Awaking from the pandemic? Need to drive somewhere? Check your vehicle carefully!
In an era of tumbled statues, rumbled bigots and grumblers on either side of the sexual divide, Iain Robertson, with more than a sniff of assistance from Lyn Funnell, has formulated a Top Ten Tips for all returners to our roads network.
Despite the fact that VOSA has been ‘helpful’ in respect of delaying MOTs, returning to the roads also means attending to roadworthiness. If your car, van, minibus, or charabanc needs an MOT Test, book it in as soon as possible, to be completely sure about its state of health. It is worth noting that our nation’s MOT Test Centres are working currently on the best part of a quarter of the year’s backlog. As a result. Be patient. They will get around to you in due course.
Yet, there are innumerable simple tasks that you may carry out readily, yourself. If you get into the habit of carrying out regular checks on your vehicle, you can reduce the impact of mega-expensive garage bills and possibly avoid the risk of breaking down, which can be dangerous at worst and a real hassle at least, especially if it happens and you are all alone.
Unsurprisingly, when mechanical devices that are familiar with regular use are switched off and mothballed, that is when they start to go wrong. As so many motor dealers around the UK have discovered over the past couple of weeks, failed batteries, stuck wiper blades, broken springs, flat-spotted tyres, leaking dampers and a plethora of electrical maladies have afflicted their stocks of motorcars. The on-cost to the trade of repairing and resolving the problems has been horrendous.
We recognise that readers love lists. Therefore, we have formulated a list with a purpose and we urge you to become familiar with it, even though you may have been forced to shoulder some heavy bills already:
- Check both oil and fluid levels every couple of weeks – The dipstick to check the oil level is usually marked clearly, next to the engine. If the oil level has slipped below the indent on the flexible dipstick, check your vehicle owner’s manual for the correct grade of oil, or lubricant, buy a 500ml resealable bottle and carefully top-up to the ‘MAX’ mark the oil in the engine’s sump. It is always best to carry out this check, when the engine is cool. If the oil is dark in colour, or the dipstick has a slushy pale mould on it, booking in your vehicle at an appropriate garage to carry out an oil and filter change would be advisable. If the brake fluid reservoir is in need of a top-up, drive very carefully to your local garage and notify it of the problem. The same applies to the vehicle’s coolant system; if the level is down, have it replenished at your local service centre.
- Check your vehicle’s tyre pressures regularly – Lack of use can cause one or more tyres to deflate. You can find the recommended tyre pressures for your vehicle in the owner’s manual. However, they are often noted on a small sticker attached to the driver’s door jamb, or on the inside of the fuel filler flap. Uneven tyre pressures can lead to poor and unsafe handling characteristics, so pump them up to the recommended pressures. In addition, lack of regular usage can create ‘flat-spots’ on the tyres, which will make a repetitive noise, on the move. If you are concerned about such tyre noises, take your vehicle to a local tyre centre to have them checked professionally.
- Check your vehicle’s battery condition – Some vehicles provide a voltmeter as part of their instrumentation; others rely on a red warning lamp in the cluster. If the engine sounds laboured, when trying to start the vehicle, it is possible that the battery may need to be recharged. Unfortunately, some batteries will not permit recharging and are quite expensive to replace, as they need to operate a number of the vehicle’s electrical and electronic systems, even when it is stationary. Investing in a ‘trickle charger’ could be wise, if your vehicle is modern and uses complex electrical systems. Ask your garage, or service centre, for advice about such devices and how to use them effectively.
- Check your vehicle’s screen wash reservoir – As it is against the law to drive a vehicle without screen wash being available, keep a refill in the boot, just in case the reservoir’s contents run out. Every time that you fill-up the fuel tank, use the opportunity to top-up the washer bottle, either with water, or an appropriately diluted screen-wash fluid. The filler is usually marked clearly beneath the vehicle’s bonnet. Do NOT use washing-up liquid, which contains salt and will create excess soapy bubbles that can obscure your vision.
- Check the fuel tank contents – Vehicles that are parked for a long time will contain fuel that may have separated. If the vehicle’s fuel gauge is showing less than a quarter of a tank, muck may have accumulated at the bottom of it. If a running engine ingests this dirt, it will cause it to misfire and not operate smoothly. If the engine idles smoothly and provides the expected amount of power, when you depress the accelerator pedal, all may be fine. However, your vehicle will still benefit from a full service.
- Check the wiper blades – Most wiper blades are manufactured from a cocktail of silicon and rubber raw materials. Anything containing natural ingredients will age disproportionately, when not subjected to regular use. Do not be surprised, when you first use them, that they judder and make noises across the windscreen. If you soak them properly in warm water before driving, you may stop the problem from occurring. Yet, they may even be ‘stuck’ to the windscreen. Do not force them away. Soak the screen generously before using the wiper switch.
- Check your vehicle’s lights are working properly – Light bulbs, including the latest LED units, can fail without warning. You can check all of them by reversing up to a wall, or the garage door and repeating the exercise by driving forwards to a wall/door. Check the indicators first. Then, check the brake lights. You can follow this by testing that the side, head and taillights are all working properly. If any single unit is inoperable, have it replaced as soon as possible.
- Check that your vehicle’s number-plates are clean and unbroken – If either the front, or rear number-plate is crazed, cracked, or not affixed correctly on your vehicle, contact your local garage, or service centre and have new plates fitted as soon as possible.
- Check that your vehicle’s safety belts are working smoothly and not sticking – This primary device is an essential item of your vehicle’s safety armoury. Check the belts by unravelling them for cuts and damage that would constitute an MOT failure. The safety belts should work smoothly and without obstruction.
- Check that your vehicle is not overdue its scheduled service period – Even though it may not have turned a wheel for the past two to three months and may have been serviced only three to four months ago, do book it in for a brief service and a thorough safety check at your preferred garage, or service centre.
Conclusion: If you wonder why I have not mentioned the brakes on your vehicle, bear in mind that after a period of non-operation, the parking brake may be stuck on and the disc pads may have also created similar issues. In all cases, most especially for a leading safety one, such as brakes, refer to your local garage, or service centre. Yet, each of the above points are items over which you can have some control. Safe motoring!