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12 simple car checks to do today

May 11, 2021

Making sure your vehicle is roadworthy is vital for your safety and that of other road users.

At Smartdriverclub Insurance, we want to help everyone stay safe on the roads. That’s why we’ve put together a brief guide to 12 key things that every driver should check before setting off on a long journey.

And to encourage long-term good habits behind the wheel, we’ve designed a telematics insurance system – often known as a ‘black box’ or Smartplug™ – that could help to reduce your premiums.

Why check your car?

Think that car maintenance is just about getting your vehicle through its MOT? Think again!

While an annual safety check is essential – and a legal requirement for most vehicles – it’s not your only obligation as a car owner and driver.

If your car is found to be unroadworthy at any point, you could face penalties including a fine, points on your licence, or even a driving ban. That holds true even if your vehicle’s only just passed its MOT.

Plus, of course, you’re putting yourself and others in serious danger.

So get into the routine of carrying out regular basic checks, and keep an eye on your dashboard lights to warn you of any problems. Your manufacturer’s handbook will help you find your way around your particular vehicle, especially under the bonnet.

The RAC recommends you remember the acronym FORCES: Fuel, Oil, Rubber, Coolant, Electrics and Screenwash. By ‘rubber’, they mean tyres and wipers. So we’ve covered those in brief below, plus a few others.

Remember: these checks should supplement, not replace, regular services carried out at a reputable garage. And if you have any concerns, always seek advice from professional mechanics.

The RAC recommends you remember the acronym FORCES: Fuel, Oil, Rubber, Coolant, Electrics and Screenwash.

Portrait of a mechanic at work in his garage - car service, repair, maintenance and people concept.
1. Fuel

It might seem obvious that you need to check your fuel levels, but a surprising number of drivers get caught out. So don’t ignore that warning light on your dashboard – find a fuelling station and fill up.

If you fill up with the wrong type of fuel by mistake, then don’t try to start your vehicle – get professional assistance to drain it. Putting petrol into a diesel engine is especially damaging, but the other way round will also harm your engine.

If you’re driving an electric car, it’s likely to include a sat nav that will get you to the nearest charging point before you hit the danger zone.

2. Lights

The easiest way to check your lights is to switch them all on and get someone to walk around the car and take a look. Don’t forget indicators and the number plate light – you can be fined if your registration number is not visible at all times.

Changing a bulb isn’t hard, though the covers can be stiff to remove and replace. If it fails again shortly after replacement, it’s a sign that something’s up with your electrics and you need to get it checked by a mechanic.

While you’re checking your bulbs, give the covers a wipe to ensure they’re free of dirt.

You always need to take special care when driving at night. For new drivers, it can be particularly challenging to adapt to road conditions after dark.

At Smartdriverclub, our telematics insurance does award you a higher score for daylight journeys as nightime journeys can be considered a higher risk. This can cut the cost of your premiums when you come to renew your policy.

3. Screen wash

This is another check that should be simple, yet is so often forgotten. And not only is that dangerous if you find your windscreen suddenly sprayed with mud by the car in front, but it’s also illegal. You could face a fine if you’re found to be driving with an empty screen wash bottle.

So check your screen wash on a regular basis and especially before a long journey. You can buy the right liquid from any garage. 

Find your car’s screen wash bottle by opening the bonnet and looking for the cap, which is usually small and round with a picture of a windscreen.

Pour in the liquid carefully up to the maximum line on the bottle and replace the cap – job done! It’s best to use pre-mixed screen wash as water alone may freeze in cold temperatures.

Check your screen wash on a regular basis and especially before a long journey. You can buy the right liquid from any garage. 

A stationary pair of windscreen wipers on a car
4. Wipers

So you’ve filled up your screen wash but still can’t seem to get a clear windscreen? It’s probably down to your wipers.

If the rubber is perished or damaged, your wipers will leave streaks or smears across your windscreen. A new set of wiper blades only costs a few pounds, and it’s easy to remove the old ones and snap the new set into place.

Don’t forget your rear wiper, too!

5. Battery

Battery problems are one of the biggest causes of call outs to breakdown services. They’re liable to run out of charge if you use your car only for short journeys; if you leave lights, heating or wipers on too long; or simply when the battery is more than about four years old.

So if you notice that your interior lights are getting dim, your stereo system is fading, or your car is taking a while to start, then take a look at the battery before it fails.

If your headlights appear dim, then park your car safely, put it into neutral, and rev the engine: if the lights brighten, it’s a sign your battery is getting flat.

It’s easy to give your battery a quick visual check, too. Look out for any signs of corrosion, and check that all the terminals are tightened.

It’s recommended that you get a new battery professionally fitted, as they contain corrosive acid which is harmful if it comes into contact with your skin.

6. Tyres

Checking the condition, tread and pressure of your tyres, though, is something you can do yourself. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of doing this, especially before long journeys.

Most garages will have pressure gauges for you to check your tyres. Details of the correct pressure for your vehicle are often stamped on the sill of the driver’s door, or you can check online for your make and model.

To assess their condition, get down at eye level to your tyres. Look for general wear and tear, cracks, splits, or bulges.

Your tyres’ tread should be a minimum of 1.6mm, with 3mm recommended in the winter. It can be measured with a cheap gauge, available from any garage, or by using a 20p coin: when you insert this into the grooves of your tyres, the outer band should be obscured. Check in at least three places around each tyre.

Tyres are damaged by sudden braking and sharp cornering. Driving smoothly will preserve them – and with black box insurance, it will save you money on your premiums, too.

To assess their condition, get down at eye level to your tyres. Look for general wear and tear, cracks, splits, or bulges.

A person using a tool to check the tread depth of their car tyre
7. Oil

When checking your car’s oil, park on level ground and wait for the engine to cool. Then open the bonnet and find the dipstick: a long metal rod with a plastic handle.

Gently pull this out, wipe it on a rag or tissue, reinsert it, then pull it out again. Then check that the oil mark is between the minimum and maximum mark. If it’s low, fill up gradually using the correct oil for your engine – a garage can advise. Then replace the dipstick and check again.

If your engine oil is looking dark or black, book into your garage for an oil change. And if your engine is using a lot of oil, you see blue smoke from the exhaust, or notice puddles under your car, then get it checked out straight away.

8. Paintwork

Many new drivers take great pride and joy in their motors, washing and polishing them regularly. Others are less concerned with flashy looks, and just want to get from A to B as safely as possible.

However, your paintwork does more than just gleam nicely in the sunshine: it actually protects your car bodywork from corrosion. So a regular wash is a great way to keep your car in tip-top condition for as long as possible.

Bird droppings and urine are actually corrosive enough to penetrate your paintwork, so wipe them off as soon as you spot them. Prevention really is better than cure when it comes to rust and corrosion!

9. Brakes

We hardly need to tell you that it’s essential that you keep your brakes in good condition! So how exactly do you do that?

The most important step you can take is to check your brake fluid regularly. You’ll probably be alerted with a warning light on your dashboard if it’s low.

Before carrying out a check, drive a short distance and brake several times to fill up your system. Then park, open up your bonnet, and find the reservoir – consult your vehicle handbook if necessary. The reservoir should be marked with minimum and maximum lines.

If your fluid level drops regularly, it’s a sign that something’s wrong. It could well be that your brake pads are worn, or you’ve got a leak in your system.

Brake fluid needs to be changed every two years, or more frequently if your mileage is high.

If you have any concerns at all about your brakes, don’t delay – get to a garage for a professional check.

The most important step you can take is to check your brake fluid regularly. You’ll probably be alerted with a warning light on your dashboard if it’s low.

A worn brake disc on a car that is lifted on a ramp in a mechanical garage
10. Interior

Is your car a dustbin on wheels? Is it several months since you last went round it with a dustpan and brush, or took it to be valeted?

A clean car is a joy to ride, especially on a long journey or when transporting passengers. But it’s also safer: discarded rubbish such as drinks bottles can roll under your brake pedals, which is a serious hazard.

So keeping your car interior free of debris is an essential part of staying safe on the roads. Insurance with telematics will also encourage good driving habits, such as smooth braking and cornering.

11. Coolant

Overheated engines are another major cause of breakdowns. So your car contains a coolant system that pumps a mixture of water and antifreeze around your engine to keep it running smoothly.

It’s a sealed system, so you shouldn’t need to top it up. But you should check it to ensure that there aren’t any leaks. If the level drops, it can even be a sign that the head gasket between the bottom and top halves of your engine has failed.

So open up your car bonnet, and find your coolant reservoir – you might need to consult your vehicle handbook. Make sure the level is between the minimum and maximum lines, and book an appointment at your garage if it’s low.

12. Glasswork

We’ve left a nice easy point till last: keeping your glasswork clean.

Your wipers clear only a central portion of your windscreen. So to ensure maximum visibility, and keep you as safe as possible on the roads, clean your front and back windscreens in their entirety whenever necessary.

Mirrors are also vital, and easy to overlook. Give wing mirrors a good polish, particularly after a muddy journey, and take a moment to wipe and adjust your rear view mirror, too.

All done? You’re ready to take to the roads with confidence. Of course, accidents do happen even to the most careful drivers, so make sure you’re covered with telematics insurance.

To ensure maximum visibility, and keep you as safe as possible on the roads, clean your front and back windscreens in their entirety whenever necessary.

A young driver smiling as she driver her car
Get a quote from Smartdriverclub Insurance

When you’re a new driver, there’s a lot to learn. But with telematics insurance from Smartdriverclub, you’re rewarded for getting into good driving habits.

By installing a Smartplug™ into your vehicle, you can keep an eye on how well you’re driving. It monitors key safety aspects such as how smoothly you brake, accelerate and take corners; and how fast you’re travelling. 

You can view your driver score on the accompanying app and learn how to improve it. And if you get a score of 80 or above, then you’ll receive a discount of up to 40% when you come to renew your policy after a year.

What’s more, in the unfortunate event that you crash, the Smartplug™ will detect this automatically and we’ll send help straight away. So it’s a great way to protect you as you embark on your driving career. Safe travels!