. This could cause a blowout, which could cause a fatal accident
  • You could get fined up to £10,000 and get 12 penalty points on your driving licence if all four of your tyres are bald

Checking your car’s fluids

Checking your car’s fluids regularly is vital to help prevent your car breaking down, suffering from mechanical damage and having an accident that can be prevented. It’s pretty easy to check your car’s fluid levels and will only take a few minutes once you know what you’re looking out for:

  • Make sure you check your car’s fluids when its engine is cool – give it at least an hour to cool down if you’ve been out driving
  • Park your car on a flat, level surface
  • Pop open your bumper and make sure you prop it up securely – the last thing you want to do is use your head as a bumper if it falls down!

How to check a car’s engine oil level

  • Find the white or yellow dipstick handle, which is sticking out from the top of your engine
  • Pull it out and use a rag or paper towel to wipe it clean
  • Put the dipstick back in as far as it will go
  • Pull the dipstick back out again and view the level of oil. If the line of oil is in between the two notches on the dipstick then your car’s engine oil level is fine. If the line is below/outside the lowest notch, then you will need to top the oil level up
  • Note the colour of your car’s engine oil too as it may need changing
  • Make sure you buy the correct oil for your car

We have a range of breakdown covers starting from £18.86* per year.

How to prevent a flat car battery

  • Leave your ignition on for long periods of time
  • Have your radio playing without your engine running – it’s easy to do this when you’re cleaning your car for example!
  • Make sure your lights are switched off when you leave your car – in particular, internal lights which are easily forgotten about

Signs a car battery is dying

Your car’s battery doesn’t just power the engine, it gives life to all its electrics too so it’s really important to monitor it and be aware of the signs it might be about to die:

  • A warning light on your dashboard could indicate a range of potential issues, such as a failing alternator or a loose starer terminal. Don’t ignore these warning lights and get your car checked as soon as you can so you don’t end up breaking down
  • If it’s difficult to start your car then get it checked straight away as this is a sign the battery is struggling for power. If you hear a clicking sound when you turn your ignition and your car doesn’t start, then it’s likely your car battery has died. You will then need to jumpstart it and then potentially have to replace your car battery

Essential items to have in your car in case you break down

Breaking down in your car is not a pleasant experience – especially if you’ve got your family in the back and you’re a long way from home.

It’s a good idea to have a breakdown kit in your car, which includes several handy items, which will help just in case you do break down:

  • Jump leads

You may be able to get your car started again if a kind volunteer allows you to get a battery boost from their vehicle

  • Tow rope

The same volunteer should then be able to tow you home or to the nearest garage if your car still won’t start

  • Mobile phone power bank or charger

It’s essential you call for help if you break down, so don’t take any chances and make sure you can charge your phone if it runs out of battery

  • High vis vest

You must be visible to other drivers if you break down, especially if visibility is poor or it’s dark. This could save your life!

  • Red warning triangle

Although you’ll have your hazard lights on, if it’s safe to do so, also put a red warning triangle at least 45 metres (around 60 steps) away from the rear of your car. Then other drivers are pre-warned your car is stationary on the side of the road

  • Torch or headtorch

You may have to inspect your car, so torch will make this much easier – a headtorch is even better as it will make sure both your hands are free

What to do if your car breaks down or won’t start

Having cheap and affordable breakdown cover will give you reassurance you’ll be recovered if your car breaks down. Don’t put yourself at risk and ensure you’ve got breakdown cover.

We have a range of breakdown covers starting from £18.86* per year.