Has your car been off the road for a while? Maybe you’ve been WFH, gallivanting around the world, or unable to drive due to medical reasons? Either way, there are some crucial checks to carry out before driving again.
Failure to do so can result in breakdowns or fines. These checks won’t take you long, so let’s get going!
7 Checks Before Driving for the First Time in a While
Fuel or battery power
Call me Captain Obvious, but 1 million drivers a year break down because of an empty tank or battery.
Don’t be one of those people — if you’re running low on fuel, make sure your first trip is to the petrol station!
Going under the bonnet
Time to get dirty (wear some gloves if you’re freshly manicured) and get under the bonnet.
There are a couple of things to check here. So if you’re not feeling confident, then it’s advisable to ask someone who knows their way around an engine.
It’s best to check your engine oil level while your car is warm and on a flat surface. If your engine has been running, then be careful not to touch any hot parts so as not to burn yourself! Again, if you’re not confident, ask someone who is.
On the engine, you’ll notice a cap with either ‘Engine Oil’ written on it, an icon of an oil can (it looks a bit like a watering can), or both. Twist the cap open, remove the dipstick and wipe it clean. Push the dipstick back in and remove it to check how far up the stick the oil level goes.
The oil level should be between the two marks/bumps on the dipstick. If it’s low, top it up and repeat the test so you’re sure you’ve added enough.
Once you’re happy with the oil level, pop the dipstick all the way back in and screw the cap on tight.
Important: Never check your coolant water levels while your engine is running or hot because doing so can give you nasty burns.
When the engine is cool, open the ‘Engine Coolant’ cap. It usually has a yellow caution label on it, so pay attention to that caution!
Once opened, check that the coolant is within 25mm of the top of the filler neck. If it needs a top-up, then add a mixture of clean, cool water and antifreeze. Sometimes these come pre-mixed, so you won’t need to worry about mixing your own.
Screenwash, or windscreen washer, is usually found in a plastic reservoir near the engine. Fill the reservoir with clean water and, if you prefer, dedicated windscreen detergent. Windscreen detergent is handy in icy conditions, as it helps to melt the ice from your windshield.
Don’t use any other household detergent in place of windscreen detergent. You need to get the special stuff!
Brake fluid is sometimes referred to as clutch fluid. Sometimes they’re referred to as separate things. I’ll let you in on a little secret — there’s no difference between brake and clutch fluid. They’re the same thing.
How to change the brake fluid? Easy.
You’ll usually find brake fluid in a plastic reservoir, like the screenwash. Make sure you don’t get these two mixed up, or you could have a very messy windscreen or even worse, faulty brakes.
The reservoir should be marked with ‘Minimum’ and ‘Maximum’ levels. You want the fluid to be between those marks at all times.
Be sure to use the correct grade brake fluid. Most brakes use either Dot3 or Dot4 fluid. Find the correct grade for your car by checking the reservoir cap or your car’s handbook.
If your car is automatic transmission, it’ll use transmission fluid. It’s better to get a professional to check this. If your car has recently been MOT’d, the garage will have checked it for you.
Most cars have power steering these days and need power steering fluid. If your steering wheel feels hard to turn or is making a noise, then you’ll need to top up the fluid. Check your car’s handbook for more information on how to do this, or take it to a mechanic.
If you’re unsure about ANY of the above, play it safe and ask someone who knows what they’re doing under the bonnet. It’s easier (and cheaper) to pay a mechanic to teach you than pay them to fix any mistakes.
This is one that many people forget until it’s too late. Next thing they know is they’re standing roadside with a police officer.
Nobody wants fines or points. Especially when the damage is £2,500 and 3 points PER TYRE!
So how do we swerve that? Easy-peasy.
Make sure your tyre tread is deeper than 1.6mm (we recommend a 3mm tread for strong grip in poor conditions) and check the pressure of your tyre.
You can check the tyre tread by getting a 20p piece and inserting it into one of the grooves. If the 20p fits in and you can’t see the inserted rim, then the tread depth is at 3mm and you’re good to roll. If you can see the rim of the 20p, then it’s time to think about getting some new tyres!
With tyre pressure, you can find the required PSI (pounds per square inch) in your car’s handbook. Some cars also have a sticker on the inside sill of the car door with the PSI info.
You could put all the screenwash in the world onto your windshield, but if the wiper blades are damaged/worn, your windshield will never be 100% clear.
Driving with smeared windows puts you and other road users at risk. Because of this, it’s your legal duty to make sure your windscreen wipers are working.
You’ll know it’s time to change the wiper blades when you notice them sticking, squeaking, or leaving your windshield mucky. You can check for wear-and-tear by raising the wiper arm and looking for any cracks or dents.
Need to change your wiper blades? Let’s learn how…
When changing wiper blades, you need to get the correct size. They come in sizes ranging from 10″ to 32″ and you can find the size in your car’s handbook. Don’t have the handbook and can’t find it online? Use a tape measure or pop your reg number into this handy tool.
Once you’ve got the correct wiper blades, give the screen and wiper arms a good scrub-down. Remove any dirt or debris so your new wipers have a fresh start and you get the most life out of them.
Step 1: Place a towel or cloth over the windshield
When wiper arms have the rubber blade removed, they can snap back into position and damage your windshield. Place a towel/cloth over the windshield in case this happens. We want to replace the window wipers today, not the whole window!
Step 2: Remove the old blades
Once you’ve protected your windshield, lift the wipers and look for the clip to release the blades.
If you’re unable to lift the wiper arms, then they might need to be in a certain position before they can be raised. Some blades by sliding the blade down the wiper arm, so bear this in mind if you can’t find a clip.
Again, if in doubt, get the handbook out!
Once you’ve removed the old blades, you’re ready to fit the nice, new ones!
Step 3: Insert the new blades
This should be straightforward because you’ll have sussed out the mechanism when removing the old blades.
If your wipers use a clip mechanism, then these usually come with the new wiper blades. Attach the clip to the blade first and then attach the blade to the wiper arm.
Take your time, because you don’t want to damage your new blades before they’ve even got to work.
Step 4: Test and go!
Remove the cloth/towel used to protect the windshield and place the wiper arms into position.
Once you’re sorted, give them a spray of screenwash and a test wipe. If your windows are nice and streak-free, job done!
Is your paperwork in order?
Unfortunately, it’s something we all have to do if we want to drive. If you don’t have your paperwork in order, then you risk being fined or even disqualified from driving.
So let’s get it sorted before you drive again!
If you’ve been off the road for a while, you may have SORN your vehicle. If so, you’ll need to pay for a new insurance plan and vehicle tax. Your MOT might be in date if your vehicle has been SORN for less than 12 months, so check your vehicle’s MOT status here.
Otherwise, it’s just a matter of checking your records. Once you’re all insured and taxed, you’re good to go!
All of the lights
Cars have a lot of lights. In fact, we’ve got a blog post explaining each light’s purpose! It can feel like your own Blackpool Illuminations when going through and checking them all…
It’s important to check that all your lights are working properly. If not, then (you guessed it) you risk fines and points on your licence. More to the point, it’s downright dangerous to drive with dodgy lights. After all, they’re your way of showing other road users and pedestrians what you intend to do next.
Here’s a list of all the lights you need to check before driving again:
- Fog lights
- Brake lights
- Dipped lights
- Hazard lights
Once you’re sure they’re all doing their jobs, you’re good to go!
At the car wash, yeah
“Sing it with feeling now, car wash, yeah!”
Sorry, I’m done now…
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you to keep your car clean. But did you know you can be slapped with a fine of up to £1,000 if your number plate is too grubby to read?
With that in mind, it’s important to make sure your car is in a presentable state!
Now for the best bit — go enjoy the open road!
Once you’ve carried out the above checks, you’re all good to go! If you’d prefer, then you can get a service check carried out by a mechanic.
Not feeling too confident in your driving after being off the road? No sweat, we’ve got the perfect blog post for you to rebuild your confidence in driving after a break.