A simples guide

Car Safety Checklist

These days cars seem to be getting safer and safer, thanks to added features and extra protection. But not everything’s done for us. We still need to maintain our cars to keep them safe. You might find the what, why, how and when confusing... well, never fear, once you've read our car safety checklist you'll be able to keep your vehicle in tip top condition.

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Let's start with your car

Buying a good, safe, family car is of course a priority when it comes to peace of mind on the roads. It's reassuring to know that the car you're travelling in is as safe as it possibly can be.

Not sure about yours? That's where NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) comes in. They're an independent organisation who aren’t interested in looks or the latest gadgets. They look purely at the car safety features and how safe drivers and passengers would be in a crash.

Each car is put through rigorous testing and then given a car safety rating from one to five, five being the safest. It’s an easy to use website with a section purely for family cars. It tells you which ones they've found to be the safest. In 2015 the Renault Espace and VW Touran came out on top when it came to child safety.

Having a good safe car is the first step, the next is to make sure you keep it safe with maintenance and regular checks…

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Prepare

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 the necessary checks (more on this later). Make sure the kids have all they need to be comfortable and amused – the more occupied they are, the less likely they are to argue or demand your attention.

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.

Having a kit of essentials depending on the time of year is always a good idea. In the winter you may also want to keep a shovel in the boot, and bottles of de-icer and screen wash. Also consider a blanket and perhaps a flask if you need to go out in extreme weather. In the summer, make sure you have plenty of drinks – you never know how long you might get stuck in a traffic jam or at the side of the road.

warning triangle

Essentials

  • Sunglasses – not just for summer, the low sun in the colder months can really affect your vision
  • A charger for your phone – a flat battery could let you down when you need it most
  • Sat Nav/GPS/Map – if you’re off somewhere new, make sure you can find your way
  • First aid box – stuff it full of all the essentials
  • A torch
  • Drinks and snacks
  • A reflective vest
  • Sturdy footwear – in case you have to do some serious walking. No-one ever runs out of petrol yards from the nearest garage!
  • Heavy duty gloves – in case you have to change a tyre
  • A rain poncho or other waterproof
  • A warning triangle to alert other road users

Check, check, check

Checking your car regularly could help prevent breakdowns. Of course, there are certain mechanical failures you just can't do anything about, but a few simple steps will protect you and your family from avoidable dangers.

6 fluid checks to keep your car healthy

Every fortnight check:

  • Engine Oil – take out the dipstick, clean and check again. The oil should be a clear golden brown and between the two markers on the stick. If it's low or thick and sticky, then it's time to change.

Once a month check:

  • Transmission fluid – check with the engine running, but idle. The dipstick looks like the one for your oil. Take it out, clean the stick, now check the level and the colour – it should be raspberry pink in colour, definitely not brown or black and it shouldn't smell burnt.

  • Power steering – you should be able to check visually on the reservoir. This shouldn't really change, so if the steering becomes looser then it's best to get it checked.

  • Brake fluid the reservoir for this is always on the driver’s side. You can check the level by looking down the side, there will be a marker. The colour is important – it should be a golden colour. If it's brown, get it changed.

  • Screen wash water alone won't clean the grime off your windscreen, so keep this topped up.

Twice a year check:

  • Coolant (anti-freeze) – this stops your engine from boiling over or freezing. Technically this only really needs checking a couple of times of year as it shouldn't go down, but if you're checking everything else, you could keep an eye on this too.

What else should you check?

  • Lights – the AA recommend you check all your lights weekly. In the winter when the roads are really dirty, you may need to give them a wipe clean every day. Remember to check all your lights and indicators, including the fog lights.

  • Battery – if you don't have a voltage meter at home, you can ask a garage to check this for you.

  • 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.

Tyres

Look at your tyres regularly. 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 manual) otherwise, do it at a petrol station. Remember if you are off on a family holiday and the car is heavily laden, you may have to alter the pressure.

You should also keep a constant eye on your tyre wear. You can buy a tyre depth gauge quite cheaply, so you're not guessing. Legally your tyres should have a minimum tread depth of 1.6mm in the centre, all the way around the tyre. However, the AA recommend that in the winter you need 3mm to allow for poor road conditions.

If you choose to change to winter tyres in the colder months you might want to talk to your insurer – some may increase your premiums whilst they're fitted, so it's best to check.

Winter tyres

Have peace of mind with breakdown cover

Breakdown cover means you don't have to worry if something goes wrong with your car. One phone call will bring along a helpful 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, get you and your passengers home safely. You can buy breakdown cover on its own, or add it to your car insurance policy and double check you don’t already have cover as part of a packaged bank account or credit card.

The RAC attends more call outs for battery failure than anything else. Did you know that a car battery has a restricted life? Once they’re over 5 years old they can become less effective. To avoid being stuck on the roadside with the whole family in tow, get your battery checked or replaced.

4 things to make sure your children are safe in the car

  • 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 the car

  • Make sure they have plenty to do to occupy themselves so they aren't trying to climb out of the seat or demanding your attention

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