Learning about your vehicle and how it operates can help you ensure that; you, your vehicle and other road users remain safe. It will also ensure that you save money and help the environment, as a well looked after car runs more efficiently and economically, with less harmful emissions.  This section will help you, as you’ll learn:

  • How to carry out basic maintenance on your car
  • What to do if there’s a fault on your car
  • How to use your car’s safety equipment effectively
  • How to make sure your car is secure
  • How to park safely
  • How to be aware of the environment
  • How to avoid congestion.

How to look after your car

In order to ensure that your car is safe and fit to be on the road you must ensure that your lights, brakes, steering, the exhaust system, seat belts, horn, speedometer, wipers and washers are all in sound working order.

Some of these items can be checked at home but others can be monitored by having your car regularly serviced. Doing this ensures that your exhaust emissions are kept to a minimum and that your car is using fuel in an efficient way, thus saving you money.

You should ensure that the following aspects of your car are checked regularly:

You should check tread on your car and trailer tyres when they are cold. They must be at least 1.6 mm deep across the central three-quarters of the breadth of the tyre and around the entire circumference. NEVER drive with tyres that have cuts or defects in the side walls, as this is illegal. You should always remember to check your spare tyre too.

You can find out more information regarding tyre safety in this video:

You should always ensure that your shock absorbers are in good working order. In order to do this you should get out of the car and make sure there’s no passengers inside and then push down hard over each wheel or ‘bounce’ the car. If the shock absorbers are working correctly then there should be no more than one rebound when you release the car.

If you turn your steering wheel while the car is stationary (otherwise known as ‘dry steering’) it can cause unnecessary wear and tear to the steering mechanism and tyres.

Faults

A qualified mechanic should check your car on a regular basis, particularly the brakes and the steering to make sure that there are no faults. In between survives, however, you should be regularly checking your car. Having a good basic knowledge of how your car works and its warning signs can help prevent any minor issues from becoming major ones.

One of the ways that your car may tell you about a fault is through warning lights on your dashboard. These will tell you if your car has any faults and give you indications about the performance of your engine. You should never ignore these warnings and if you’re unsure of their meanings, you should check your vehicle handbook. Doing this will help ensure that your car is running efficiently and safely.

The anti-lock braking system (ABS) warning light is one that you should be particularly aware of.  If it fails to go out when the car is travelling at 5–10 mph, you should have the ABS checked by a qualified mechanic.

Your brakes are perhaps the most important and frequently used safety feature on your car so you need to look after them carefully and be aware of ‘brake fade.’ This is the term that describes the brakes becoming less effective due to overheating. This sometimes happens if you are using your brakes continuously, for example, when travelling on a long, steep stretch of road which is downhill. In the event of this happening you should stay calm and use a lower gear, this will help you control the vehicle’s speed.

This issue should rectify itself once the car cools down but you should always visit a garage if your steering vibrates as this may mean your wheels need rebalancing, or if, as you brake, your car pulls to one side, this may mean  that your brakes need adjusting.

Balancing = ensuring that the wheels and tyres are adjusted in order to minimise any vibrations in the vehicle

Keeping your car in good condition

You can maintain the fuel economy of your car by having it regularly serviced. This will also reduce its exhaust emissions. An emissions test will form part of your MOT test if your car is more than three years old (over four years old in Northern Ireland). Your road tax (also called vehicle excise duty or vehicle tax) will be lower if your emissions are low. If you are servicing your own vehicle you need to ensure that you are safely and correctly disposing of your old engine oil and batteries. They should be taken to a local-authority site or a garage. NEVER pour oil down the drain.

Ensuring your fuel filler cap is securely fastened will prevent your car from spilling fuel. Spilt diesel fuel makes the road slippery for other road users and wastes you fuel and money.

Safety equipment

Cars have lots of features to help keep you safe on your journey. Leaning to use these correctly will ensure that they do the job they are designed to do and keep you and your passengers safe.

Seat belts

You must ALWAYS wear your seat belt.

As a driver you also have the responsibility to make sure you’re your passengers, as long as they’re not exempt, wear a seatbelt and that children under 14 or wear a suitable restraint.

Children over 1.35 metres (approx 4ft 5 ins) in height or 12 or 13 years, MUST wear a seat belt unless exempt. All passengers over 14 years of age must wear a seat belt.

Up until a child is 1.35 m in height, if they’re between 3 and 12 years old, they MUST use a suitable child restraint. If a suitable child restraint isn’t available in the rear seat an adult seat belt MUST be used.

If a child is under 3 then they MUST use a suitable child seat. It is advisable to place a child in the rear of the vehicle, however, if they need to be in the front it must NEVER be in a seat protected by an active airbag. You MUST have the airbag deactivated before allowing a child in the seat.

When you get into the car

Following this checklist when you first get into a car will help ensure your safety:

  1. Adjust your car seat so that all the controls can be comfortably reached
  2. Adjust you head restraint. This will help prevent neck injuries in the case of a collision or crash
  3. Ensure that you’re wearing suitable shoes. This will help you keep control of the pedals
  4. Adjust all of your mirrors so that you have the widest sphere of vision possible. If you’re using convex mirrors you should be aware of the fact that they give you a wider view but potentially make vehicles seem a greater distance away than they actually are. If are unable to see behind you when you’re reversing, due to a blocked view, you should get someone to guide you out wherever this is possible.

Lights

At times you will have to travel in in poor visibility, such as when it’s foggy or raining heavily. In this case you should use dipped headlight in order to allow other road users to see you clearly. If the fog is particularly thick you should also use your fog lights but remember to switch them off when your visibility improves.

If the speed limit is more than 30 mph (46 km/h), and you need to leave your car at night, on a two-way road you should switch on your parking lights and park in the direction of the traffic.  This will ensure that other road users can see your vehicle.

You should use your hazard warning lights in order to warn road users that there is a hazard ahead For example, if you’ve broken down or there’s queuing traffic on a dual carriageway or motorway ahead. You should never use them as an excuse to park illegally, even if it’s only for a brief time.

Security

You can never make a car 100% secure but you can do lots of things to make your car less of a target for potential thieves.

The best ways you can protect your car from being broken into or stolen are by:

  • Using a steering lock.
  • Removing your car keys after locking your car. This applies even if you’re only leaving your vehicle for a brief time.
  • Locking away, out of sight, any contents, particularly if they’re valuable. If it as at all possible you should take your belongings with you.
  • Never leaving your vehicle registration documents in the car. In a situation where your car was stolen, these documents would make it easy for the thief to sell your car on.
  • In-car entertainment systems such as stereos are attractive to thieves. Installing a security-coded stereo can help deter the, or else a removable stereo that you can lock away or take with you is a good idea.

In order to make it harder for an opportunist thief to steal your goods or vehicle, you should:

  • Have an anti-theft alarm or immobiliser fitted
  • Use a steering lock, handbrake lock or other visible security device
  • Make it harder for a thief to sell your vehicle by having your windows etched with the vehicle registration number.

If you are parking at night you should do so in a well-lit area.

Leaving your vehicle

If your engine is still ruining, you should NEVER leave your vehicle unattended. Instead, you should ALWAYS switch it off and lock your doors before vacating the vicinity.

If one runs in your area, you should consider joining a Vehicle Watch scheme. A good way to find out if one is available is by contacting the crime prevention officer at your local police station.

Parking safely

When you are parking your car it’s important to consider the safety of yourself and other road users. Parking in an inconvenient spot could reduce visibility for other road users and risk their safety, therefore it’s important to avoid parking in an area that could obscure visibility, such as:

  • In front of the entrance to a property
  • At or near a bus stop
  • Near the brow of a hill. Parking here can make it hard for drivers to see if it’s safe to pass or not
  • At a dropped kerb.  Parking here will hinder wheelchair and mobility scooters from getting onto the road or pavement.

If you park on the zigzag lines at pedestrian crossings, you may reduce visibility, leading to dangerous situations and possible collisions. NEVER park on the zigzag lines.

The Environment

Driving is an activity which causes damage to the environment, due to the fact that most cars burn petrol or diesel. These are unrenewable fossil fuels and burning then causes air pollution, which in turn damages the environment. If you drive in an ecosafe way, you can mitigate some of this damage plus save yourself money and improve road safety.

Ecosafe driving

Here are some top tips for ensuring that your driving is ecosafe:

  • Vehicles travelling at 70 mph (112 km/h) use up to 30% more fuel than those travelling at 50 mph (80 km/h). Therefore, if you drop your speed, you can save yourself, fuel, money and be safer on the roads.
  • Avoiding rapid acceleration and heavy braking, wherever possible, can cut your fuel bill by up to 15%. Therefore forward planning is always a good idea so that you don’t have to rush your journey.
  • When you are accelerating, you should miss out some gears, this is known as selective gear changing and can help you use less fuel by reducing the time spent accelerating. Again this can save you money and make the roads safer.
  • You should have your vehicle regularly serviced and tuned properly, as discussed above, in order to ensure your car is performing at peak performance levels.
  • As above, ensure your tyres are correctly inflated and not damaged in any way.

In order to keep your car performing to the best of its abilities you should avoid:

  • Carrying unnecessary loads, this includes leaving an empty roof rack on the top of your car, when not needed
  • Over-revving the engine when in lower gears
  • Leaving the engine running when it doesn’t need to be.  You should switch off your engine if you’re unlikely to be moving soon.

You should walk, cycle, use public transport or share a car when at all possible as this can help to reduce the volume of traffic and vehicle emissions on the road.

If you are in an automatic car you can use the ‘kick-down’ mechanism, gives quick acceleration when needed, excessively and burn more fuel than needed. Only use when necessary for example, to overtake.

Noise pollution

Noise pollution is anti-social and in some cases illegal. You should never make excessive noise with your car, in built-up areas, can use your horn but never between 11.30 pm and 7.00 am unless another vehicle poses a danger which renders this a necessary course of action.

Congestion

Congestion is a part of life for all road users but there are ways to make your journey less stressful, such as, planning your journey in advance, avoiding driving in rush-hour whenever possible and allowing yourself extra time, this will prevent last minute panics and rushing if something unexpected occurs.

By avoiding travelling at busy times, wherever possible, you’re less likely to be delayed and can help ease congestion for other road users.

There are a variety of ways to plan your journey. The best ones are to; look at a map, use a satnav system, check for roadworks or major events with a motoring organisation and using an internet route planner. Any of these tools will help you have a calm journey.

If you’re travelling in a way that you are not used to, then it is best to have your route and an alternative printed out or written down.  This will help you if your planned route is closed or congested.

In some towns and cities there are ‘Red Routes’ which are indicated by red lines on the sides of the roads. These are designed to help with traffic flow and work by restricting stopping on these busy routes.

In places like London, you may have to pay a congestion change if you wish to travel in certain areas. The majority of people have to pay these charges however, disabled people who hold a Blue Badge, drivers of electrically powered or alternative fuel vehicles and riders of two-wheeled vehicles are exempt from paying. This is because their journey are either essential of environmentally friendly. If you live within the congestion charge zona and drive any other vehicle, you are not exempt, but can obtain a reduced rate of charge.