Now, the first thing we need to address before we get going is the fact that none of this information is going to miraculously spare you the gut punch that is unexpected breakdown. Whether you’ve just driven the latest model off the forecourt or you’ve been rattling around in the same bucket of bolts for years, automotive disaster could strike at any time.
When a breakdown occurs, it’s a blow to your plans, it’s a blow to your bank balance and it’s absolutely a blow to your patience. Against all odds, you’ve gone from being the guy in control, safe behind the wheel to the poor sap beside the road, pacing back and forth in the rain.
So, like catching the flu, it’s probably going to happen at some time or other, whether we like it or not. Is it preventable? Not 100%, no. Are there steps we can take to minimise the pain? Yes there are.
As much as some of us would like to believe our cars are metal boxes powered by a combination of petrol and magic, even the most cursory glance under the bonnet brings home the stark reality that, for better or worse, your car is a machine. And a complex one at that.
As time passes and technology develops, there seems to be less and less we can do to fix automotive ailments ourselves. ‘It’s all controlled by computers now’, you might hear an older mechanic grumble. While this is true to some extent, there are a number of basic steps you can take to keep your motor happy.
Yes, it’s another expensive and inconvenient appointment for you to sort out, but much like dental check-ups, the more regularly you book them, the more likely you are to avoid a nasty surprise in the future.
Every car comes with a recommended service interval from the manufacturer. Don’t put it off. Stick to the suggested schedule and advised level of service to get a clear idea of your car’s general health.
Water and oil
This might be something your dad showed you how to do when you passed your driving test. If not, there are plenty of videos online that can walk you through the process. Make sure these vital fluids are at the right level at least once a month and before any long journey.
Keep an eye on your battery. According to the AA, common problems can be caused by terminal and clamp connections or a loss of voltage, usually as a result of frequent short journeys. If you only use your car to nip into town, it might be worth giving your battery a fortnightly charge to make sure it’s always primed and ready to go.
It’s easy to overlook the constant wear and tear inflicted on your car’s wheels. Uneven road surfaces, scrapes on curbs and general impact damage can all lead to the development of small, slow leaks.
Keep your tyre pressure topped up regularly and if you find yourself adding more air to one more than the others, get it checked out by a specialist tyre dealer. It’s also advisable to keep an eye on your spare. It’s no good to you in an emergency if it’s as flat as the one you’re about to change.
A fuel’s errand
Believe it or not, over 150,000 drivers each year put the wrong fuel in their cars according to the AA – a sure-fire route to a breakdown if ever there was one. Naturally, recovery services have the means to flush out the incorrectly pumped petrol or diesel, but it’s an unnecessary cost that can be easily avoided.
Equally embarrassing but equally common is the old empty tank breakdown. The red light is there as a warning, people, not a reminder. Top up your fuel whenever the needle dips into the final quarter and always fill up at the start of a long journey.
Speaking of warnings, if any one of the many symbols on your dashboard suddenly illuminates, take serious heed. If you don’t recognise the symbol (and if it’s safe to do so), pull over and consult your owner’s manual.
Some faults aren’t a huge deal so you’ll be ok to continue your journey and tackle the problem later. Other issues, especially if they involve the engine, need to be dealt with as soon as possible and might require you to limp to your nearest mechanic before a warning becomes a full-on breakdown.
Representative example: £400 loan repayable over 6 months. 6 monthly payments of £126.40. Rate of interest 179% p.a. fixed. Representative 991% APR. Total amount payable is £758.40.