5 Essential Checks to avoid Costly Repairs
COVID-19 and Lockdown restrictions have brought huge changes in all of our lives. We have had to adapt to so many changes and learn to live differently. While our movements have been curtailed, many of our cars have been laid up and mothballed for a very long time.
Thankfully we can now start to get out and about again and our beloved vehicles can be pressed into action again!
Read our 5 Essential Checks below to help ensure that your car adjusts to the new freedom as well as you and avoid common component failures and breakdowns.
Your car battery provides electrical power to your starter motor and also to all electrical systems onboard. Examples of these include the Engine Control Unit (ECU), Car Radio/Infotainment, Interior Fan and Air Conditioning System
The impact of infrequent driving or long periods of non use can have a detrimental effect on the batteries condition and lifespan. (A typical battery should last between 3 to 5 years.) This is because the battery is designed to go through charging cycles. For example, when you start your car, a lot of the reserve energy is drained from the cells in your battery. When you drive, the alternator which is a charging device driven by a belt attached to your engine replenishes the battery.
When your car is parked up for a long time, some electrical consumers in your car continue to drain the battery which does not get the chance to recharge through driving. Furthermore, local 5km restrictions can lead to us taking shorter trips which require the use of the starter motor and a lot of power from the battery. These short trips do not allow the battery to sufficiently replace the energy used. Over a number of such driving cycles, the battery charge state can be reduced to the point that the battery fails.
A healthy car battery will produce over 12.4 volts. The voltage can be tested by placing a multimeter or voltage meter across both poles on the battery when the car is not running. A reading of less than 12 volts can indicate a temporary problem such as a discharged battery, or a permanent problem such as faulty cells in the battery.(The battery contains 6 cells, each producing 2 volts).
A thorough battery check will include a cranking power test where the result is compared to the batteries stated cranking power. Specialist battery testing equipment is required to do this test.
The Alternator, can be tested similarly to the battery. Measuring the voltage at the battery when the car is running, with all lights, and interior fans on should indicate approximately 14 volts. If it does not, there may be a problem with the charging system or alternator belt drive.
If you would like to avail of a Free Battery and Charging System Check, feel free to message us or Click Here to Get a Quote for a battery including the Free Test
2. Engine Oil
Oil is the lifeblood of your engine, it has a number of roles including: Lubrication of moving parts, cooling of engine components, protection against corrosion and removal of contaminants inside your engine.
The quantity, age and condition of the oil in your car have a big impact on how well it can perform these roles. Having the right quantity of oil is the most important factor. We will tell you how to check this below. Modern engine oil has additives which ensure that the oil clings to the internal surfaces of the engine even when it is not running. If the oil in your car is aged or worn out, these additives lose effectiveness and the oil will drain completely to the sump in the bottom of your engine. This can leave internal surfaces unprotected from corrosion and internal oil seals exposed to elements which can cause them to degrade and possibly leak. These issues can lead to costly engine damage which will manifest itself sooner or later.
Our advice is to make sure that your engine oil is changed within the recommended time and mileage limits, with the correct grade as recommended by the manufacturer, most car makers suggest that oil be changed every year or in some cases every 2 years, with a range of intervals from 15,000km's to 30,000km's. While, you may not have driven many kilometres at all during lockdown, it is important that you still adhere to the time interval for an oil change because even when sitting unused in the engine, the oil can degrade.
If your car is equipped with an oil dipstick, you can check the level yourself.
To do so,
1. Locate the dipstick in the engine bay and pull it out.
2. Wipe it with a rag or paper towel and "dip" it again all the way to the bottom.
3. Pull it out once more and note how far up the stick the oil goes.
There will be a minimum and maximum level denoted by either, lines, text or a patterned area. The oil should be just below the full mark.
4. Carefully replace the dipstick in the engine.
If you require an oil top up, or a service, please feel free to Message us or Click "Get Quote" for a no obligation quote.
3. Wheels & Brakes
Your wheels and tyres are a crucially important part of your car. The tyres are the only point of contact that all of the sophisticated systems in your vehicle have with the road!
When idle for a long time, such as during Lockdown, your tyres can lose pressure or perish particularly when in contact with concrete surfaces for a long time.
Your brakes consist of brake pads or shoes which are clamped against brake discs or drums by your brake calipers when required to stop the vehicle. The brake discs which are fitted to the front of almost every single vehicle on the road are un-coated metal and will form surface corrosion when sitting on your driveway. The rubber seals and cables in the brake system can also suffer from corrosion when not in use which may lead to fluid leaks, seized brake parts and noises when breaking.
When taking your car out of it's slumber, it's important to check that the tyres do not look misshapen, cracked or flat. Be sure to also measure the tyre thread depth. The minimum depth of the grooves in the tyres is legally 1.6mm. Most new tyres come with about 8mm of thread depth, so even at 4mm, your tyres are over 50% worn and the stopping distance is increased. You should keep a close eye on your tyres, particularly when they get to 3.2mm or less.
When you move your car for the first time after a long period of being parked, you may hear a slight grazing or grinding noise under braking due to the surface corrosion wearing off. It is vitally important that any such noises are gone within a couple of applications of braking at low speed. You should gently apply the brakes at crawling speed at first to test if there is any change to your normal braking effort. You may even find that the handbrake has seized on which may release, with a "pop". If you notice that any such noises persist, or if your handbrake is seized on, we would be happy to attend and assist with returning the braking system to full serviceability.
Engine coolant has 3 major roles. The first is to keep the engine components cool by distributing heat and and dissipating it into the air via the cooling system radiator. The second role is to protect internal systems from corrosion. The correct coolant for your car will be formulated to stop the formation of oxidation crystals in the metal inside your engine. There are two popular distinct types in the market place, blue and pink. blue coolant is generally used in engines which feature cast steel internals. Pink is generally used in engines featuring aluminium, typically Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda and Seat cars use this coolant. The third function of the engine coolant is to provide heat for the interior of the car. In a stroke of genius, car manufacturers worked out early on that the excess heat in the engine could be put to good use in the cabin. Heat is delivered on demand to the passenger compartment via an internal heating radiator matrix. When you select hot air, valves open in the cooling system to allow hot air to pass into this radiator and the fan blows outside air through it, which heats it up before entering your foot well or dash vents.
Coolant is designed to be replaced approximately every 24 months. It is important to keep your coolant level topped up with the correct type of fluid for your car. The correct grade will not freeze, even at temperatures well below freezing. It is possible that if your engine was parked up over lockdown in extreme cold, and without the correct concentration of antifreeze it may have frozen, which can cause it to expand and create cracks in pipes, plastic housings and even in the super strong engine block.
To check the quantity of coolant in your engine, locate the coolant reservoir, or "header tank" which will usually be clear or semi-transparent and will be marked with "Min" and "Max" levels. Please see the image below for an example. You should check that the coolant is just below the "Max" mark when cold. You should also note if the coolant is distinctly BLUE, or PINK, or perhaps Green. If it is just clear fluid, it may well be water, or over diluted coolant/antifreeze which can freeze and cause very expensive damage to your engine.
thepitlane.ie will be able to check the level of your coolant and also use a special tool called a refractometer to find out what condition it is in and what level of protection it offers.
Click here to get in touch if you need help checking or replacing your coolant/antifreeze.
5. Bulbs and Wipers
The role of your bulbs and wipers are of course very obvious, especially here in Trim and Ireland! Long winter nights and longer rainy days mean we rely on these under appreciated components.
When your car sits up for a long time over lockdown, dirt from passing traffic, contaminated rain and dust can build up on your windscreen and the wiper blades themselves. This build up of contamination can lead to a build up of grease and ingrained dirt that will make it seem like your screen is never clear. Furthermore, oncoming lights at night will tend to dazzle you through this "traffic film". The rubber in your wipers ca n also degrade in the sunlight and suffer from heating and cooling in the elements.
Our recommendation is to wash your windscreen thoroughly before using your car again and to inspect your wiper blades. Ensure that they wipe water throughout their entire arc across the windscreen, see that there are no pieces of rubber hanging off and listen for screeching and squeaking when in operation.
Sitting up for a long period of time is not always a major factor in failure of sealed bulbs, but inactivity can lead to corrosion on electrical connections. Perhaps over lockdown, you may well just have forgotten that one of your bulbs were blown.
Its good practice to check your bulbs, once a week.
Get a friend to assist by standing outside the car while you operate all of the lights. Ask them to check that they are working and that they are the correct colour. Remember, all indicators should display vivid orange. If they do not, the orange coating may have flaked off the bulb. Don't forget to check those pesky number plate bulbs, they are often overlooked because there is no "number plate light" switch inside. They are only really fitted to the rear of a car, but are a very common NCT failure, where one or two bulbs are gone. For the sake of a €1 bulb, don't get caught with a repeat appointment!
We will feature a video in future on how to replace most bulbs in your car. In the meantime, if you need a bulb replacement, or if we can assist with a Pre-NCT check please get in touch via the "Message Us" Button or via our Online Quotation Tool.
We hope this has been informative, please let us know in the comments if you enjoyed the read, or if you have any questions or suggestions for future articles.
Car Servicing Garage
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