Top 23 Car Maintenance Tips

Top 23 Car Maintenance Tips

Cars are complex and can cause large bills out of seemingly nowhere. But you can bypass high costs and avoid legal trouble by regularly inspecting your vehicle and running basic maintenance checks.

We've compiled a complete car maintenance checklist to make your life easier and to help you discover little-known checks your driving instructor may have missed!

These checks will help you meet UK laws, keep your car healthy, and improve your overall driving experience! Ready? Let's get started.

The complete car maintenance guide

Without further ado, here’s the basic car maintenance checklist all drivers should own. Bookmark this page ASAP so you don’t lose these insider tips.

At a glance: Basic car maintenance checklist

Here’s an overview for those who want the major tips in seconds. 

  1. Run the car engine once a week to avoid a flat battery 
  2. Test the brakes regularly to stop them from seizing 
  3. Check tyre pressure and condition, and investigate for cuts and bulges 
  4. Ensure you’re using the right fuel 

Now, scroll on for our expert-approved info! 

Number 1: Check your tyres

First on the car maintenance checklist is tyre checks.  

Your tyres are arguably the most safety-critical part of your car, and ensuring they’re in good condition can pay dividends. Tyres are a common MOT failure point. Finding faults early can help plan out the most cost-effective or convenient replacements, but most drivers don’t remember to do this!

Check your tyres regularly for:

  • Treadwear
  • Uneven wear
  • Lumps or bulges
  • Cuts or abrasions
  • Tyre age

For more info on these points check out our tyre article here

Number 2: Check your engine oil

An engine is made with extremely tight tolerances, with metal components effectively rubbing together at great speed. Oil is vital to aid in lubrication and avoid wear and premature failure by checking the:  

  • Oil level regularly  
  • Oil changes as often (or more often) than your service book states  
  • The right quality and grade of oil are used

Our article on which oil your car needs is here.

Number 3: Brakes

For obvious reasons, your brakes are essential and are another common failure point on MOTs. Brakes are worn every time you use them. If you drive often, extra checks might be in order.

Many local garages offer free brake checks, stating the thickness level of your pads and discs. Take these readings away and check your car's manual, as some garages may try to sell you something you don't need.  

For more on how your brakes work, our article is here. 

Number 4: Inspect your coolant

Engines get hot and need the correct level of good quality coolant to avoid overheating. Whilst a coolant flush and replenishment is better left to service time, you can regularly check: 

  • The level of coolant in the reservoir - top up if needed  
  • The colour of the coolant - it should be a bright colour, not brown or black  
  • The frequency you fill the reservoir 
  • What grade and make of coolant is best for your car

Split the cost of service and repairs into interest-free monthly repayments at 1000s of trusted service partners. 

Number 5: Ensure air filters are replaced when required

Another car maintenance checklist must-check is your air filters.

As the engine combines outside air sucked in through a filter with petrol or diesel to make power. The incoming air is filtered to stop things such as leaves, dust, insects and other debris from entering the engine.

The filter will stop all these things from entering, but they then clog the filter. This reduces engine performance and can cause various other symptoms, such as bad fuel economy and trouble starting.

Diesel drivers should regularly check whether their DPF is blocked.

Number 6: Don't forget the cabin filter

We humans need air too, but when we're in our cars' sealed chamber, using Air conditioning or heating, all of the air we breathe passes through the cabin filter.

Often located under the glovebox area, the cabin filter is very similar to the engine's air filter, except it stops us from breathing in nasty debris. One of its significant benefits is filtering out pollen.

So if your heater is blowing strange-smelling air, or you've not had your car serviced for a long time, check the cabin/pollen filter and change it if you don't know when it was last done.  

Pro Tip: You should also ensure the air con functions well. If you can get the right temperature, head to the garage for a professional check.

Number 7: Check your screenwash

Not having sufficient screen wash fluid in your car can be grounds for receiving a £100 fine and three points on your licence if caught. So, this is a crucial basic car maintenance checklist point. 

It’s easy to top up and advisable to carry a spare few litres in your car. This way, you'll avoid being caught short — especially in winter.

Number 8: Listen out for any strange noises

This tip might sound silly. But noise can be a great indicator that something is wrong.

There are many different types of noises, including those that increase with the car’s speed, engine speed or when turning.   

For more information on what to listen out for and what it could mean, check out our guide to automotive noises here!

Number 9: Keep your glass clean

Screenwash can only do so much, not to mention your side and rear windows.

Regularly clean your windows and mirrors to give the best visibility. Dirty glass is hazardous at night, as street lighting and other car headlights can make seeing out difficult.

Experienced drivers often forget this car maintenance guide tip. Don’t get comfortable with long waits between washes! 

Number 10: Clear out the junk in your trunk

Carrying excess weight is wasteful and can be dangerous. Every extra bit of weight counts, as the engine needs to burn more fuel to move you and your car along, so be sure to clean out your boot regularly.

Not only does extra weight in your car cost you money, but in the event of an accident, a half-empty water bottle can become extremely dangerous flying around the cabin!

Pro Tip: Junk isn’t a boot-only issue! You should also clear out the footwells, back seats, and wipe down the dashboard. 

Number 11: Check your bulbs

Cars are full of bulbs: headlights, indicators, number plate lights and, of course, brake lights.  

These are all on your car for a reason. If you’re driving without one of them, you are increasing the risk of either someone not seeing you or you not seeing someone else on the road.   

If a police officer spots you, you can expect at least a stern warning, but up to a 3-point penalty and £100 fine!  

Number 12: Replace wiper blades if required

Getting caught driving in the rain could turn from a damp inconvenience to a serious safety issue if your wiper blades aren’t working, especially if you’re on a busy road or motorway.  

If your wipers have stopped clearing the screen correctly or make a horrible screech or judder as they wipe, it’s time to get some new ones. This common sense tip isn’t usually added to car maintenance checklists, but we think it’s too important to skip. 

Pro Tip: You can place a thin cloth or plastic sheet under your wiper blades in the winter to prevent them from freezing. This is when parked, of course!

Number 13: Make sure you're using the right fuel

In 2021, Britain switched over to a new type of fuel: E10. It uses a slightly different mix of ethanol to petrol ratio and is generally suitable for motoring. It is said to burn cleaner and pollute less.

The problem is that not all cars are designed to use them. Older cars can have seals and pipes in their fuel systems that cannot handle the higher ethanol content, often causing the plastic to degrade prematurely.

Check what fuel your car should be using on the government website, and read more about the effects of E10 here.  

Number 14: Change your spark plugs (petrol cars only)

Spark plugs ignite the fuel in a petrol-engined car cycle, meaning at motorway speeds, each spark plug will create a spark 25 times per second. They are screwed into the cylinder head and experience extreme highs of pressure and heat.  

Because of this, spark plugs need changing every 40,000 miles. If left longer, they can cause inefficiencies and excess fuel consumption.

Number 15: Check when your cambelt was last changed

Many cars use a cambelt to control the engine timing; they are vital to the engine's smooth running and peak efficiency. Worse than this, if the belt snaps due to deterioration from ageing, it can seriously damage the engine.

Most cam belts last between 60 and 100,000 miles, but you must check both your car's belt change interval and when it was last done. This crucial and preventative maintenance can easily save you thousands in repairs.

Number 16: Maintain tyres pressures

The air pressure in your car's tyres significantly impacts safety, performance and efficiency, so you'll want to keep a constant eye on your pressure.

Too low pressure and more drag will be caused, reducing your MPG. A severe braking and turning performance reduction occurs if the pressure is too high.

Also, car manufacturers specify strictly what pressure should be used in specific situations. If you regularly carry three passengers, the pressures will be different than if only you were aboard - check your manual for more information and adjust accordingly.  

Number 17: Check number plates

Number plates aren’t just for customising. Having visible number plates is a big deal when driving in the UK, and the penalties for having an unreadable number plate, whether intentional or not, are pretty severe.

The main things to check for on your licence plate are cracking or delamination (when the plastic separates) that causes water and dirt ingress and non-functional number plate lights.

If you don’t fancy cleaning your car every winter weekend, regularly wipe down the number plates and lights to stay legal.  

Number 18: Carry the right equipment

It's good to be prepared should your car break down. A few essential but handy items stowed in the boot can make life easier. Surprisingly, this basic car maintenance checklist tip often goes ignored. But trust us, it's critical!

It's advised to carry at least:

  • Hi-Vis coat/vest for warmth and visibility
  • Warning triangle
  • Blankets
  • Water
  • Spare wheel and toolkit
  • Jump leads
  • First aid kit
  • Screenwash
  • Foot pump
  • Wind up Torch
  • Powerbank for charging a phone
  • Map  

Number 19: Check your spare tyre

If you get a flat tyre, discovering your spare is in poor condition, needs a repair or is missing altogether would be highly annoying.  

Check your tyre for damage and make sure that it holds air. Consider carrying a foot pump if you get a slow puncture or need to top up the spare.

It is also advisable to practise jacking up and changing a wheel in a safe environment just to familiarise yourself with the procedure.

If your car isn’t fitted with a spare and instead has a can of tyre weld and a pump, check these parts are all present and read the manual on how to use them.

Number 20: Check for safety recalls

From time to time, car manufacturers find faults with their vehicles. These can be minor issues, such as small issues with infotainment systems, or serious safety problems, such as failing brakes.  

Safety recalls are used to notify every owner of the affected vehicle model, with guidance on fixing the problem at the manufacturer's expense.   

The problem comes when vehicles change hands many times over the years, and databases are not kept up to date. In this instance, you may own a car with an outstanding recall, but the manufacturer does not know you own that car.   

There is a government website where you can check for safety recalls based on vehicle models and registration numbers. It only takes 5 minutes and is completely free.

Number 21: Run the car battery frequently

You must run your car for at least 15 minutes a week to avoid a flat battery. If you drive regularly, this won’t be a problem. But if your car goes without driving for weeks, turn the engine on at least once a week.

Number 22: Look for animals

A little-known check drivers don’t usually consider is whether an animal has nestled into the car overnight. While rare, this does happen in the colder months. So, before you set off, investigate your car for signs of life.  

  • Check under the bonnet
  • Check around the wheel arches
  • Look under the car

You might need professional mechanic assistance if an animal is tucked inside your car.

Number 23: Wax your vehicle

Alongside keeping your car shiny, waxing reduces the chance of rust and keeps the paint at a high quality. Wax also forms a protective layer over the vehicle, preventing microscopic damage from salt, sand, dust, and other small environmental particles.

Car maintenance checklist tip: When in doubt, use F.L.O.W.E.R

Let’s face it. Remembering 20+ checks is a tough feat. However, there’s an easy way to remember the critical areas that you might not be familiar with.

Introducing F.L.O.W.E.R.: 

  • Fuel 
  • Lights 
  • Oil 
  • Water 
  • Electrics 
  • Rubber 

This acronym is perfect for keeping the essential checks in mind.

When should you consult the basic car maintenance checklist?

You should always be checking your car. However, some checks are better for short-term problems, and others are long-term and even seasonal. Here’s a quick breakdown of short-term vs long-term vs seasonal checks.  

Short-term car maintenance checks

  • Oil and coolant levels 
  • Tyre checks 
  • Filter checks 
  • Bulb/light checks 
  • Engine oil checks 
  • Window checks 

Long-term car maintenance checks

  • Coolant fluid exchanges
  • Transmission fluids
  • Transfer case fluid
  • Spark plugs (petrol cars only)
  • Serpentine belt

Seasonal car maintenance checks

  • Windshield wiper replacements
  • Battery performance checks
  • Tyre changes

Your basic car maintenance checklist - The bottom line 

Did you know every car maintenance checklist tip? Or were there a couple that had slipped your mind?

With so many points to remember, it’s only natural to forget a tip or two. However, we hope our expert-approved list has inspired you to keep your car healthy between services. You’ll thank yourself when you avoid costly repairs and pass your MOT! 

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