When you first buy a car, be that new or used, you’ll have to take good care of it so that it lasts as long as possible and maintains a top value. Not only does car care and maintenance keep your car looking and performing well, but it’s also vital in ensuring that the car is safe to drive.
There are many aspects of car care that you need to keep up with, ranging from the cosmetic to the mechanical, and for new car owners, it can all become a little overwhelming.
To ensure that you know exactly what you need to do to keep your car looking and performing well, here’s a complete guide that details all the different things that you need to do, as well as the best tips and advice about how to do this.
We also have more in-depth articles about each aspect of car maintenance and care here on Car Adviser, which can be helpful if you need a bit more information.
More often than not, looking after your vehicle is a solo endeavour that you’ll be doing yourself. This means you can do plenty of things from your driveway or garage to ensure your car is in good condition.
These maintenance tasks and tips are things that everyone can do and do not require a high level of car knowledge. By adding the following aspects of car maintenance into your routine regularly, you’ll be able to ensure that your car is performing at its best while looking like a quality vehicle.
One of the most valuable things a car owner can do themselves to ensure that their car remains in good condition is to complete routine checks on the vehicle. By keeping tabs on various aspects and components of your car, you’ll be able to identify issues before they become a massive problem and also be able to make the needed changes to fine-tune your vehicle.
There are a large number of different things that you’ll need to check on your car every once in a while to make sure that it’s working well. For many, keeping up with these checks can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Thankfully, as long as you keep up to date with reviewing the following aspects of your car, you’ll increase the likelihood of your vehicle remaining in fantastic condition.
Your tyres are one of the most important parts of your car. They help to give you a stable, comfortable, and safe drive, which is why it’s crucial that you check on them every once in a while to ensure they’re in good condition.
There are various aspects of your tyres that you need to check often to make sure that your tyres are not only performing well but also legal.
One of the main things you should check often is the tread length of your tyres. When you look at a tyre, you’ll notice that its surface isn’t flat and instead has grooves in them. These grooves give your tyres grip and traction, allowing it to control better on the road.
These threads need to have a minimum length for them to be legal. If they’re less than this, they can become unsafe and make your car harder to steer and brake. In the UK, the tread depth of your tyres needs to be 1.6mm by law, although many mechanics recommend swapping your tyres once it’s below 3mm. Driving with illegal threads can be disastrous, as not only do they make crashing more likely, but if caught, you’ll get a £2,5000 fine for each faulty tyre and 3 points off your license.
One of the best ways to check your tyre tread length is to put a 20p coin into the groove. If the coin sits deep enough that you cannot see the outer ridge, then your threads are deep enough. If you can see the ridge line, you will likely need to change them.
Another thing you need to check about your tyres often is the pressure inside the tyres. Tyres are filled with pressurised air to ensure that the tyres keep their shape and stability, and each car model will have its ideal tyre pressure for maximum performance.
It’s important to have consistent tyre pressure because if it’s too low, it can make the car feel unsafe and unstable to drive. Plus, the tyre will wear away far quicker and impact your fuel economy. A pressure that is too high will have less grip on the road, and this may cause certain parts to wear away faster than others.
There are many different tools that you can use to check your tyre pressure, and it’s easy to increase the pressure of your tyres with an electric car pump. You should check your tyres every three months at the very least, and also ensure that you check them before you embark on a long journey.
When inspecting your car tyres, you should check to see if there are any signs of damage. It would be best to look for signs of punctures, tears, and less obvious issues such as impact bulges and irregular wear. You can learn more about identifying these issues and car tyres in general with this Car Adviser tyre guide.
Another thing you need to check often to ensure that you’re properly maintaining your car is your vehicle’s fluid levels. Your car needs more than a battery and fuel to perform well and to work correctly, and these fluids are your vehicle’s lifeblood.
For most cars built within the last decade, there are five essential fluid levels you’ll need to check and ensure that they’re topped up.
The idea of checking and inspecting your car’s fluid levels can sound intimidating. Still, they’re actually all straightforward to do and do not require any specialist knowledge of mechanical skills. The main car fluid levels that you need to check include the following:
Engine oil is an essential fluid that helps keep your engine working properly and protects it from damage. When an engine is running, many moving parts can rub together. Without engine oil to keep these parts lubricated and slick, these rubbing parts can cause friction that can damage components and increase the internal temperature of your engine system.
As well as being a vital lubricant, engine oil has cleaning properties as it can stop dirt and leftover carbon from clogging filters and other parts.
When checking your engine oil, you’re going to have to use a tool called a dipstick. Found under your bonnet; all you need to do is dip it into the engine oil sump. When you pull it out, the oil residue will be left on the stick, and the depth of this residue will indicate how much oil you have.
The dipstick will have a minimum and maximum measure on it, and you want to make sure that the residue is in between these indicators. If not, you’ll have to add more. When doing this, make sure you use the right engine oil for your car.
When checking engine oil, you should also look to see if it’s an amber colour. If it’s milky, thick, and white, it’s likely to be contaminated and needs to be replaced.
Coolant is another vital fluid for your engine, keeping it cool and stopping it from overheating. Your engine builds up a lot of heat as it works, and if it gets too hot, things can start to melt, warp, and get defective. The coolant absorbs the heat within your engine and expels it out of the exhaust system.
In addition, coolant can also stop your car from getting too cold in the winter. This is because most of them contain anti-freeze, preventing your vehicle from seizing up in the winter months. This means that coolant is a temperature regulator, helping to keep your car at just the right level.
To check your coolant, you’ll need to find your coolant tank and see if the fluid line rests between the minimum and maximum indicators. Ensure your engine is off and cool when you check, as a warm engine can cause the fluid to shoot out of the tank.
Most modern cars, especially large and heavy ones, will have a power steering system to make turning and controlling the vehicle more manageable and more responsive. Power steering requires fluid for it to work correctly, as they use hydraulics to assist your steering.
This is why you need to keep your power steering fluid topped up, because if it drops, it will impact the control of your car, creating a massive safety concern.
Checking your power steering fluid level is fairly straightforward, as you need to compare the level against the minimum and maximum markers in the steering reservoir. However, your power steering fluid will likely have two sets of markets, one for when the liquid is hot and one for when it is cold. Make sure to use the cold markers if your vehicle hasn’t been used for at least 8 hours. If there’s not been that long of a gap between you last driving the car, then use the hot markers instead.
Your brake fluid is an essential thing that you need to check, as it’s an essential component within your braking system. If your brake fluid level drops, it can make your car much harder to stop and cause your braking to be less responsive. Checking your brake fluid is an essential part of car maintenance, as without it, your car may not be safe to drive.
You can tell if there’s an issue with your brake fluid or if there’s a delay in the car response when you push the brake pad. If it also feels a bit weird and abnormal, that can also be a sign of issues. If there are no apparent issues, you should also check your brake fluid every two years, as this is when the fluid starts to break down and gets contaminated with water that’s been absorbed from the air.
To check your brake fluid, you’ll need to locate its fluid reservoir, which is usually found in the engine bay. You should first look to see if it’s the right colour. The brake fluid should be clear, so if it’s cloudy or dark, you’ll need to get it replaced.
After that, you should check the level of your brake fluid between the minimum and maximum markers. When doing this, if you notice a considerable drop in fluid level, this may indicate that your brake pads need replacing.
Although screenwash fluid doesn’t help your car function, it is one of the most important things to check to ensure that your car is safe. Without enough screenwash, you’ll be unable to clean your windshield. This can obstruct your view and make your car harder to drive as you’ll be unable to see clearly.
Dirt, dust, and other particles can build up on your windscreen, and not having screenwash to clear this away can put you and other road users at risk when driving. In fact, having enough screenwash is so essential that it’s illegal to drive without any and doing so could result in points being taken off your license.
To check your screenwash, simply find the reservoir and then check its level against the minimum and maximum marker. When adding more screenwash, make sure that you mix it with water. Ensure that you use the right ratio, so it’s not too strong yet not too weak.
The frequency at which you check these fluids will differ for each one. However, as a general rule of thumb, it’s best to check them all at least once every three months. You can learn more about car fluid levels here on Car Adviser.
When looking over your car and giving it a few checks, there are also a few exterior issues that you should look out for to ensure it’s looking good and working well.
One essential thing that you’ll have to check is your car lights, such as your indicators, headlights, brake lights, and more. This is because if there are any issues with these, it can make your car harder to see in the dark and make your signalling harder to see.
It’s best to look over your lights at least twice a year, once just before the darker winter months and again once we enter summer.
You can check your car lights from your driveway, turning each section on in turn and then have a friend or family member walk around the car to let you know if they’re all working.
In addition to checking the lights, one thing that you’ll want to inspect is the quality of your paintwork. Although having clean and damage-free paint isn’t affect performance, it does make the car look nicer, which can increase its resale value and make it a nicer vehicle to be in and use.
You should look to see if your paintwork has any dents, scratches, or scuffs and if it’s been damaged by sunlight or bird droppings. If there are any signs of damage, there are various things that you’re able to do to improve its condition, like giving the car a wash, polish and coat of wax.
You can learn more about the steps you should take to keep your car paint in good condition here on Car Adviser.
A clean car is usually evidence of a well-looked-after vehicle, which means that one of the best ways to care for your car is to keep it clean and clear of mess. There are two sections of your car that you’ll have to clean regularly: its interior and exterior.
Cleaning both of these areas can be a bit time-consuming, especially if you don’t keep up with a regular routine. Here are some tips and advice about keeping both the outside and inside of your car nice and clean, which can help your car maintain a good resell value and make it a much more comfortable car to be in.
Keeping your car nice and clean on the inside doesn’t have to be difficult, especially if you’re always conscious of keeping it clean every day. One of the best things you can do is vacuum the vehicle at least once a week, remove any rubbish from it daily, and quickly wipe away any spills before they cause stains.
When giving your interior a deeper clean, one important area to clean that makes a huge difference is your floormats. To clean your floormats, you need to first remove them from your car and give them a good scrub or vacuum, depending on what material they’re made from. If they’re not in the best condition and are either faded or worn, it might be best to replace them with a new pair. This can transform your interior and give it a lift in terms of its looks.
Another part of your car’s interiors that you’ll need to clean is your dashboard and other surfaces within your cabin. These can gather dust and stains, so it’s best to use a multi-purpose cleaning spray and a microfibre cloth to give it a nice clean.
Once everything has been wiped down and cleaned, you’ll finally have to come and give your car an in-depth vacuum. It would be best to focus on vacuuming your seats, under the seats, and any other crevices and gaps where crumbs and dust can fall into. To make vacuuming your car a lot easier, you should get a portable vacuum with multiple attachments so that you can easily get to those hard-to-reach places.
Other things you can do to keep your interior clean are always to cover your seats with a binbag or protective layer if you’re transporting a pet or are wearing muddy clothes. You should also try to avoid eating and drinking in your car, as this is the main source of mess. Another way you can protect your interior is by getting a window film to tint them. This will prevent sunlight from getting into your car, stopping things like your seats from fading.
You can find more tips about how to keep your car interior in good condition here on Car Adviser.
Cleaning the exterior of your car requires multiple steps if you’re looking for a high-quality, professional clean. Although most people will simply rinse their vehicle, apply car shampoo, and then dry it, there are many more things you can do to give it an excellent quality clean that will help it look great and protect it for the future. To clean the outside of your car correctly, you’ll need to:
Before washing your car, you’ll want to give your vehicle a quick pre-wash. This is done to remove any loose dirt, dust, or sand from your bodywork, as scrubbing your car with these still on it can cause scratches, scuffs and swirl marks, which can ruin your car’s appearance.
The best way to pre-wash a car is to spray it with a pressure washer. This device blasts out water at high speed, easily breaking down any muck and washing it away from the bodywork. Just be sure to use the correct setting when using a pressure washer because if the pressure is too high, it can start to strip the bodywork.
When you start your car cleaning, one of the best places to start is your car wheels. This is because they’re likely to be the dirtiest parts of your car, and you want to avoid saving them till last so that you don’t splash dirty water over the rest of your clean car.
The best way to clean your wheels is to use a specific wheel cleaner product and scrub with a firm brush. This may take a lot of elbow grease, but if you spend time cleaning the brakes, alloys, and underside of the car, then it will help make your vehicle look fresh.
Sometimes, you may have to apply two coats of wheel cleaner to get the level of cleanness that you’re looking for.
You must wash your car with specially designed car shampoo and avoid using any household cleaning products. This is because these products can be acidic and ruin your paint job.
The best way to apply car shampoo is to use a large sponge and gently rub it all around the car. You can also use a car shampoo foamer, which helps to give the vehicle a greater level of coverage for a better, more professional-looking wash.
Many people think that they’ve finished washing the car once they’ve rinsed the last of their car shampoo; however, the truth is that the way you dry your car is one of the most essential parts of washing your vehicle. Many people just leave their car to drip dry in the sun, which is a bad idea as this can cause watermarks and swirls in the paintwork. Plus, having a wet car and driving it can make dust and other debris more likely to stick to it, running all your previous effort washing the vehicle.
It’s best to dry your car by hand to get top-quality results. Dry with a clean towel, and focus on each car panel before moving on to the next one to ensure that every inch of the car is nice and dry.
Once it’s properly dry, you can apply polish and wax to your vehicle if you decide to. These aren’t essential parts of cleaning your car, but they can help protect it from slight bodywork damage.
To properly look after your car and ensure it not only looks but performs well, you will have to store the vehicle properly. One of the most prominent car maintenance mistakes people make is leaving their car on their driveway with no protection. This is because the elements can cause a huge amount of issues and damage to the car.
For example, direct sunlight can cause your car’s paintwork to fade over time, making it look older and less appealing. Plus, sunlight can also increase the internal temperature of your car inside the cockpit, which could damage and affect the interior and electrical components.
Rain can leave streaks on your car and also speed up the rusting process, and the windy seasons can blow things like stones and dust particles all over your vehicle, which can cause scratches and scuffs to the paintwork.
One of the best things you can do to protect your car is to store it in a garage every day. This is because a garage helps to keep the car away from the elements, and prevents things like birds and other animals from leaving droppings on it, which can corrode the paint if not cleaned.
In addition, a garage will help regulate the temperature and stop the car from getting too hot or cold, which can protect the internal mechanical components and keep the interior looking pristine.
The only issue with this maintenance tip is that not every household or car owner has access to a garage. Thankfully there are a couple of things that you can do.
If you don’t have a garage, there are a few other options to help protect your car from the elements and keep it looking good.
One of the best things that you can do is to get a cover for your car. This piece of material is used to cover your car completely. This is usually made from a hybrid material that can keep the car well insulated and warm while protecting the paintwork from sunlight and any debris blowing in the wind. They can be used when the car is dry or wet; however, you must periodically remove the cover to air it out and prevent moisture from being trapped.
You can also use a portable garage if you want a more robust alternative option. This is very similar to a standard garden marquee; however, they’re made with sturdy structural frames and heavy-duty covers to keep your car protected and secure. You can get them in a lot of different sizes to suit your vehicle; however, the majority are still pretty bulky and will require you to have a lot of driveway space to fit the structure. You’ll also need to set it on a flat-level surface for it to work well.
One final small thing you can use to protect your car’s interior is a windscreen cover. This will help prevent dust and dirt from building up on the windscreen and stop larger stones from causing chips and cracks. It can also prevent sunlight from entering your car’s interior, helping protect the seats and upholstery. This product can also prevent the windscreen from freezing over and protect it from snow in the winter.
There are a few other storage ideas you can use if you don’t have a garage, and you can find more car storage ideas here on Car Adviser.
When car maintenance and care is concerned, there are a few things that you can’t do yourself and instead have to leave to the specialists. This is because these maintenance tasks are a bit more in-depth and require specialist knowledge for the tasks to be performed correctly.
The two main things you need to leave to a mechanic are a car service and a car MOT. Both of these can be considered checks, and together they make sure that your car is safe to drive, performs well, is free of faults, and generally ensures that it’s in good condition.
Both are highly recommended to be done at least once a year, with an MOT being a legal requirement for your car to be considered roadworthy. Here’s a bit more information about both of these essential maintenance tasks.
The best way to describe a car service is that it’s like a GP check-up for your car; thus, it should make up part of your regular car maintenance. In a car service, a mechanic will give your vehicle an in-depth assessment, checking multiple components of it, ranging from your fluid levels and general wear and tear.
A car service is an essential part of car maintenance, as having them can allow you to spot potential issues before they become significant problems, helping you to take better care of them.
It’s important to note that not all services are the same. Some are more detailed than others and will complete more than 50 system checks and make slight adjustments to your vehicle where appropriate. Others will just look at the essentials, so before you book a service, ensure you know which one you’re getting.
Getting a car service will likely take all day to complete, so you’ll be without your car for around 12 hours. You should be able to collect your vehicle at the end of the day, although the mechanic may need it for longer if there’s a problem.
When getting a full service, you can expect to have your engine oil and filter changed and a full brake check, while a complete service will also look at things like your spark plugs and things like your wheel alignment and suspension.
You should get your car serviced at least once a year or at least every 12,000 miles. Although a car service is optional, if you don’t keep up with them, it can reduce your car’s value when you sell it. This is because people want to see a full-service history when buying a car. Also, missing a service can make things like warranties or breakdown cover invalid. This is because many of them will have a clause where you will need to keep up with the servicing to ensure that their cover is valid.
You can learn more about car services in this guide here on Car Adviser.
Car MOTs are a bit different from a service. Although both check to see if your car is working well, a car MOT will only concern itself with checking to see if your vehicle is safe to drive and if its environmental impact is under UK limits. This means an MOT is less robust than a car service and will check fewer things.
An MOT is a legal requirement, and you’ll have to have a valid MOT certificate to be able to drive your car. A successful MOT lasts around 12 months, which is why you need to get an MOT every year.
An MOT can only be carried out at authorised test centres, meaning that not all garages and mechanics are allowed to do them. Typically, an MOT will check things like the mirrors, brakes, fuel system, lights, exhaust, and any other car parts that can impact its safety.
There are many different reasons why it’s essential to keep up with car maintenance. The main reason is that looking after your car ensures that it’s in good condition, meaning that it performs better and takes longer to deteriorate in quality.
A well-maintained car will be more responsive and powerful, helping you to get the most out of it. Plus, when you come to sell your car, having a full-service history and keeping up with regular maintenance will ensure that you can sell it for a high value.
However, perhaps the most critical aspect of car maintenance is that keeping up with it ensures your car is safe. By replacing fluid levels and checking your components, you’re ensuring that there are no issues, making your car less likely to be involved in accidents and issues. Car maintenance can also help you save money, as things like MOTs and services will allow you to spot issues before they become expensive and hard-to-fix problems.
You should be conscious about car maintenance and care at all times. That said, there are various timescales for when you should perform each maintenance task if you’re looking to have your car in pristine condition.
In terms of car cleaning, you should aim to give your car a small tidy every day, removing any rubbish from the vehicle and wiping any surfaces. When giving your interior a deeper clean, it’s advised to do so monthly so that you’re on top of it.
Concerning cleaning the exterior, the frequency you do that is based on personal preference, but it’s advised that you clean, polish, and wax your bodywork at least four times a year.
When checking your fluid levels, you should do that at least twice a year and make sure to replace things like brake fluid every two years. You should also check your tyres and the pressure inside them every 5,000 miles driven to ensure they’re looking alright.
Finally, it’s the law that you have an MOT at least once a year to ensure that your car is road legal. It’s also advised to schedule a car service around the same time you have an MOT so that you can have that done every year, too.
Car maintenance can make your car a lot more valuable, which is great if you’re looking to sell it in the future. It’s estimated that a vehicle that has been given a full service and tune-up before being sold can increase its value by up to 20%.
Plus, when you factor in things like maintaining the paintwork and the interior, you’re looking at a potential value increase of around 30%.
As a general rule, if your car looks in much better condition when compared to what’s expected from its age and mileage, then you’ll have a much easier time selling the vehicle and will be able to get more money for it.