Regular car checks to help prevent a breakdown and keep you safe

Regular car checks to help prevent a breakdown and keep you safe
There are a number of car checks you can perform both around the car and under the bonnet to help keep it in good running order and prevent a breakdown.

Spending five minutes carrying out these simple checks every few weeks - and certainly before a long journey or an MOT - can save you a lot of time and money in the long run, not to mention help keep you safe on the roads.

We have devised the simple acronym FORCES to help you remember what you need to check, which we have outlined below. We also have a quick video from RAC Patrol Matt Woodbridge demonstrating four simple under-the-bonnet checks.

Images: Powell Media


Forces stands for: Fuel, Oil, Rubber, Coolant, Electrics, Screen wash

1. Fuel

Check you have plenty of fuel in your tank for your journey.

It may sound obvious but you would be surprised how many people run out of fuel and with temperatures as low as expected you really don’t want get stranded. 

2. Oil

Our patrols check the oil level on every vehicle they attend and surprisingly they find one in three are dangerously low on oil. This can cause a breakdown or lead to catastrophic engine damage at worst.  

You should check your oil level is between the minimum and maximum mark on your car's dipstick and top up if necessary. If you're unsure, you can watch our video on how to check your oil.

For the type of oil you need to use, you should refer to your owner’s handbook or speak to your local dealer. 

3. Rubber

You'll need to check your tyres and your wiper blades before you set off.

Check your tyres for general wear and tear racks, splits of bulges, and more importantly, tread depth.

Although the minimum tread level is 1.6mm, during winter it’s advisable to have 3mm of tread on your tyres to help with traction and grip.

Also ensure that you have the correct pressure in your tyres. (Check your owner’s handbook for the correct inflation).

Your tyres are your car’s only connection to the road and it is vital that they are in good condition and correctly inflated for good traction and grip.

MORE ADVICE: How to check your tyres

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Also as part of your 'rubber checks' you'll need to examine your wiper blades. They are not everlasting and will need replacing from time to time so check them for splits and cracks.

Check whether they are effective at clearing your screen and replace as necessary.

Wiper blades can get frozen to the windscreen – if is freezing or you have plenty of snow – clear your windscreen and ensure that they will lift off the screen before switching them on.  Use de-icer or a little warm water to free them if necessary.

This winter our patrols have seen a big increase in callouts to member’s cars which have blown a fuse or broken the motor/mechanics when operating the wipers when they are frozen to the screen.

Cover your windscreen with a blanket or an old sheet to keep it ice and snow free and wrap the wipers up in the sheet to avoid them sticking to the screen. 

MORE ADVICE: How to check your wiper blades

4. Coolant

Check your car’s coolant level. The last thing you need is a frozen engine or for your car to overheat.

Although it’s a sealed system and shouldn’t need to be topped up, you should always double check, especially before a long journey.

Check your coolant levels when the engine is cold and look in your handbook for the correct coolant and mix to use should you need to top it up.

MORE ADVICE: How to check your coolant

5. Electrics

Check your lights – they are essential for you to see and be seen.

It’s vitally important to make sure not only that you can see where you’re going but also that other drivers can see you, Walk round your car and make sure all lights are working and that they are free from dirt and grime.

Lights get extremely dirty during the winter months so clean them on a regular basis.

MORE ADVICE: How to check your bulbs

Check the battery terminals are clean and tight, (clean corrosion off with hot water and apply petroleum jelly).

If your car struggles to start and the engine ‘labours’ when you turn the key you should get it check out by a garage. If your battery is over four years old it may be getting to the end of its life and it could let you down.

If you are having your battery test ask them to check the charging system and the drain on your battery – this will give a better picture of your car’s overall electrical health.

Our RAC patrols deal with over 400,000 battery related faults every winter as the cold weather takes its toll on older tired batteries and the wet and ice conditions play havoc with the electrics. Batteries have to work that much harder in cold conditions and they have endure greater demand from extra electrical equipment like the lights and the heater.

6. Screen wash

Check your screen wash level and top up with a quality screen wash additive or pre-mix which is effective down to at least -15 degrees Celsius.

There’s more muck and dirt on the roads during the winter, as well as salt, so it’s important to make sure you can keep your windscreen clean. And remember to keep checking and topping up the level over the coming days.

Our patrols are often called out to motorists whose screen wash has completely frozen in the tank – so it is vital that you remember to use quality additive. Remember the wind-chill factor can send the temperature to below 20 degrees Celsius.

Did you know, you can get fined for moving out of the way of an ambulance?

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