5 minute summer checks
The warm weather's on the way, and so it's time to give your car a little love with these quick and easy 5 minute summer checks!
It functions as anti-freeze in the winter, and coolant in the summer, and it's vital that your car always has sufficient coolant flowing around the system. Most cars have a coolant reservoir, (or header tank) which has MAX and MIN levels on the side. The liquid ideally needs to be at the MAX level, so if it's under that then top it up. If it's a small amount you can use water, but it's best to use the correct coolant (check your handbook, as there are different coolant types, and not all can be mixed). If it's very low you need to investigate where it's going, as it's a sealed system, so anything other than minimal loses need to be looked into.
NEVER remove the header tank, or radiator cap when the engine is hot. You risk being scalded as the water is under pressure and will shoot out.
When did you last top up your screen wash? You'll find the filler neck under the bonnet, so check your handbook if you're not sure where it is. We'd always recommend buying the correct screen wash fluid, and never use washing up liquid – it will create too much foam, and can damage wiper blades and window rubbers.
Always buy concentrated screen wash, and not 'ready to use'. With the latter you're paying for them to add water for you!
You can easily check your tyre pressures at a petrol station as most have simple to use tyre inflators. Alternatively you can get yourself a cheap and cheerful pressure gauge, or a decent tyre inflator. Don't forget to check the level of tyre tread too – the legal minimum is 1.6mm across 75% of the tread.
Many websites tell you use a 20p coin inserted into the tread to gauge the how much tread you have left. Be aware that the outer band of a 20p is actually nearer to 3mm, so while it's good practice to replace when they get that low, it's still well within the law. As a more accurate guide the 20p coin is actually 1.7mm thick – so if the tread is the same, or less than the thickness of the coin, it' definitely time to get it replaced!
Many tyres come with built-in tread wear indicators – these are raised sections within the grooves on the tyre. When they're near to flush with the tyre tread it's definitely time to replace the tyre.
Checking the oil is a simple and important job. With the car on a level surface, and the engine not run for several minutes (so the oil has settled) remove the dipstick and wipe the oil from it with a clean cloth, or piece of kitchen roll.
Take note of where the MIN and MAX level marks are on the dipstick, then place it back in the tube as far as it will go. Remove once more and read the oil level. Ideally it should be at the MAX mark. If it's between MIN and MAX your car's not going to blow up, but you should top it up with the correct grade oil. If it's near or below the MIN mark, top the oil up as soon as possible.
Always use a funnel when topping up oil – You WILL spill it everywhere otherwise!
Even if you don't now much about engines you can have a good look around the engine bay for any signs of leaks, drips, rubbing pipework, chafing wires etc. While your engine may well be grubby, there should be no leaks. Very minor oil leaks are to be expected as a car gets older, but anything that's noticeably dripping must be investigated. It's often worth using an engine degreaser and giving everything a thorough clean, that way any leaks will be easier to identify.
Orange or green powdery residue can indicate that there has been a coolant leak which may not show itself with the engine just ticking over. Don't ignore it.
When you wash the car have a good look around the hard to reach areas, the bottoms of the doors, wheel arches, sills etc – Look for damaged or missing paint, and signs of any rust beginning. Once rust takes a hold you won't remove it without chopping it all out and replacing with fresh metal, so it pays dividends to remove any as soon as you see it.
Often this is possible by carefully sanding the offending area and applying touch up paint. If it's a larger, or more obvious area get a quote from a local body shop, or SMART repairer who specialise in localised paint repairs.
You can keep rust at bay with a rust 'killer'. There are several on the market, but be aware that anything other than surface rust will be difficult to eradicate unless you do a thorough job.
What state are your wipers in? Do they clean the screen efficiently and quietly? If they're starting to leave smears, or not clearing the screen properly it could be worth replacing them. They're not expensive, and are straightforward to replace.
While you're at it use this opportunity to align or clear out the windscreen squirters with a pin so they're pointing in the correct place.
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