Repairs – they’re shit. They cost you precious time and money; money you could be spending on tuning and modifying your car rather than fixing it. The best way to cut down on your repair bills is to stop it breaking in the first place. ]
So at Fast Car we’ve come up with 15 simple but effective ways of keeping your car in good shape. Read on, take heed of our advice, and watch your repair bills drop. They don’t call it preventative maintenance for nothing.
1. EARLY LEARNING
Hopefully, you should have some idea of how a car works, which parts do what, and why. If not, now’s the time to learn. Even if you leave all your servicing and repairs to a mechanic, it’s still good to learn the basics. If you know nothing, you won’t realise when something is wrong, and might well damage the engine without even knowing it!
We’ve lost count of the times we’ve seen lil’ old ladies going down the road with a nearly new car clonking and knocking like hell, just cos something minor has gone wrong. They didn’t realise anything was up, and now it’s buggered.
2. TAKE IT EASY
Most engine damage occurs during start-up and before the engine has reached its optimum operating temperature. So don’t rev the engine on start-up.
Instead drive gently, using light throttle/low revs, until the water temp gauge (and oil temp if you have one) is up to normal working temperature. Because it’s important to run your car at the optimum temperature, fix faulty gauges as soon as possible.
3. SERVICE TIME
You’ll find that it’s not just the oil and filter that need changing more regularly on hard-driven and highly tuned cars. The cam belt, spark plugs, transmission oil and brake fluid all need changing more frequently – generally half of factory recommended times.
4. FIX IT
Deal with any minor problems as soon as possible. A problem never just goes away, it will only ever get worse. A rumbling wheel bearing will turn into a collapsed hub before too long. An oil leak will quite easily turn into a knackered engine, and a non-functioning temp gauge could hide an overheating issue, which could also spell disaster for your engine and wallet. Prevention is better than cure.
5. CHECK YOUR FLUIDS
Checking your oil and water levels weekly is good practice. It’s especially important on turbocharged and rotary engines. Don’t overlook other fluids, such as brake and power steering juice. If you really want to keep your engine happy, consider changing the oil and filter more frequently than recommended – for highly tuned engines, every 3,000 miles.
Many cars require a specific oil filter because they feature a non-return valve (which some cheaper, non-manufacturer filters may not), which helps oil circulate as soon as possible after the engine’s started.
If your coolant ever needs topping up, then something needs repairing because cooling systems are sealed and shouldn’t lose/use water. If you find yourself using more and more oil each time you top it up, again, you could do worse than fixing things now as it could cost you more later.
6. TYRED OUT
Keep an eye on tyre pressures – running them too low (or too high) will wear them out quickly, as well as ruin the handling. They may look fine at first glance, but check the inner shoulders – it’s easy (especially if your car is very low and the tyres are wide) to miss wear if it’s only on one edge.
It’s not just pressures, either: having incorrectly set up suspension geometry is just as likely to knacker both your tyres and handling, so if in doubt, get it checked. Blow-outs can write off your car, so saving yourself a pound by trying to get another 200 miles from iffy tyres can be a very false economy.
7. RUNNING ON EMPTY
As pay day looms, it’s tempting to try and get as far as you can without having to fill up. But by running your motor constantly into the red, dirt and rust deposits can gather in the bottom of the tank and be sucked up by the fuel pump, ruining the pump itself, the filter, and if you’re unlucky, getting into the engine.
8. 5 STAR TREATMENT
Ensure that, if your car is tuned, or is set to run on super unleaded fuel, you do just that. Running regular unleaded in a car that needs super will mean less performance and, more importantly, it increases the potential to cause engine-wrecking detonation.
This is vital on Jap imports, which would have been run on high-octane fuel in Japan. If you have no choice but to put in normal unleaded, drive carefully and turn down the boost until you refill with super unleaded.
9. DON”T RIDE THE CLUTCH
Don’t ride the clutch for longer than you need to. Holding the car at the biting point for any length of time, rather than going for the handbrake, will hasten the demise of your clutch more than you’d imagine. When you’re sitting on that hill demonstrating your amazing clutch control, you’re actually wrecking your car!
The same goes for coasting along the road or sitting at the lights with the clutch depressed – that will shag the release bearing in no time. So don’t do it people!
10. TRANNY TROUBLE
Don’t rush your gear changes. If you frequently change gear too fast and force the car into gear, beating the synchromesh, it’s easy to do damage. At the very least you could damage the synchros, which will make it harder to change gear in normal driving.
At worst you can mash the whole gearbox. Blip the throttle on down-changes, too, which will mean the synchros have to do a lot less work.
11. TUNE IT PROPERLY
Don’t make major engine modifications without getting the fuelling and ignition timing checked and adjusted afterwards. If your particular mods increase airflow without any more fuel being added at the same time, it can result in serious engine damage.
This is particularly important on turbo cars, where big increases in airflow are easy to achieve.
12. COOL IT DOWN
When driving a turbo’d motor, take it easy and drive off-boost for the final five minutes or so of driving, to let the turbo cool down with a good supply of oil. If you shut down the engine when the turbo is red hot, you won’t have the oil pumping through it to help cool it. This will lead to a premature death of your turbo because the oil will cook around the hot bearing and the exhaust housing could crack.
If you don’t want to go slowly at the end of a hard drive, at least be sure that you leave your engine idling for a few minutes before you switch off.
13. KEEP IT CLEAN
Keep your car clean! It’s an obvious one, but it can be overlooked. And don’t even think about going into a drive-through car wash! Not unless you don’t give a shit about your paintwork. A good hand-wash is the best way to clean your car, and make especially sure that you get rid of bird shit – it’s acidic and will eat into your paint if you leave it on.
Remember also to remove mud and kack from your wheel arches, especially if your make of car is prone to rusting just there. Don’t go too crazy with the pressure wash though, as you can force water into places where it isn’t meant to go.
14. FLUSH IT OUT
Just because the previous owner changed the oil regularly, that doesn’t mean he took any notice of the other fluids! Anti-freeze and brake fluid are vital ingredients that are often forgotten about, so it’s a wise idea to completely flush both the water and braking systems, paying particular attention to the radiator, because silt often builds up over the years, stopping it from working properly.
15. DON’T GET HOT HEADED
One thing that quite commonly goes wrong on cars is that the electric radiator fan or fan switch fails. A wise thing to do when you buy a new car is to let it sit on your drive while keeping an eye on the temp gauge, making sure the fan kicks in before it gets too hot.
If it’s faulty, it’s usually just a blown fuse or a minor wiring problem that won’t cost much to fix. But it could easily lead to an overheating car and a blown head gasket if you don’t get the problem sorted as soon as possible.