Car safety checklist

Comparing car insurance usually involves a look at your car’s safety and security features. After all, the safer your car is, the greater the chance of driving down premium costs. But there are plenty of general tips and tricks you can employ to improve your vehicle’s safety, regardless of make or model.

Comparing car insurance usually involves a look at your car’s safety and security features. After all, the safer your car is, the greater the chance of driving down premium costs. But there are plenty of general tips and tricks you can employ to improve your vehicle’s safety, regardless of make or model.

Daniel Hutson
Motor insurance expert
7
minute read
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Posted 15 JANUARY 2020 Last Updated 3 MAY 2022

How are safety features improving cars? 

Cars are safer than ever these days thanks to over-the-counter gadgets and impressive on-board tech. They can harness everything from GPS tracking and fingerprint recognition technology, to autonomous emergency braking and lane assistance, which steers you back into your lane if you start to drift.

It’s estimated that automated driving systems could prevent 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives by 2030 thanks to their ability to take human error out of the equation.

While new technology can help the modern motorist, some of the most effective ways of keeping your car and passengers safe remain pretty basic, and continue to stand the test of time.

Let’s have a look at Compare the Market’s safety checklist to see how well prepped you are.

Can I check how safe my current car is?

Try  NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme). It’s an independent organisation that isn’t interested in aesthetics or the latest tech. It takes a thorough but objective look at a car’s safety features, build quality and performance before assessing how safe drivers and passengers would be in a crash.

Each car is put through rigorous testing, then given a car safety rating from one to five stars. It’s an easy-to-use website with a section purely for family cars. Only the very safest vehicles are given the top five-star rating, which is defined as having ‘overall excellent performance in crash protection and well equipped with comprehensive and robust crash-avoidance technology’.

How can I make my car and my journey safer?

If you're off on a family holiday or even just heading out in the car for the day, make sure you've prepared the car by doing all necessary checks. Keep the kids comfortable and amused – the more occupied they are, the less likely they are to argue or demand your attention. 

  • Make sure your children have the correct size car seat for their weight/height (not their age).
  • Take off any bulky coats – they can reduce the effectiveness of the restraint in an accident.
  • Always seat children in the back of the car – most accidents involve damage to the front of a car.
  • Don't get in the car without being prepared for the eventuality of a breakdown.
  • Make sure everyone has the right clothing for standing around outside if something goes wrong. 
  • Be prepared for all weathers. In the winter you may have to contend with snow, ice, water, fog and mud – so make sure you and your car are ready for whatever the weather throws at you.
  • Have plenty of water and snacks on board, even if your journey runs smoothly, as eating and drinking keeps you alert.

What kit, tools and equipment should I keep in my car?

  • In the winter, you may want to keep a shovel in the boot, as well as bottles of de-icer and screen wash. Also consider a blanket and perhaps a full flask if you need to go out in extreme weather.
  • Sunglasses are recommended all year round, not just during summer. The low sun in the colder months can really affect your vision.
  • Carry a phone charger – a ‘dead’ phone could let you down when you need it most.
  • Make sure you have access to a sat-nav, GPS system or good old-fashioned map – it could get you out of a mess if you’re lost.
  • Carry an emergency car kit, including a first aid box, torch, hazard warning triangle, reflective vest and waterproof jacket.
  • Pack sturdy footwear in case you have to do some serious walking.
  • Carry a puncture repair kit in case you have to re-inflate a tyre as a temporary fix until you can get to a garage. 

Discover what else you might need with our breakdown checklist.

What essential checks should I carry out before a long journey? 

  • Check your oil. Take out the dipstick, clean it and check again. The oil should be a clear golden brown and between the two markers on the stick. If it’s low, top it up, or if it’s thick and sticky, it’s time to change it.
  • Check your coolant levels. Locate the expansion tank and make sure the coolant level is between the minimum and maximum levels to prevent your car from overheating.
  • Check your brake fluid – the reservoir for this is always on the driver’s side. You can check the level by looking down the side, where you’ll find a marker. The colour should be golden. If it’s brown, get it changed.
  • Check your screen wash - water alone won’t clean the grime off your windscreen, so keep this topped up.
  • Check your lights. In the winter when the roads are really dirty, you may need to give them a wipe clean. And remember to check all your lights and indicators are working, including fog lights.
  • Check your battery. If you don't have a voltage meter at home, you can ask a garage to check this for you.
  • Check your windscreen wipers - these can perish quickly, so keep an eye on them. Watch out for streaks and gaps on the screen when you’re using them.
  • Check your tyres. Watch out for cuts, scratches and bulges. If you have a pressure pump, you can check your tyre pressure at home (the correct figures are in your handbook, inside the fuel cap cover or inside the driver’s door), otherwise visit a petrol station. Remember if you’re off on a family holiday and the car is heavily laden, you may have to alter the pressure.

How to maintain car safety 

Along with carrying out the simple checks mentioned above, the best way to make sure your car keeps running safely and efficiently is by having it regularly serviced. Although you’ll need to pay for this, it could save you a heftier repair bill in the long run.

During the service, your mechanic will inspect your car’s mechanical and electrical parts, including the tyres, brakes and other essential components. A newer car might only need an oil and filter change, whereas an older vehicle might need new brake pads and other parts replacing. If you drive a diesel car, your mechanic will usually top up your AdBlue tank. This is a fluid that helps to reduce harmful emissions.

In modern cars, you’ll often get a message on your dashboard to remind you when your next service is due. Alternatively, you can check your car’s handbook or service record if you’re not sure when your car was last serviced.

What’s wrong with my car? 

While you can take every precaution to keep your car running well, it’s not always possible to prevent problems. Here are some of the most common faults that could affect your car’s safety: 

The engine won’t start

When you turn the key, can you hear a strange clicking sound, is the engine turning over more slowly than usual or is there no sound at all? The most likely cause is a flat battery. You’ll need to jump-start your car or call out your breakdown service to get it going again.

A warning light appears

Dashboard warning lights flash up when one of the sensors detects a fault. It will give you some indication of the source of the problem and how serious it is by the colour. A red light needs urgent attention, so you should get it checked out by a mechanic as soon as possible.

There’s a strange squeaking noise

If your car squeaks while driving, listen closely to where the sound is coming from to help you narrow down the problem. If it happens when you press the accelerator for example, it could be a worn-out cambelt. Squeaky brakes usually mean a worn-out brake pad, while car screeching could be a symptom of under-inflated tyres.

My car won’t move when in gear

If you drive a car with a manual transmission, it should move when you release the clutch. If the engine races but the car moves really slowly or not at all when you put it in gear, it could be a sign that the clutch needs replacing.

There’s a leak coming from under my car

If you spot a wet patch underneath your car but you’re not sure where it’s coming from, take a piece of white card and place it under your car. After a while, you should be able to tell what’s leaking by the colour of it.

  • Clear – condensation from the air conditioning. This is nothing to worry about.
  • Light or dark brown – oil.
  • Amber or light yellow – brake fluid.
  • Bright green, pink or blue – coolant (this can come in other colours too, but if it has a sweet smell, you’ll know it’s coolant).

Should I think about breakdown cover as part of my car insurance?

Breakdown cover means you don't have to worry if something goes wrong with your car. One phone call will bring along an expert mechanic. If the fault can't be fixed on the spot, they’ll tow your car to a garage and depending on your level of cover, could get you and your passengers home safely. You can buy breakdown cover on its own or add it to your car insurance policy, but double check you don’t already have cover as part of a packaged bank account or credit card.

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