* Regular servicing. It doesn't have to be with the dealer, but always use a mechanic who looks after your car for a fair price. A service usually includes engine oil change and a new oil filter. Sometimes it will include a new air filter if you need it. Some mechanics will also do a full safety inspection. A regular service ensures that any small issues are caught before they become big ones. Eg. a good mechanic will identify if you need a wheel alignment before you incur the cost of two new front tyres. You should have all your oils looked at at least once a year - for a front wheel drive the gearbox oil, a rear wheel drive will need gearbox and diff oils checked, 4WDs need both diffs, gearbox and transfer case oils. Even people who think they know all about home mechanics regularly miss these!
* Tyres. If you don't know how to check your tyre inflation and wear, ask your mechanic or learn how yourself from a knowledgable friend or YouTube. Under-inflation costs you in the long run as your car will use more fuel. Improperly aligned tyres will wear unevenly and quickly, costing you money to replace and are also dangerous. Bald tyres will aquaplane in the wet.
* Occasionally drive with the radio off and listen to the noises your car makes. Any clanks and clunks and pings that you may not have noticed before may indicate something is wearing. Don't be afraid to tell your mechanic about odd noises. Eg. a hard knock while going over a bump may indicate a worn bush or ball-joint.
* Pay attention to indicator panel warning lights. In modern cars, they only come on for a reason. Even if the car appears to be driving fine, take it the mechanic - something may be causing you to use more fuel or be causing wear/damage in a major part that can cost you later. If your car has a ABS brake or SRS airbag light on do not drive it anywhere except to a mechanic to get it checked. Both these lights indicate issues that can result in major injury if these components fail.
* Wash your car with a proper car wash product. This makes your paint last longer because it prevents dirt scratching the surface and protects your top coat. It also gives you a chance to give your car a good once over. Look out for broken lights, bits falling off, leaks etc.
And lastly, a bonus list!
Top five reasons cars fail roadworthy checks
(note some of these can get you fined if stopped and inspected by the transport department)
- window tint - a single bubble or haze is an immediate fail
- inside edge of tyres are bald
- low brake pads
- steering wheel damage
- bulbs or indicators not working
I hope these tips are helpful, and if you have any questions for the mechanic, let me know - he's happy to do an "Ask the Mechanic" Q&A post in future!