There’s only one thing cars hate more than not being used. And that’s not being used in cold damp weather. Going back to work is bad enough after the Christmas break. You don’t want to make it worse by being stranded and hanging around for a breakdown operator.
It pays to spend a bit of time – it shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes – going over your car before you set forth on the first day back at work. Here’s what you should be looking out for.
Check the battery
Make sure the battery’s in full working order. Duff batteries are the most common cause of breakdowns. If your car has been parked up for a couple of weeks in cold conditions, there’s a good chance its battery might struggle to summon enough beans to start the engine. Pre-empt any problems and take the car for a 20-minute drive a day or two before you go back to work. This should enable the car’s alternator to put sufficient charge back into the battery. Read how to jump start a car with a dead battery here.
Examine the tyres
Tyres are vital for road safety. Even if they don’t have a puncture, they’ll lose pressure slowly. The simplest way to keep an eye on tyre pressures is to buy a portable pump. The best tyre pump Carbuyer tested in 2018 was the Michelin 12209.
Do this at least a couple of days before you go back to work. That gives you some time to source replacement rubber if one tyre has a slow puncture.
Beneath the bonnet
First check the oil. Use two pieces of kitchen paper for this – one to hold the dipstick (assuming your car doesn’t have a digital oil display on the dashboard) and the other to wipe the dipstick clean after removing it. Then reinsert it, remove and check that the oil level is between the minimum and maximum marks.
During the winter, it’s a good idea to check the level of coolant fluid in a car. You don’t need to fiddle with the radiator to do this. Instead, locate the clear plastic expansion tank and visually check that the fluid level is between the minimum and maximum lines.
Then mix some screen wash fluid with water and top up the windscreen washer reservoir. Your screen will need cleaning if your car’s been idle and you don’t want to start the new year looking at the world through a hazy screen.
Your car’s user manual will explain how to top up all these fluids and which sorts of product to use.
Light up your life
It’s worth checking that all your car’s lights are working. Start the engine and check the side lights, headlamps, tail lights and indicators. Ask someone to help check the brake lights. You may not be able to replace a bulb yourself – the car’s user manual will tell you – at least you’ll be able to get a broken light fixed before you need to set off for work in the dark.
I’ve been writing about cars and motoring for more than 25 years. My career started on a long-departed classic car weekly magazine called AutoClassic. I’ve since pitched up at Autosport, Auto Express, the News of the World, Sunday Times and most recently the Daily Telegraph. When I’m not writing about cars and motoring, I’m probably doing some kind of sport or working in my garden.