Driver advice: Vehicle maintenance
Proper vehicle maintenance is essential to keep yourself and others safe on the road. In 2013, 42 people were killed in crashes caused by vehicle defects, with hundreds seriously injured[i]. If you drive, you are operating a fast-moving piece of heavy machinery that needs to be kept in the safest possible condition.
Good maintenance can save you money as well as avoiding breakdowns or potentially devastating crashes. Badly-inflated tyres can mean you use more petrol, while putting off minor repairs can make them far more costly in the long-run.
You should carry out regular ‘ walk-round’ checks of your vehicle, once a week and before any long journeys, which need only take a few minutes. The main things you should look out for are:
• tyre tread wear. Look out for tread wear indicator bars on tyres – small bumps in the main grooves which in dicate the minimum tread. Change your tyres well before your tread gets to the legal minimum (1.6mm in the UK). Brake recommends replacing at 3mm, as tyres can be dangerous in wet conditions with less than this. If you drive with tyres worn down to below the legal limit, you could face three penalty points and a £2,500 fine, or it could cause a deadly crash.
• tyre pressure. Buy a hand-held tyre pressure gauge and check the pressure weekly, when the tyres are cold. The correct pressure will be written in your vehicle’s handbook.
• general tyre condition. Check for cracks, bulges or bubbles on the sides of your tyres. These are signs that the tyre is damaged and at risk of blowing out. If you see any of these, get the tyre checked by a professional, and replaced if necessary.
• lights are working. Check lights are clean and bulbs aren’t blown (reflect against a wall, or ask a friend to help).
• oil, water and fluids. Check oil and water levels, and other fluids such as power steering, windscreen washer and brake fluid, are well above minimum levels.
• wiper blades. Check they are in full working order and replace if worn.
• wheel fixings. Check wheels and wheel fixings for defects, including loose nuts.
If you drive a commercial or specialist vehicle, there may be additional checks you should make. Check with your employer or consult your handbook.
Setting off and while on your journey, look out for:
• problems with, or noises from, your brakes. Brakes usually make a noise when worn, but if you notice any problem with them, get them checked immediately by a professional mechanic. It’s a good idea to test brakes weekly and at the start of long journeys, following your walk-round checks, by applying them gently while driving very slowly on a flat, empty stretch;
• warning lights on your dashboard;
• excess noise or smoke from the exhaust;
• smoke from under the bonnet;
• fluid leaking from under the vehicle;
• smell of hot electrics, fuel, or a burning smell;
• unusual sounds from the engine;
• a pulling sensation from the steering.
If you have any suspicion at all there’s a problem with your vehicle, take it to a garage immediately – putting it off could cost you cash, result in a breakdown, or worse, lead to a serious crash.