Before embarking on any long journeys, I always do a few basic checks on the car. It’s especially important at this time of the year when conditions can be a bit dicey. All of these checks are super simple to do, and don’t need any mechanical skills.
First up, make sure the car is ‘cold’ and hasn’t moved for a few hours. Then, pop the bonnet and take a little look underneath.
1 – Check your tyres
Have a visual check of the tyres, check the tread level of the tyres – easily done with a 20p piece. This image shows how to check your tread depth.
If your tyres aren’t up to scratch, then I’d recommend trying tyreplus.co.uk
If the tyres look okay, it’s best to go and check the pressure to ensure they are inflated correctly. Look in the car’s handbook for the right pressure. You will probably need to know the size of the tyres – printed on the tyre – for example – 205/55 R16 V.
So, for my tyres, the fronts should be 35 PSI, and the rears 30 PSI. The best place to fill your tyres and check the pressure is at the petrol station. ‘Free Air’ is seemingly a thing of the past, so take some change! Unscrew all dust caps, fill the air machine with change, set the pressure and push the end of the hose on the tyre’s valve. The machine will beep when the pressure is correct.
2 – Check your Oil
Most modern cars will usually warn you if the oil level is too low – but it’s always best to have a proper check. Locate the dipstick, and pull it out. Give it a clean with a bit of kitchen towel, and put it back in again. Pull it out, and look at the levels. There are normally two markers. The oil should be between the two marks. If it’s near, or under the bottom one, a top-up is required. If you’re not sure on what oil you should use there are a few online tools to help. This one allows you to enter your number plate and it will tell you the right one for your car.
Top up small amounts until the level has increased – remember it can take time for the oil to get to the sump. So, top up, wait 10 minutes and check again.
3 – Check your Coolant
It’s super important to check the coolant level in the car – no-one wants an overheating engine! The coolant reservoir usually has pink or yellow coolant in it, and will have a ‘Max’ and ‘Min’ marker showing the correct level. If it’s not immediately clear where the level is, push down on the corner of the car. This will ‘shake’ the bottle so you can see the level. The coolant shouldn’t be under the ‘Min’, or over the ‘Max’. It’s not a great idea to top up with plain water, use proper coolant. This Prestone one is a good universal coolant, no matter what car you have.
It’s especially important to top up the coolant on a cold car – you could be splashed with a handful of boiling hot coolant (ironically).
4 – Top up the Screenwash
It’s amazing how quickly you can go through screenwash in the winter. The salty roads and wet conditions throw up loads of muck. Fill up the screenwash with some ready-mixed solution, or some watered down concentrate. In the winter you need about a 50 / 50 mix of concentrate. In the summer, about 20% concentrate to 80% water. Top up using a funnel to avoid pouring screenwash into the engine bay. If you don’t have a funnel, cut a plastic bottle in half and put the spout end in the reservoir.
Don’t go too quickly, it might start coming back out!
You can obviously do further checks on the car, brake fluid level and power steering fluid levels. Even the windscreen wipers. These four simple checks are the bare minimum you should do before embarking on any long drive. These simple checks on levels and pressures will ensure you have a smooth journey. A few minutes a few days before you leave, could potentially stop you wasting hours by the roadside, waiting for recovery.