Looking after your car

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WE BRITS can’t wait for a bit of sunshine, but the warmer weather doesn’t necessarily mean happiness all round, especially when it comes to driving.

While breakdowns in snow and cold weather might seem a driver’s worst plight, aggravations caused by hot temperatures can be damaging not only to the driver and passengers, but to your vehicle too.

Follow this summer’s service guide and make sure you drive safely this summer. Remember to see your local garage or autocentre for any necessary repairs, servicing or further advice on your vehicle.

Punctures

High summer temperatures heat up tyres and aggravate any existing damage to the rubber. Under-inflation compounds this, causing friction and added heat which can prove too much for weak spots, causing punctures and blow-outs.

Check your handbook for the correct tyre inflation pressures, especially when towing.

Caravans laid up for the winter should have their tyres checked for cracks and any damaged tyres renewed before use.

Overheating

Aggravated by extreme summer temperatures, failure to keep coolant levels topped up, leaking coolant hoses and broken electric cooling fans can all result in overheating and temperatures fierce enough to cause severe and expensive damage.

Check the coolant reservoir level regularly (refer to the handbook if necessary) and look out for wet or white staining on coolant hoses. If the fan’s broken it will soon become apparent when you meet slow moving traffic and the engine temperature starts to soar.

You can get a garage to check it or do it yourself by running the car to normal temperature and then allowing the engine to idle for five to 10 minutes - the cooling fan should cut in automatically.

Quick checks before you go

• Check that brake, clutch and power steering fluids, oil, and coolant levels are up to the mark (refer to the handbook if in any doubt).

• Clean the windscreen, windows and mirrors. Fill the windscreen-washer bottle using a screenwash additive to help clear traffic film and dead insects.

• Check and adjust tyre pressures - increasing them for heavy loads if necessary. The correct pressures will be given in the car’s handbook.

• If a service is due, get it done before you go on holiday - repairs can be more expensive away from home.

Fuel saving tips

• Load luggage on your roof rack as low as possible and wrap the luggage tightly in plastic sheeting or consider using a roof box to reduce the effect on fuel economy. If you are staying in the same place, it is worth removing the roof rack/box before driving to beaches and tourist attractions - but make sure you don’t lose any of the bits.

• Don’t use the air conditioning all the time: once the air conditioning has cooled the inside of the car, you may be able to turn it down or off. Don’t start the air conditioning if doors or windows are open.

• If you are carrying extra passengers or heavy luggage, pump up the tyres to compensate for the extra weight. The car’s handbook gives advice on this.

• If you park in the sun, using a windscreen shade and opening up the car as soon as you get back to it will help to cool the interior. Opening windows while you drive out of a car park may lower the inside temperature several degrees before you start the air conditioning.

Fatigue

Driving fatigue is a hazard faced by all motorists particularly on long holiday journeys aggravated by high temperatures.

Four in ten motorway accidents are caused by tiredness. Recognise the symptoms of fatigue and learn how to prevent it. Fresh air, exercise or turning up the radio may help for a short time but are not as effective as the following:

• Break any journey of over three hours with a 20 minute break and on longer journeys, take a break every two hours or so.

• Frequent short stops (of at least 20 minutes) are better than one long stop.

• Avoid heavy meals and alcohol before driving.

Hayfever

Minimise the effect of hayfever when driving.

If you’re doing 70mph and sneeze you lose your vision for as much as 100 metres. Have a ‘fit’ of, say eight sneezes in a row, and you’ve just travelled ‘blind’ for nearly half a mile!

Hayfever is particularly bad in the summer but accidents could be minimised if sufferers take action.

- Only take medication which doesn’t cause drowsiness; get someone else to drive if you are having a particularly bad hayfever day; enquire about pollen filters, if available for your make of car; keep a box of tissues on or near the dashboard for easy access; slow down and drop back if you’re about to sneeze; wear sunglasses to block out bright sunlight; close windows and air vents to reduce pollen grains in the car; vacuum car mats and carpets regularly during summer, to get rid of dust

Loose chippings

Summer is the time for surface dressing by laying tar covered with loose chippings. But while the work is necessary, it is the curse of motorists, with bills for cracked lights, windscreens, and damaged paintwork. Reduce bodywork damage by being aware of road re-surfacing, slow down and keep your distance.