Car Maintenance Checklist: 10 Basic Checks

Car ownership can be expensive, and one of the best ways to save money is by learning basic car maintenance. In this guide, we will share how you can perform basic checks and keep your car in tip-top shape.

10 basic car maintenance checks

By knowing how to perform some basic tasks, car owners can save money on repairs, extend the lifespan of their vehicle, and ensure that their car is safe and reliable. Additionally, regular car maintenance is crucial for passing the MOT test.

Here are 10 checks you should do on your car (that are also super simple):

1. Engine oil

For petrol and diesel-powered (internal combustion engine) cars, engine oil plays a critical role in keeping the engine running smoothly. Along with lubricating and helping reduce friction between the moving parts of the engine, it also helps absorb and dissipate the high level of heat generated when the engine is running.

As engine oil is crucial in proper functioning and longevity of the car’s engine, it’s important to make sure your engine oil is changed regularly. It is recommended that you check the oil level at least once a month. The oil level on your car’s dipstick should be between the minimum and maximum mark. If necessary, top it up.

Here’s a helpful guide on how to check engine oil levels in 4 simple steps: DIY: How to check your Engine Oil Level

2. Tyres

Ensure that your tyres, including the spare tyre, are checked once a month. Ensure your tread is within legal limits and that there are no cuts or uneven wear.

Incorrect tyre pressure can severely affect fuel economy, so check that the tyres are inflated to the recommended pressure. Most modern vehicles will have a tyre pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) which will alert you when tyre pressure has reduced to below the recommended level.

The tyres are a safety-critical item on any vehicle. Before an MOT test, check that tyre tread depth is above the legal limits of 1.6mm, and that the tyres are not damaged or excessively worn.

Here’s a helpful guide to checking tyre tread.

3. Battery

From helping start the engine to powering all the electricals in a vehicle, the car battery is an essential part of any car. Some basic checks you can do yourself to ensure it’s healthy:

  • Keep the battery terminals clean: Over time, battery terminals can become corroded, which can lead to poor electrical connections. Keep a wire brush handy in the car toolkit (available at most hardware stores), which will help remove any corrosion or buildup from your battery terminals.
  • Avoid short trips: Short trips can cause your battery to discharge more quickly, as the alternator needs time to fully recharge the battery. If possible, try to take longer drives or combine several short trips into one. If the car journey is about 5 minutes to your destination, consider walking instead. On the other hand, if you have a grocery trip, try to schedule it during a school run, as an example.
  • Battery maintenance: If the car will be left unused for an extended period of time, consider removing the battery completely and storing it in a safe environment or using a trickle charger to keep it healthy.

Car Won’t Start? Here’s What To Check

4. Coolant

Coolant, also known as antifreeze, is an essential component of a car engine’s cooling system. Basically, it is responsible for regulating the engine’s temperature and helps prevent it from overheating. Engines generate significant amounts of heat during operation, and if left unchecked, this heat can damage internal components severely.

Check your coolant levels at least once a month. Make sure you do this only when the engine is cold. The coolant is stored in a round-shaped expansion tank with minimum and maximum indicators. If the coolant levels are low, you should top it up (don’t overfill as the coolant will need some room to expand when the engine is running) with appropriate fluid replacement recommended in your owner’s manual.

During an annual service, the coolant is replaced with new fluid but it’s also important to carry out a full flush and refresh it every few years.

Here’s everything you need to know about coolant or antifreeze and how to check it

5. Windscreen wipers

Wipers are prone to wear and tear. They don’t last forever and need to be replaced periodically. As they help the driver have a clear view of the road, it’s critical to ensure they’re in good condition at all times.

Every couple of weeks, make sure to check the condition of the wipers and the rubber for any cracks. The owner’s manual will specify instructions on how to do this based on the make and model of your car.

Signs your windscreen wipers may need replacing

6. Electrics and lighting

One of the most common reasons for MOT failure is lighting and signalling issues. Regularly check that all lights and signals are working correctly, including headlights, brake lights, indicators, and hazard lights. Some basic checks you can do yourself:

  • Turn on the headlights and check to make sure they are both working. Don’t forget about daytime running lights and the fog lights too.
  • Also, check the turn or indicator lights. Most modern cars will have a mechanism to alert the driver that the light is malfunctioning by an accelerated beeping sound
  • Have someone press the brake pedal while you check to make sure both brake lights are working as they should.
  • Remember to check all the interior lights
  • When you just start up the car, make sure that all the dashboard warning lights are illuminating
  • Check the horn: Test the horn to make sure it is working properly.

7. Screenwash

Cars need to be topped up with screen wash at all times as it helps clear dirt and grime off the windscreen to help the driver see the road ahead clearly. During winter, the screenwash also helps keep the water from freezing on the windscreen which can further impair visibility while driving.

Check the level of the screenwash fluid in the reservoir at least once a month. It is usually located just under the windscreen. The reservoir will have a cap which is generally yellow or blue with a symbol indicating a windscreen and water droplets. If the fluid level is low, make sure to top it up appropriately as it’s a legal requirement and essential to pass the MOT.

Screen wash is easily available online or at retail stores and usually comes as a concentrate or a pre-diluted mixture. Make sure to follow the instructions mentioned on the package. 


8. Air conditioning system

Consider starting up the aircon system at least once a week even if you don’t normally really use it. Running it for a few minutes will help maintain its overall condition and also alert you of any potential issues.

If you notice the air isn’t cooling as it should or hear any unusual noises or vibrations, you should have a professional mechanic inspect it for you as soon as possible to avoid further issues.

Signs to look out for when it’s time for an air con regas


9. Brakes

Besides keeping an eye on the dashboard for brake warning lights, you can also carry out a few basic visual checks of your brakes to ensure they are within legal limits.

  • Check the brake discs for any signs of corrosion. Some light rust is usually not a cause for concern but it can be a lot worse if you notice grooves or ‘pits’ on the discs
  • If you have access to the brake fluid reservoir, then check that the level is above the minimum line.
  • You can also check the thickness of the brake pads by looking through the gaps between the spokes of the wheel. If the brake pads look thin or worn down, then it may be time to replace them. This video helps give a better understanding of what to look for when inspecting brake pads.

10. Interior and exterior 

Don’t forget to regularly inspect the exterior and interior of your vehicle. Some things to look out for are:

  • Check the paintwork for scratches, dents, or rust spots, and repair them promptly to avoid further damage to the bodywork. Leaving any exposed metal will accelerate the process of corrosion.
  • Inspect the windshield and windows for any chips or cracks. If you find any, have them repaired or replaced immediately as this could affect driver visibility and also result in an MOT fail.
  • Check the undercarriage of the car for any signs of leaks or damage. Check for any fluid leaks, such as oil or coolant leaks as this could be dangerous!
  • Look for any loose or hanging parts, such as exhaust pipes or brackets and address these issues as soon as possible to prevent further damage.