If you've ever seen a pilot making pre-flight checks, you'll have noticed how carefully they check everything to make sure that the aircraft is fit and safe to fly. Yet, the vast majority of us hop into our cars and drive away without making any checks or sparing a second thought for whether it's fit to drive. It's important to do your own "pre-flight checks" to make sure you and your family are safe in the car, and even more so when embarking on a long road trip. So let's have a look at some quick but effective pre-flight checks for your car.
You rarely see it, but your engine coolant plays an important role in keeping your car at exactly the right operating temperature on both the hottest and coldest of days. It removes excess heat from the engine to stop it overheating, but also protects your engine from damage through the winter, preventing everything from freezing up. Your coolant should be checked and changed at regular intervals during routine servicing to make sure it's of the right mix, but you should back this up by checking the level yourself using the level indicator on the reservoir in your engine bay. If it's low, pop to your dealership or car spares store and top it up with the right grade of coolant (there are different kinds depending on your make of engine - your owner's handbook or dealership should know which is correct).
Oil plays a number of important roles in your engine, including preventing corrosion and keeping all the moving parts lubricated. Running with too little oil, too much oil or even very old oil will all cause damage to your engine, so this also needs checking regularly. Some newer cars can display your oil level on the infotainment system on the dashboard, but all other cars will have a dipstick on the engine somewhere. With the engine off, take out the dipstick, clean it with tissue or cloth, then push it back in all the way. Take it out again and check that the level is somewhere between the minimum and maximum indicators on the dipstick. If it needs topping up, use the right grade of oil and top it up a bit at a time, checking again with the dipstick to make sure you don't overfill it. Never wait for an oil level warning light, because by the time the light comes on the damage could already be done.
When you consider that your tyres are the only point of contact between your car and the road, you realise how important they are to your safety. You need to keep a close eye on tyre pressures, tyre tread and overall condition of your tyres, because if any of these are wrong, they could cause you problems out on the road. Inspect your tyres closely, looking for any uneven wear, cuts, cracks or bulges. Make sure there are no screws or nails embedded in the tread. There should be at least 1.6mm of tread across the middle 75% of the tyre by law, but ideally you should change the tyre when you get below 3mm. Old tyres can cause cracking when the sun dries them out, so don't keep one set of tyres on for too long. Tyre pressures should be checked when the tyre is cold, because the air inside heats up on a journey and your pressures will read higher.
Your lights are the only means for you to see properly, or for others to see you properly when driving at night. It's amazing how many cars you see on the roads at night, which don't have all their lights working. Check these regularly by switching them all on and walking round the car. To check your brake lights, reverse lights and rear fog lights, try reversing towards a large window so you can see in your rear-view mirror, or ask someone to stand behind the car and check them all for you. If you need to change any, your local car spares store or dealership should be able to help if you find it too fiddly to do yourself.
Your windscreen wipers are definitely your friend. In the summer they can clear bugs and dust and prevent glare from the sun, and in wet conditions they keep the screen clear of rain and road spray. Check and clean your wipers regularly because they can get grimy. Also make sure you have plenty of washer fluid, because your windscreen will quickly get dirty in all weather conditions if you can't clean it. Car spares stores and dealerships should have a selection of replacement wipers, and some will even fit them for you for a small fee.
It's good to get in the habit of doing these simple checks before you jump into your car each time. If unchecked, some of these points could cause dangerous faults, or at the very least cause an MOT failure. Here at Thame Cars we offer a full vehicle health check, as well as routine servicing and MOTs. We also carry a range of tyres, bulbs, oil, coolant and wiper blades, so we're happy to check and change them for you too.