Motoring advice and tips from the experts

Naturally, we wish to keep our customers coming back to us and hope they remain satisfied. However, we equally do not want anyone to waste unnecessary money and time, and we certainly don't want you to break down. Here are a few tips from us on how to keep your car running just that little bit better, and avoid costly repairs where possible.

Check your levels
Cars have become increasingly reliable over the decades, and people are less and less inclined to ever open the bonnet unless something goes wrong, but this is false economy. It is generally advisable at least every second time you fill up with petrol, to check the level of coolant, windscreen-washer fluid and oil. Once every few weeks also check the levels of brake fluid and power-steering fluid and clutch fluid or automatic transmission fluid (where applicable if fitted). Don't be the unlucky person who runs low on oil on a motorway journey and ends up with serious engine damage. Checking regularly can also tell you early if anything is leaking, so you can get it repaired before it's too late and a minor job turns into a very costly problem.
The vast majority of modern vehicles have a 'header tank' for the coolant system and as this is normally partly transparent, it is easy to check the level by sight. On older cars with just a radiator, it is essential to only check the level when the engine is cold, as removing the radiator cap on a hot engine can be extremely dangerous. Also, if you ever do need to top up the brake fluid or clutch fluid, be very careful, as these fluids are highly corrosive and will damage paintwork almost instantly.
Some vehicles (including some Citroen models) are fitted with hydraulic suspension systems. Be very careful to check the levels regularly and only ever use the correct fluid to top these up. Using the incorrect type can cause massive damage to the seals in the system, resulting in very costly repairs.

Keep up the pressure
Check your tyre pressures regularly, preferably every time you fill up with petrol. Maintaining the correct pressures is not only essential for safe handling and braking, it will also extend tyre life and optimise economy. Equally important, it might alert you to a tyre with a slow puncture, which can usually then be repaired before it becomes too serious to fix. Always check the manufacturer's recommendations and remember that driving with a lot of weight in the car, or at high speed for a long period, usually requires increased tyre pressures.
Most recently-manufactured vehicles have a tyre-pressure warning system, with an indication on the instrument panel, however, this should only be considered an indication of a serious loss of pressure. These units are generally not accurate enough to rely on for small differences. Lastly, when you check the tyre pressures, don't forget the spare. There is little worse than having a puncture, only to discover your spare tyre is flat as well.

Be kind to your car
The majority of wear comes when components are cold, especially the engine. When starting off from cold, drive gently for the first few miles. You could significantly extend the life of your car and avoid some costly repairs in the future. Although nobody likes those cold mornings, leaving the engine running at tick-over for a long period is not advisable: quite apart from wasting fuel, it does not generally heat up the engine evenly, so can cause long-term problems. If you need to clear frost or ice from car windows, a bucket of cold water from the tap works miracles. Don't ever use hot water, as the sudden temperature difference can break glass in an instant. Cold tap water will be above freezing point and will do the job.

Never jump start
In the 'good old days', it was common practice to jump start a car from a different one in the event of a flat battery. With modern vehicles and their electronic systems, this should never be done. In many cases it can cause rapid voltage changes and 'spikes' that will damage electronics, sometimes beyond repair. Although a nuisance, it is essential to remove the battery and use a battery charger, or contact a breakdown service. It is far better to be late for something than to end up with a bill of hundreds of pounds and a car that doesn't run at all.

Don't run on empty
Never let your fuel level drop too low. Running out of fuel completely can cause serious problems, as many fuel delivery systems cannot cope properly if there is any air present and you might end up stranded and in need of a recovery truck. Equally, general dirt and residues will fall to the bottom of the fuel tank. Running very low can result in the sediments getting into the system, potentially blocking the filter or causing other problems.

Check the pump
Staying on the subject of fuel, check and double check! It is surprising how many times we, and breakdown services, have to deal with cases where a tank has been filled with petrol instead of diesel, or vice versa. If you do make the dreaded mistake, do not ever try to start the car, or even turn on the ignition. Doing so will activate the fuel pump, which will make the problem massively worse. As long as the car's fuel pump has not been turned on, it will usually only be necessary to drain and clean the tank, and refill it, probably also cleaning out the fuel pipe and replacing the filter.

Carry the essentials
Unless you regularly drive in winter in areas where serious snowfall can be a problem, then always packing a shovel, snow-chains and the like is not really essential. However, there are a few things that every driver should keep in the boot or glove-box:
Cheap disposable latex gloves - Have a puncture? You can change the tyre, but you are likely to get very dirty in the process. A pack of disposable gloves will keep your hands clean.
Water bottle - Getting stuck in an unexpected traffic jam is a nightmare. On a warm day, it's very easy to become dehydrated. A bottle of water is a welcome respite.
Map - We have all become used to sat-navs, but sometimes they just don't work, or you end up in the wrong place. A proper road atlas in the boot will at least send you in the right direction!

Think economy
Just a few very minor changes to the way you drive can substantially reduce fuel consumption; an important consideration in light of the ever-increasing cost of running a car. Unless it's too hot for comfort, turn off the air conditioning. Even if you set the temperature to warm up the car, the air conditioning will still be running unless it is turned off, and uses a surprising amount of engine power (and hence, fuel). Similarly, keep the windows closed unless necessary. Driving at speed with a window open significantly worsens a car's aerodynamic properties, again resulting in increased fuel consumption. Think ahead. This is always sensible motoring advice, but anticipating traffic ahead and braking and accelerating gently not only makes for a smoother ride, but also reduces fuel use significantly and has the additional benefit of reducing wear and tear on tyres, brakes and other parts.

Don't lose it
The vast majority of vehicles are now fitted from new with various security systems, and most are very effective. However, cars do still get stolen and one of the main and simplest ways is by a thief getting hold of the keys. In a petrol station, never leave the keys in the car. Make a habit of locking the vehicle when you go to pay, and it will be second nature to take the keys with you. At home, never leave keys on a table near the front door. This is a favourite target for car thieves.

Stay in touch
Virtually all of us have a mobile phone these days, but don't forget to take it with you. An accident or breakdown could leave you stranded otherwise. Please note that a locked phone, or a 'pay as you go' with no credit can still be used to dial 999 in an emergency. However, there is a frequently-quoted myth that a mobile phone without a SIM card can be used for emergency calls. This is not true: because of problems with hoax calls, a SIM card is necessary. If you travel long distances, then consider investing in a car charger for your mobile. They are inexpensive and could prove a life-saver.

Keep it clean
Cars obviously get dirty and cleaning them is never that much fun, especially in winter. However, dirty windows and dirty lights can be a hazard. Windscreens build up a film of dirt inside from condensation and this can cause serious problems with flare and reduced visibility when the sun is low. A dirty car is also surprisingly compromised in terms of efficiency. Dirt disturbs air flow and can result in substantially worse fuel consumption.

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