Published March 2023
There are two ways to reduce your chances of breaking down. The first, and most important, is to stick to your manufacturer's advice on servicing a car. Your car’s handbook will tell you when and how often a service is required, and exactly what's needed. Generally, it’s needed once a year, but it can depend on the make and model of your car.
The second, is to do your own simple car maintenance checks. This includes performing internal and exterior checks on things like engine oil and coolant, power steering, tyres and lights.
To help keep your motor in great shape, we’ve created a handy guide to car maintenance. In addition to the basics, it covers a variety of useful additional topics, such as in-car essentials, servicing and electric car maintenance, and what to do in case of a breakdown.
Car Maintenance Basics
You don’t need to be able to disassemble and reassemble your car’s engine with your eyes shut to perform basic car maintenance. There are a handful of easy checks that can give you a quick indication of your car’s health.
For anything a little more in depth, or help with specific issues, a friendly mechanic should be able to advise with any issues you may be having.
Servicing your car
Much like us, your car can benefit from periodic health checks to make sure everything’s running as it should be. Most garages will offer the option of a service, and they can be undertaken at any time. Many people opt to cover all their bases in one go and get a service with their MOT test.
MOT vs Service
MOTs are a legal requirement designed to check your car’s safe to drive on the road. If it’s found to be unsafe, you’ll be required to pay for repairs. A service on the other hand is entirely optional and you’re not always obligated to make the repairs.
Services are typically more in depth than MOTs and can be used to find smaller faults before they turn into bigger ones. If a service leads to a mechanic finding a problem early on, it can potentially save you money on your next MOT.
Once your car is over three years old, it will require an annual MOT. The date of your MOT is typically the anniversary of your last MOT. If your car needs to undergo its first MOT, then the date should be 36 months after the car was initially registered.
During a service, a mechanic will typically check the various parts of your car to make sure they’re working to the best of their ability. While services vary from garage to garage, they’re designed to keep you on the road for as long as possible.
Servicing your car should not only extend the life of your car but it can also help when you’re trying to sell your vehicle too.
When to service your car
Manufacturers recommend that you service your car every 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever’s first.
It can be good to judge things by a case-by-case basis though. For example, a brand-new car is less likely to benefit from frequent services compared to a car that’s 20 years old. Likewise, your driving style will influence how often your car needs to be serviced.
Garage or dealership?
It can be tricky to decide which is best for you, but both have their benefits. Dealerships might charge more than garages, but will often know the common faults with your car. Similarly, a logbook filled with dealership services should provide some additional value if you decide to sell your car in the future.
On the other hand, garages tend to be cheaper and may be more flexible in the service they provide.
What gets looked at during a service
- Tyres & Wheels
- Steering & suspension
- Drive system
Basic Car Maintenance
Knowing the basics of car maintenance can mean the difference between getting to your destination safely and an accident. Simple things such as recognising flat tyres and knowing how the fix them are easy to learn and require very little effort.
Under the bonnet
While you might not be able to name every pipe, gasket, and engine part, being able to recognise everyday components can help you tremendously when it comes to car maintenance. You can find easy to understand guides to your engine online, with the option to explore as much or as little as you like.
Check oil level every two weeks and before long journeys. The oil mark should be between the two lines on the dipstick.
Check power steering fluid regularly. If the steering becomes heavy:
- Top it up if it’s low
- If it’s correct or losing fluid, ask a mechanic because it could be a sign something is wrong
Check coolant level every two weeks. Remember never to undo a coolant reservoir cap when the engine is hot.
It’s not just under the bonnet where the important checks need to take place every now and then. It’s good to get in the habit of doing a few external inspections to help make sure everything’s in tip top shape.
Tyre Pressure & Tread
Check your tyres weekly – tread must be at least 1.6mm deep. Regularly inspect tyres for damage.
Deal with a chipped windscreen straight away. You should keep your screen wash topped up and replace windscreen wipers annually.
Make sure brake, indicator and fog lights work. Keep lights clean.
Electric Car Maintenance
If you’ve moved onto a hybrid or fully electric car, they require the same amount of TLC that petrol vehicles do. While there are many differences, EVs and hybrids still need regular servicing and maintenance.
Signs of battery wear
Perhaps the most important component of an EV or hybrid is the battery and it’s really important to check if there’s wear and tear that needs tending to. It’s worth checking if:
- It’s taking longer than usual to charge
- The charge doesn’t last as long as usual
On average, according to the National Grid, a car battery is likely to last 15 to 20 years, depending on the model and make. Some manufacturers recommend charging to 80% rather than 100% to increase the lifespan. It’s worth checking with your manufacturer to see what their recommendations are.
Warning lights are there for a reason, and in EVs and hybrids, they can mean different things to petrol vehicles. If you notice warning lights on your dashboard, this is what they may mean:
- Engine – Indicates a potential issue with the engine management system.
- Battery charge – There might be an issue with the battery charging system.
- Oil pressure – Your vehicle’s oil level may need to be topped up.
- Airbag warning light – Airbag might not go off when it should.
- Brake system – If it stays lit, have the brake fluid level checked by a licensed garage.
- ABS – There could be something wrong with the brakes.
In the event of a breakdown
Breakdowns are the last thing anyone wants to have to cope with when driving. Should this happen, it’s important to remain calm and follow the below steps:
If you break down on the road
- Get your car off the road and to the roadside, if you can.
- Switch on your hazard lights to indicate to traffic that you’ve stopped.
- Keep sidelights on, if there is poor visibility.
- Place a warning triangle, if you have one, at least 45 metres behind your car.
- Stand away from your car, a safe distance from your vehicle and traffic.
If you break down on the motorway
- Stop as far left as possible on the hard shoulder.
- Leave your vehicle via the left-hand doors (in the UK).
- Make sure all passengers are kept away from carriageway and hard shoulder.
- Never place a warning triangle on a motorway.
For more useful tips on all things car-related, check out our series of car guides.