Is your car safe?
Some see their car as a status symbol, others simply as a means of getting from A to B, but whatever its purpose if it is not properly looked after a car can be, at best a money pit and, at worst, a death trap.
Aside from the obvious risk of injury or even death, being involved in a car crash can also have added financial consequences such as increased car insurance premiums and even repair costs if you do not have the correct level of cover.
And as the nation collectively tightens its belt, getting the car serviced is likely to be one of the annual outgoings that gets culled from the family budget sheet - after all, if it aint broke, why fix it?
So why do we need to get our cars serviced, and are there any steps we can take to cut down on maintenance costs while keeping safe on the road? Let's take a look...
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Why have your car serviced?
It may seem like an unnecessary expense, especially if your car is running perfectly well, but a regular service is a vital part of the maintenance schedule that can help reduce repairs to a minimum and keep your car on the road longer.
When your car is serviced the engine will be looked at to make sure that everything is running correctly, the brakes will be examined to make sure they're working properly, the tyres will be given the once-over and the oil and filters will be changed as necessary.
Having these checks and adjustments carried out will help the engine to run more efficiently, maintain the car's fuel efficiency and, hopefully, avoid longer spells in the garage.
If your car is still under warranty then failing to have it regularly serviced could invalidate the cover provided, so this is another good reason to keep to the servicing schedule.
And, although many dealers and manufacturers still recommend it, you no longer have to have your car serviced by a main dealer and so could save yourself money by going to a reputable, independent garage.
However, make sure that any independent you go to uses genuine, approved components and fits them to manufacturer's specification.
What is covered in a service?
When checking the engine to make sure everything is running exactly as it should be, your mechanic will look at things such as the air and fuel filters, oil, oil filters and spark plugs, replacing them as required.
The service will also cover anything related to the safe driving of the vehicle, such as the brakes, indicators, lights, seat belts, steering, suspension, tyres (including pressures) and windscreen wipers.
How often should you have your car serviced?
The frequency with which you should service your car depends on a number of factors, including its age, the make and model and how often and how far it is driven. But as a minimum the servicing should be carried out in accordance with the intervals recommended by the manufacturer.
If you have an older vehicle you may need to have it serviced more regularly as wear and tear on a car's components obviously gets worse with age - and leaving longer gaps between services can exacerbate any problems.
What you can do to maintain your car between services
As well as having your car serviced regularly, there are a number of checks you should carry out between services to help maintain your vehicle.
Always use the recommended oil for your vehicle and check the dipstick every two weeks for engine oil level as well as any possible contamination. If your engine is using a lot of oil this could be due to an oil leak or indicate problems elsewhere in the engine.
Check your headlights, indicators and brake, fog and reverse lights every week and replace the bulbs as necessary. Also ensure that lenses are free from dirt that could affect visibility.
Check the power steering fluid reservoir every month and top up as required, using the recommended hydraulic fluid.
Check your car's tool-kit at least has wheel nut removal tools, including any locking wheel nut tools, and a jack, so that you can change a blown tyre. You should also familiarise yourself with the car's jacking points as the car cannot simply be jacked from any part of the chassis.
Check your tyres, including the spare, every two weeks to make sure that they have the correct tread depths and that there is no damage to the side walls. You should also ensure that they are inflated to the correct pressure as this can affect the fuel consumption, handling and safety of the car.
Check the coolant level regularly and top up when required, but only do so when the engine is cold. If your engine is losing water this could point to a leak or other engine problems. It's important to have antifreeze in the coolant system all year round as it prevents corrosion as well as freezing.
Inspect your windscreen regularly for chips or cracks and have them repaired as soon as possible to prevent further damage. Check the wipers are not worn down as this can smear the windscreen and impair visibility. It's also recommended that you replace them annually.
Regularly check and top-up screen wash - water alone will not be enough to clean windows and it freezes easily in winter.
In addition to regularly checking your car and its components, you should also make sure that baby seats are correctly fitted and are the correct size for your child.
You should make sure that the seat does not move more than one inch to the left or right and make sure that any rear-facing seats - for babies up to 13kg or roughly 15 months old - are at a 45-degree angle.
Children should be kept in a forward-facing seat with a three or five-point harness from around nine months to four years old or between nine and 18kg in weight.
It's best to place child seats in the back of the car but, if they have to be placed in the front, it is vital that any passenger air bags are turned off.
Booster seats and booster cushions are designed for children between the ages of four and 11 years old or when you child weighs between 15 and 36kg.
These safety seats do not include harnesses and instead use the car seat belts, so you need to make sure they are adjusted accordingly and worn as tightly as possible, ensuring the lap belt is over the pelvic region -not the stomach - and the diagonal strap rests over the shoulder and does not cut into the neck.
Once your child is 12 years old or 1.35metres tall they can use an adult seat belt. Click here for further information on child seats.
Winter car survival kit
Decreased visibility through low sun and dark nights and wet roads mean that driving can be hazardous even in a relatively mild winter.
But when the cold snap really kicks in some roads can become impassable and in recent winters motorists have found themselves stuck in their vehicles overnight.
That is why you should always carry a winter survival kit in your car that contains enough extra layers of clothing and blankets to keep all the car's passengers warm, along with non-perishable food and bottled water.
A good supply of bottled water and snacks is a good idea at any time of the year, in case you get stuck in a traffic jam and need refreshment to tide you over.
In addition, keep a torch and some spare batteries in your car as well as tyre chains, jump leads and a shovel to dig yourself out of snow if necessary.
You should also make sure that you have sufficient breakdown cover as RAC figures have shown that motorists are 50% more likely to breakdown during the winter months than at any other time of year.
You can find more information on driving during the winter months in my article Top tips for winter driving. It's never too early to be properly prepared!