Car Maintenance Checklist

Performing regular car maintenance can be affordable and rewarding. Not only does it help you to prevent major faults to the car that would otherwise need professional work, but you also benefit from a better performing and safer car while out on the road.

It’s also important you know what you’re doing to get the best results and not cause inadvertent damage to your vehicle. To help you do this, we’ve put together a car maintenance checklist which covers everything you need to know in order to take good care of your motor.

Basic car maintenance tips

Good basic car maintenance can go a long way to increasing the longevity of your vehicle. Regular maintenance also highlights potential issues ahead of your routine servicing and MOT test, that could help prevent expensive bills or MOT failure.

The main parts you’ll want to check are your vehicle’s battery, brakes, tyres, fuel and electrics as well as ensuring it’s clean inside and out.

Battery

12v battery

When: Once a week.

How: Turn the car engine on, but don’t leave it running unattended, and let it idle for 15 minutes before switching the engine off.

Why: To ensure the battery doesn’t go flat, especially if you’ve not driven it for a while and it’s an old battery/car.

Brakes

When: Once a week.

How: With the engine running, drive the car forwards, press the brakes, reverse to your starting position and finally brake to a stop. Repeat this a few times over a short distance to loosen the brakes.

Why: To ensure the brakes don’t seize, especially if you’ve not driven it for a while.

Tyres

When it comes to checking your tyres, you’ll want to make sure you check both the pressure and the tread depth.

Tyre Pressure

checking tyre pressure

When: Every couple of weeks.

What you need: A tyre pressure gauge which can be bought online or found at a petrol station.

How: You can check your tyre pressure by removing the valve cap on the tyre and inserting your gauge. Compare the reading for each tyre to the recommended tyre pressures found in your vehicle handbook, inside of the driver’s door sill or fuel cap. Make sure you use the right PSI level that refers to your car i.e. laden or unladen.

Why: Low tyre pressure can cause unsafe driving conditions and wear tyres faster which could lead to failure and blowout. Equally, over-inflating tyres can lead to poor traction and performance as the tread and tyre walls become too hard.

Tread Depth

When: Every couple of weeks.

What you need: A 20p coin.

How: Insert a 20p coin into the tyre tread along the whole of each tyre. Should the coin barely enter, it could suggest it’s under the limit.

Why: As well as potentially being illegal, low tyre tread depth could also lead to a reduction in tyre grip causing unsafe driving conditions and worsening stopping distance.

Fuel

When: Everytime you drive the car.

How: Use the indicator on the dashboard.

Why: Driving on an empty fuel tank can cause serious damage to your car’s fuel system and it can be rather embarrassing, as well as dangerous, if you unexpectedly breakdown because your car doesn’t have enough fuel.

Lights and electrics

car headlights

When: Once a week.

How: Visually inspect all of the vehicle’s lights to ensure all are working and none are blown.

Why: Blown bulbs are a common cause for MOT failure and could result in unsafe driving conditions or being pulled over by the police.

Cleaning

For a full in-depth guide on professionally cleaning your car inside and out, check out our guide on how to clean your car.

Exterior

When: Every couple of weeks.

What you need: Bucket of warm water, clean sponge and car wash product. Inside: Vacuum cleaner, window cleaner and microfibre cloths.

How: Mix car wash and clean warm water together in a bucket and dunk your sponge before scrubbing down the whole exterior of the car. Frequently rinse out the sponge in the water to clean it and get clean water if necessary.

Why: To prevent paint damage.

Interior

When: Every couple of weeks.

What you need: Vacuum cleaner, window cleaner product and microfibre cloths.

How: Start by decluttering your car, removing any rubbish or unessential items. Next, wipe down all interior surfaces with a damp cloth. After this, clean the inside of the windows with a window cleaner product. Finally vacuum the seats, carpet and mats.

Why: To remove bad odours and bacteria.

Check the six fluids

Cars need certain fluids in order to keep them running smoothly and safely. Here are six fluids which you should check regularly as part of your routine maintenance work.

1. Engine oil

filling oil up

When to check: Every couple of weeks.

How to check: With your car parked on level ground locate, remove, clean and reinsert your engine dipstick (usually the handle is bright yellow) to ensure you’re getting an accurate reading. Remove the dipstick again and check the oil level sits between the recommended amounts.

Why you should check: Driving without sufficient oil could damage the engine. Equally, too much oil can lead to extra pressure and cause leaks that may damage important components such as spark plugs.

2. Coolant

When to check: Every couple of weeks.

How to check: Ensure your engine is cool, before locating the coolant reservoir. Perform a visual inspection of the reservoir using the min/max lines for guidance. 

Why you should check: Insufficient/too much coolant could lead to the engine overheating.

3. Brake fluid

When to check: Every couple of weeks.

How to check: Locate the correct reservoir and perform a visual inspection. Ensure there is sufficient fluid in the reservoir and that it’s clear in colour.

Why you should check: As well as impeding braking power, insufficient or contaminated brake fluid can also corrode your hydraulics system.

4. Power steering fluid

When to check: Monthly.

How to check: To best check your power steering fluid, it’s best to warm the fluid up by starting the engine and rotating the wheel a few times. Next locate the reservoir and perform a visual inspection if possible. Some makes and models may require dipstick inspection.

Why you should check: Power steering is vital to ensuring your vehicle is safe to drive. Without power steering you have massively reduced control of your vehicle.

5. Transmission fluid

When to check: Monthly (Manually) / Once a year (Professionally).

How to check: An increasing number of newer vehicles are no longer making it possible to easily check transmission fluid. As such, if you don’t have a dipstick in your vehicle you will need to get a professional to check your vehicle. However, if you can check it manually, locate (usually passenger side for rear-wheel drive and driver’s side for front-wheel drive), remove and clean the dipstick before reinserting and reading the fluid level.

Why you should check: Low transmission fluid could lead to problems with your transmission system. 

6. Windscreen washer fluid

Man_pouring_windshield_washer_fluid

When to check: Monthly.

How to check: Locate the reservoir (marked with a windscreen icon) and perform a visual inspection.

Why you should check: Windscreen washer is vital for ensuring your windscreen is clean and that you can safely see out of it. A dirty screen can impair driver vision which is both illegal and unsafe.

Diesel car maintenance

Diesel cars have specific maintenance requirements on top of the ones already mentioned and it’s important to keep on top of these for the sake of your car’s health.

Diesel engine oil

When: Every couple of weeks.

How: With the vehicle parked on level ground and with the engine cold, locate the oil dipstick, remove and wipe clean. Reinsert and withdraw again to get a fresh reading. The oil level should be between the recommended max and min markings.

Why: Driving without sufficient oil could damage the engine.

Remember: Diesel engine oil differs to normal engine oil so ensure you are using the correct one for your vehicle.

Particulate filter cleaning

When: Every couple of weeks.

How: Give your vehicle a good run at a sustained speed on a motorway for at least 30 minutes to help clear the filter.

Why: Soot builds up in the DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter) if not driven for a while which can lead to blockage and system damage.

Remember: DPF filters are designed to last for around 150,000 miles, but soot build up could damage the filter and reduce its lifespan.

Adblue

diesel-the-tank-fuel-refuel-refueling-car

When: Your vehicle will warn you that your Adblue is running low.

How: A warning light will come on. Some makes and models allow you to check the vehicle’s Adblue level through the infotainment system.

Why: Adblue is vital for reducing the harmful emissions produced by your vehicle. If you run out of Adblue your vehicle will automatically be limited to reduce the emissions it produces.

Remember: Never mix fuel and Adblue. If you accidentally mix the two, don’t start your car and call a mechanic to drain the fuel/Adblue tank.

Electric car essential maintenance

Although electric cars don’t need as many fluids because of the way they’re engineered, checking components such as the tyres and battery follows a very similar process to what we’ve already seen.

Here’s an EV specific maintenance checklist for those of you with an electric car.

Batteries

EVs have two batteries: an auxiliary battery which controls radio, dashboard display etc. and the main onboard charger. Both of which need maintenance in order to ensure the car performs well.

  • Auxiliary battery – plugging in for charge will often automatically maintain the battery, but check the handbook for this. If not, driving/starting the car once a week for at least 10 minutes will do the trick.
  • Onboard charger – simply having sufficient charge without being overcharged is enough to maintain the onboard charger. Range can be checked on most modern electric car dashboards and these batteries usually have a warranty for around eight years/100,000 miles on average.

Tyres

Tyres on EVs are a different kind to those in a standard car and tend to be tougher but are more prone to wear, so we recommend you check the tyre pressure and tread depth as above, but on a more frequent basis.

Lights and electrics

Checking the lights and electrics for an EV is the same as you would for a traditional vehicle. Perform a visual inspection of all the vehicle’s lights once a week to check for blown bulbs.

To check brake and reverse lights, have someone stand behind the car while you press the pedal/select reverse gear and let you know that they’re working properly.

Fluids

Although there’s much less maintenance needed for electric cars when it comes to fluids, there are still three which need checking.

These are:

  • Coolant – needed to ensure an electric car’s thermal management system is working properly
  • Brake fluid – most EVs have regenerative braking and are less harsh on the brakes, so this should only need checking once a year for any potential contamination
  • Windscreen washer – to ensure you maintain a clear view of the road at all times

Refer to the above guidance on each to ensure that your fluids are regularly checked. You’ll also want to take into account any make and model specific fluids that need servicing, such as Tesla’s gearbox fluid for example.

Looking for a new car without the hassle of maintenance? Then check out our latest car lease deals for offers with a ‘maintenance included’ service

For more information on leasing, and to find answers for all your FAQs, check out our other guides.

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