Owning a car is expensive enough on a day-to-day basis, so it's inevitable that there's a temptation to cut costs when it comes to regular maintenance and servicing.
However, if you look after your car properly, you’re far less likely to get landed with eye-watering repair bills in the future.
Getting your car serviced every year – and maintaining it in between – is money well spent because problems are likely to be caught early on when they’re cheaper to fix. Also, a well-maintained car is more efficient, so you’ll save money on fuel as well.
However, resent research by *motoreasy revealed that nearly one in five UK drivers admit to driving their car despite knowing it needs repairs because they can't afford the bill.
This reluctance to maintain a car isn't just about money - there's also a knowledge gap. A 2016 survey by **Swinton Insurance revealed that more than 30% of drivers have never carried out basic maintenance on their cars.
Cars more than three years old must by law pass a yearly MOT test to show they are roadworthy. An MOT involves various checks on your car, ranging from the brakes to lights and windscreen wipers to exhaust system. The basic MOT costs around £30, but you should shop around. However, if there are problems, you may need to get work done on your car before it's roadworthy.
An annual service will cover everything from a complete oil change to air filter replacement, plus dozens of wear and tear checks from your brake pipes to seatbelts. Servicing a car is a complex, and you’ll need specialist tools and equipment, so it’s best to leave it to the experts. Again shop around for the best deals and research local garages.
A special mention for this crucial part. The cambelt (also known as a timing belt) is one of the hardest working parts in your car, driving major parts of the engine and keeping everything synchronised. It must be changed in accordance with the owner's manual (eg 40-80,000 miles). It might cost a few hundred pounds to replace, but if it fails while you’re driving, your engine could be seriously damaged and it will potentially cost thousands to fix. Some garages, such as Halfords Autocentres, will perform a free cambelt check.
Learning basic car maintenance can help you save a fortune on repair work. Here are some simple tasks to save you time and money…
- Check your car’s oil level using the dipstick in the engine compartment. Top it up if necessary, using the correct grade for your car (check the manual) and take care not to overfill.
- Check there’s sufficient liquid in the cooling system, and top up if necessary. Include antifreeze in the mixture (it will help protect the engine from frost damage in the winter and overheating in the summer). Consult your manual so you don’t mistake the windscreen washer bottle for the coolant reservoir.
- Try to check your tyre pressures regularly, then top up at a service station or using your own foot pump if necessary. Under-inflated tyres use up more fuel, will wear unevenly (which will cost you more money in the long run) and not grip as well. Also, check that all your tyres have at least the minimum legal tread depth of 1.6mm. See Tyres: the bald truth.
- Windscreen chips and cracks are generally covered as part of your insurance policy, though you may have to contribute towards with the cost. Your no claims discount should not be affected. Small chips can lead to cracks if left unattended. If windscreen damage is the main area (known as the A-zone), it can result in an MOT failure.
- Damaged paintwork can lead to rusty bodywork, especially in the winter, so it’s best to touch up damage if possible if you are not going to get it repaired professionally or claim on your insurance. Touching up is an easy, cheap job.
- Check the headlights (including the main beam), rear lights, indicators, brakes and reversing lights, all work properly. Get someone to help you or park in such a way so that you can test the lights in a reflection. A new bulb costs around £5 and more often than not you should be able to change it. If in doubt, check the manual or watch a YouTube video! Also clean your lights so that you can see, and you can be seen.
- Carry a set of battery jump-leads (with instructions) just in case you find yourself stranded with a flat battery. Also, check your car battery regularly, keeping the top of the battery clean and dry, ensuring that the terminals are free from corrosion and screwed tight. Many garages will perform a battery check for free. If you need a new battery, shop around – it may be cheaper at a chain like Halfords or your local independent motoring shop, than buying directly from a garage.
- Doing something as simple as driving smoothly can lengthen the life of your car. Read How driving smart can save you money for top tips.
- Check your brake and clutch fluid (if applicable) regularly. It’s a simple job, but always consult with your handbook to make sure you are topping with the correct fluid. If one of the levels has dropped dramatically you should get it checked at a garage immediately. There may be a leak in the system and you can’t take chances with brakes.
- Washing your car regularly doesn’t just make your car look good, it removes the road salt, grime, bird droppings, tree sap and other dirt which corrodes the bodywork. If possible, after washing your car, apply wax to the paintwork to create a protective barrier.