Your vehicle handbook will tell you how to check the oil level and how to top it up if necessary. It should also tell you what type of oil to use. Using the wrong type of oil can increase fuel consumption, damage the engine and could affect the vehicle warranty. Don’t overfill your engine oil as this can damage the engine and cause extra emissions.
- Battery: make sure the terminals are secure, clean and greased. Most modern batteries are maintenance-free and sealed for life. However, if the battery has a filler cap, you’ll need to check the fluid level to make sure that the plates in each cell are covered. Top up the battery with distilled water if necessary, but be careful not to overfill it.
- Lights: make sure the front and rear lights, brake lights, indicators and hazard lights work. You should do this each time you use the vehicle. Use reflections in windows and garage doors to help you see whether the lights are working, or ask someone to help you.
- Windscreen washers and wipers: check the washers are working correctly and make sure there’s enough liquid in the washer reservoir. This is especially important in wet, muddy conditions. Check the wipers too – replace the wiper blades if they’re damaged or worn.
- Horn: check the horn is working properly but be careful not to do it when it might frighten or annoy other people
Keep your car’s lights, indicators, reflectors and number plates clean at all times. Dirt on the lights and reflectors will stop them working effectively.
Disposing of these items incorrectly is illegal: you could be fined or given a prison sentence. By taking them to a local authority site, they can be safely disposed of or recycled.
Checks before you start a journey
Before you start any journey, there are some things you should check to make sure your car is fit for the trip – especially if it’s a long one.
- the tyre pressures: you might need to increase them if your journey is going to involve a lot of motorway driving or driving at the national speed limit.
- all the lights are clean and working.
- you have enough fuel for your journey or, if you’ll need to refuel, plan where you’ll do this to make sure you don’t run out.
Make sure you know what sort of fuel your car uses. Be very careful not to put the wrong type of fuel in your car: using the wrong fuel will cause serious damage to the engine.
In many modern cars, many of the mechanical parts are sealed and can only be checked by a qualified mechanic but there are some checks that you must do. Look at your vehicle’s handbook to see which checks you can make and how to do them.
Take care to check all around your car for anything that could make it less safe on the road. It doesn’t take long and it’s usually easier to fix a problem when you spot it early.
You must not drink and drive. Alcohol will seriously affect your judgement and ability to drive safely.
Drugs, medicines and driving
Driving when you’re tired
If you’re tired, you won’t be fully alert and aware of what’s going on around you, which means that you won’t be able to drive safely. Don’t begin a journey if you feel tired.
To have a driving licence, you must be able to read in good daylight, with glasses or contact lenses if necessary, a vehicle number plate from a distance of 20 metres (about five car lengths). If you need glasses or contact lenses to do this, you must wear them whenever you’re driving.
Your mind and body go through gradual changes, especially as you get older. These changes can affect your driving – for example, your reactions may become slower, you may tire more easily or your muscles may become weaker.
Seat belts and restraints
If your car has seat belts, you and your passengers must use them. Exactly what sort of restraint they should use depends on their age and size.
- Adults and children aged 12 and over, or at least 1.35 metres tall (approx 4 ft 5 in), should use the ordinary seat belt on their seat.
- Children aged 3 to 12 years, or up to 1.35 metres tall, must use a suitable child restraint such as a booster seat.
- Children under 3 years must use a suitable child seat – either forward facing or rear facing.
- Very young babies (up to 13 kg) must use a rear-facing child seat.
Never fit a rear-facing child seat in a seat that has an active airbag. You must deactivate the airbag before fitting the seat.
Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions when fitting a child seat or restraint – if you’re not sure, ask a specialist for help.
Adults must not put one seat belt around themselves and a child on their lap: this could cause serious injury in the event of a crash.
If you’re carrying a load, make sure it’s
- fastened securely
- not blocking your view
- not sticking out dangerously.
Think about whether you need special equipment to carry loads safely and securely, such as a roof box, cycle rack or straps to anchor items. You can get advice on how to fit and use this equipment from specialist shops.
Try to distribute the weight of the load evenly around the car to help keep the vehicle stable. If you’re carrying or towing a heavy load, you might need to make some adjustments to your vehicle such as
- increasing the air pressure in the tyres
- adjusting the aim of the headlights.
Carrying extra weight will make it take longer for the car to accelerate and brake. It’ll also affect how the vehicle steers, so you’ll need to go around corners more slowly than usual.
Animals must be restrained so they can’t block your view or cause a distraction. Dogs can travel in a special cage or behind a dog guard; you can also use a harness for extra security. Other animals should be carried in a cage or pet carrier, secured with a seat belt if possible.