The important issue of car care can be difficult in a busy world, with a million other things on the to-do list. Sadly, poor maintenance can often have costly financial implications – from a greater loss in residual value, to more expensive repairs when it comes to finally getting the work done.
The complexity of vehicle design and electronics in modern cars (i.e., anything after the 1990s) puts a lot of drivers off home maintenance, but there’s still a veritable slew of simple tasks that can save you both time and money.
In this guide, we’re focusing on car care. That is what maintenance does a car need and how often. We have a separate guide for how to clean your car properly and even tackling a touchless car wash and another one which helps you upgrade the tech in your car, so you don’t get left behind in the connected age. Throughout our guides, we’ll make some product suggestions.
This guide looks at:
Where a few mechanical pointers from your parent, hobby mechanic neighbour or car maintenance book would help a driver sort basic car care without any expense once upon a time, some might argue you need a software developer these days. Nonetheless, a home health check for your car is great way of heading to your dealership or garage informed, making you feel more confident about what components were last serviced and when.
Investing in a good toolbox and various tools, like screwdriver sets, electric screwdrivers, hammers, wrenches, pliers, wheel nut wrenches and spanners – handily kept in smart tool rolls – is a great idea, particularly if you can jump on any Amazon Prime Day deals.
If you’ve a very limited budget, the one place you need to spend money on your car is your tyres. These four rubber contact points are the only things that stand between you and almost certain death. Tyre checks also tend to get overlooked, while 11% of MOT failures (DVSA, 2017) are down to tyres.
There’s loads of options for tyre choices these days, which can seem a bit intimidating, so do check out our ultimate guide. This helps you understand the difference between eco, all-season run-flats, winter and summer ones.
Part-worn tyres are an option for some, though very few. Some basic tyre maintenance with dressings and repair will help reduce costs on a brand-new set too.
Looking after your tyres might seem tiresome (no pun intended) but it’s worthwhile a) knowing how to change your wheel, b) keeping a tyre repair kit and c) cleaning your tyres thoroughly each wash.
>> Check out the best alloy wheel cleaners
>> Understand how tyre sealant works
Engines need good quality fluids to work efficiently. From keeping an eye on the fuel prices and topping up your oil, to getting the right mix of coolant and water for your antifreeze and refilling your screenwash regularly, these fluids will ensure you keep your engine running well. This is especially true for wintry conditions and in poor weather. You might also wish to consider rain repellent, to cut down on some of the elbow grease.
Drivers need to keep a beady eye on fluid levels, whether it’s directly with oil for your internal combustion engine, or simple coolant for your electric vehicle. If you can’t make the switch yet, fluids, like fuel additives and AdBlue can help reduce emissions.
> How to check your car oil
When the engine bay is filthy, or you’re looking to sell your motor and want to present an immaculate under-hood experience, apply a degreaser.
And speaking of winter and fluids, it’s not a bad shout to keep de-icer handy to prevent stuff freezing up.
> The best 5W30 engine oil
As we mentioned above, the right tools can make a significant difference between car maintenance being a struggle or a doddle. You need the right tool for the job you’re doing — you can’t paint a masterpiece with a toothbrush (although no doubt some Turner-Prize nominee has tried at some point).
First, get an inspection lamp – no one needs a £1,000-smartphone torch in the middle of an oily engine bay. Floodlights can be useful if you’re planning on plenty of evening tinkering. Car dollies also make life under the car more comfortable too (while you’re down there, apply some underseal).
> Tasks for a novice tinkerer
If you’re really keen, invest in garage overalls to protect your clothes (and keep warmer when tinkering in winter, if your garage heater isn’t enough). Speaking of temperatures, these garage fans can keep you cool in summer.
Basic repair and maintenance, such as changing the oil with the right oil filter removal tools or investing in rotary tools for cleaning and repairing, are the easiest places to start for home tinkering. Helpful and cost-effective kits make great Christmas gifts too. What’s more, you can find the extra storage space by organising your garage more effectively.
>> Check out this quick review of the Bosch IXO 6 Electric Screwdriver
The reality is, nothing can ever stay entirely perfect. Driving by definition means you need to move amongst people, bushes and other road users, who can – often inadvertently, sometimes deliberately – mark your car. But whether you’re on a lease or PCP agreement, or just want to maintain the residual value of your car, keeping it as pristine as possible is no bad thing.
Much of the work involved in extending the life of your car lies in the cleaning efforts. From waterless wash for the time-poor, to intense paint protection with a cutting compound, you can also take steps to protect the inside and outside of your vehicle.
Repairing any damage as quickly as possible avoids turning a small problem into a bigger, more expensive one. Scratch repair kits can help reduce the visibility or remove minor blemishes. There’s plenty of other ways to keep your bodywork looking smart too.
> Parkers paint protection guide for DIYers
> The Parkers guide to ceramic coating for cars
> Best chrome cleaner for your car
> Best restoring black trim
> Parkers picks the best wheel sealant and wheel protectors
> Can an angle grinder be used for car detailing?
Upholstery can be a bit of a pig to keep clean with kids and dogs, but it’s not totally impossible. Keeping fabric spray handy helps deal with any spills rapidly. Repairing and restoring leather seats needn’t be as overwhelming has it sounds.
Car boot liners are a simple and arguably easier way of preventing damage to the boot space from pets with claws.
Car organisers can be a godsend for anyone who need each thing to have a place, or to those who regularly lose stuff under seats
Don’t forget to make it smell amazing either – eau de damp dog is not pleasant. And since water ingress can cause some really unpleasant odours, you might wish to consider a car dehumidifier.
Like most things in life, prevention is better than cure. If you don’t drive frequently and you don’t dry-store i.e. you park it on the street or on a drive, consider covering your vehicle. Being prepared with a kit bag in the car, with safety tools to bird poo wipes, will help too.
If you don’t have time to maintain your car, delegate the job out to someone else. Sure, a car service – whether you go for a winter one, or full one—will cost you a little bit in garage fees but a) that’s what they’re there for and b) they won’t cost you as much as the loss in resale value.
A full service in the UK includes checks on the battery, bodywork, brakes, coolant, exhaust, oil, oil filter, lights, steering, suspension and tyres. A service differs from an MoT test because an MoT is required by law. A service is a voluntary check responsible motorists pay for, to ensure the vehicle continues to run well.
Some repairs can be achieved at home. We’ve got a selection of how-to guides and can recommend products to get a decent finish.
> Parkers guide to repairing a dent
> How to change a car battery
> Best car primers
Just so you know, while we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on our product page, we never allow this to influence product selections. Why you should trust us.