How to Maintain your Car
Your car is likely to be the most complicated thing you own.
Look after it and it will look after you, ensuring you get to where you want to go without any drama.
Keeping your car – whether it’s a Honda or any other make – maintained according to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule is important. There are essential tasks that need to be performed and items that need to be inspected as a car ages, which any Honda dealer or reputable garage can perform.
However, it’s just as important for you to know how to look after and maintain your car on a day-to-day basis and care for it between the scheduled services.
For example: did you know there’s a correct way to clean your car that prevents its paint from scratching? What about jump-starting a car with a flat battery; would you know what to do should there be no charge?
And how about staying on the right side of the law? Any idea what the minimum legal tyre tread depth should be? As for your car’s tyre pressures, do you know what they should be set to – or how to adjust them?
To help you maintain your car, we asked expert Honda fleet technicians to share their top tips on how drivers with all levels of technical ability can maintain their car.
HOW TO: CLEAN YOUR CAR
Keeping your car clean is a good way of protecting your investment. Everything from rain to dirt and deposits from trees to bird droppings can be harmful to paintwork.
When the time comes to sell it – perhaps as a trade-in against a newer model – the better the condition of your car, the more money it will be worth. So, it’s a good idea to treat it to a wash at least once a month.
Washing a car in five simple steps:
- For the best results, do this by hand. First, hose off the car or, better still, use a pressure washer. This removes a great deal of the dirt and grit.
- Next, fill two buckets, one with clean cold water, the other with a mix of warm water and car shampoo. Using a microfibre mitt, wash the bodywork, starting from the roof and working your way down.
- Keep rinsing the mitt in the bucket of cold water to prevent grit from building up.
- Now turn your attention to the wheels. A good quality, dedicated cleaning product will do the hard work for you, lifting away deposits that are harmful to the surface of the alloy wheel.
- Now comes the easy bit: rinse off the car using clean water. Then, use a microfibre towel to dry the bodywork.
Clean sweep: checking and replacing wiper blades
Checking windscreen wipers for wear and tear and replacing them when required will keep you safe, maintaining good visibility in bad weather.
Also, wipers are one of your car’s features that are tested during the annual MOT inspection. So if they’re worn, your car could fail the test.
The first signs of worn out wipers are when water smears across the glass. To check them yourself, park your car and switch off the engine and ignition, then lift up the wiper arm and run your finger along the rubber underside.
If it’s dirty, you’ll feel the deposits and see them on the tip of your finger. Cleaning them is easy: take a soft cloth, wet it with some screenwash solution and run it along the rubber strip. You’ll see the dirt lift off.
If the wiper rubber feels brittle or has nicks and tears, it’s time to replace it. Your local Honda dealer will be able to supply and fit the correct specification wiper blade.
Alternatively, source replacement parts from an aftermarket supplier and check the vehicle handbook for fitting instructions.
Top it up! Checking your car’s screen wash
Running out of screen wash prevents you from cleaning the windscreen, impairing your view of the road ahead. So, it’s important to check your car’s screen wash.
First, reach for the handbook. This will show you where the filler is for the reservoir that feeds the windscreen washer system.
Invest in dedicated screen wash rather than soap and water, as the latter will only smear and obscure your view. You can buy ready-mixed screen wash or concentrated versions that need diluting with water.
Open the car’s bonnet, locate the cap for the washer reservoir and top it up until you can see that the chamber is full – there should be a visible mark on your screenwash reservoir to indicate the maximum level – then replace the cap securely.
Let there be light: checking a car’s lights
With the car cleaned and the wipers and washer fluid in tip top condition, now take a moment to walk around your car and check all the lights are working correctly. It’s a legal requirement for them to be functioning and helps keep you and other road users safe.
It’s easiest to do this with someone else helping. Switch on the ignition, then turn on the sidelights. See that both the front sidelights and the taillights are functioning correctly. Next, switch to the dipped headlights and check both before turning on the main beam and ensuring that both bulbs are working.
Now, check any fog lights that are fitted to the car, as well as the indicators. And finally, apply the brake pedal and make sure the brake lights are in working order. If you don’t have anyone to lend a hand, park the back of the car against a wall or garage door and look to see the reflection of the lights.
If any bulbs aren’t working, see your vehicle handbook for instructions on how to change them. Alternatively, your nearest Honda dealer or garage can carry out the work, especially for more complex tasks.
A simple guide to checking tyre pressures and tread depth
The law says the minimum tread depth for tyres is 1.6mm. That’s to make sure your vehicle grips the road surface securely in all driving conditions.
But how do you know if your tyres are worn down that far? A simple trick is to look for what are known as ‘tread wear indicators’ on the tyres. These are small rubber blocks that sit between the channels of the tyre tread. If the tread is close to being flush with the blocks, you know it’s time to shop for replacement tyres.
Alternatively, try the 20 pence hack, as demonstrated in the video. Or invest in a tyre tread depth measuring tool; these cost from around £2 and are a quick and easy way to check that your car’s tyres are safe and fit for the road.
A final tip is to remember to check if the tread is deep enough across the full width of the tyre.
You should also take some time to visually check over the tyres to ensure that there are no splits or bulges in the rubber that could indicate further problems with the tyre.
If in any doubt, your local garage would be happy to perform a tyre check and advise on any further course of action.
Check the manufacturing date of your tyres
The date your tyres were made will be on each tyre’s sidewall. It’s worth checking because as tyres age, they effectively become brittle, which is why tyre manufacturers recommend replacing them after 10 years regardless of the tread depth.
The manufacturing date takes the form of four numbers usually preceded by the letters DOT. These numbers represent the week number and year, so 3410 will be week 34, 2010. A good tip is to also use that information to make sure you're buying new tyres with the longest shelf life possible.
HOW TO: jump start a car with a flat battery
Did you know that a flat battery is one of the top reasons vehicle recovery companies are called out to help drivers?
Draining a battery is easily done; leave on lights by mistake and you could return to a lifeless vehicle.
In that case, you could attempt to jump-start it. Jump leads are sold at any reputable automotive retailer and cost from around £10. You’ll need another vehicle to help do this.
- Open both cars’ bonnets (ensure they are securely supported), check the position of their battery and then park to allow for the leads to reach from one to the other. As shown in the accompanying video, it is important to begin by first attaching the red lead’s clip, for the positive terminal, on the car with the flat battery. Then attach the other red clip to the other car’s positive battery terminal.
- Attach the black, negative terminal of the faulty vehicle, followed by fixing the remaining clip to the other car’s battery.
- Check everything on the stranded car is switched off (lights, climate control, audio system etc.) and now you’re ready to start the engine of the second vehicle.
- Attempt to start the engine of the car with the flat battery.
If it doesn’t come to life, there could be a more serious problem. Contact Honda Breakdown Assistance or your breakdown provider for assistance.
If it does start, leave the engines running and leads connected for five to ten minutes. Then switch off both engines, remove the leads (black clips first, followed by the red clips) and restart the engine of the car that had the flat battery. It’s a good idea to take it for a drive lasting more than 30 minutes to help recharge the battery.
If the problem persists, contact your local dealer or breakdown provider.
Maintaining your battery’s charge can be easily accomplished by ensuring that all your car’s electrical systems (apart from essentials such as the alarm) are turned off when you turn off the ignition. Many modern cars do have a kill switch built in to ensure that all these systems are turned off, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Also, be aware that your battery may be affected by the cold weather – particularly if it is an older battery. If you are in any doubt about your battery’s voltage, there are simple devices that you can plug in to your cigarette lighter socket to check your voltage.
Ideally, your battery should always operate at 12.6 volts or above – if you find it is regularly below this level, then your car’s ignition may stutter and it might be time to get your battery replaced.
Engine oil: check it regularly
Oil is the lifeblood of a car’s engine. Over time, however, the engine can burn off enough to require a minor top up. So, it’s prudent to check the oil level whenever you fill with fuel and especially before long journeys.
Before starting, always refer to the vehicle handbook to identify the correct grade of oil for your vehicle. The engine should have been switched off for some time and the car needs to be parked on a level surface.
You’ll need to open the bonnet, support it securely, locate the dipstick, then remove it and wipe the end with a clean cloth. Reinsert the dipstick, remove it and check the level.
It should show that the oil is sitting somewhere between the ‘Min’ and ‘Max’ levels on the dipstick. Did you know that the difference between the two is a litre of oil?
If a top-up is required, check the type of oil by referring to the owner’s manual or contact a dealer or the vehicle manufacturer. You’ll be able to buy one litre of the suitable oil type from most petrol stations or your nearest garage.
Perform all these checks once a month or so and you can be confident that you’ll have a good appreciation of the condition of your vehicle and that it’s roadworthy and safe for many more miles of motoring.
All of the above checks should easy enough for you to carry out for yourself. But if you are in any doubt, you should always contact your nearest Honda dealer or local garage.