Driveway DIY vehicle health check

driveway DIY

Don’t leave home until you’ve read this guide… it’ll only take you around an hour to perform this driveway DIY vehicle health check and get one of the kids to help.

If your car’s been in hibernation along with you while weathering the coronavirus storm then there’s a fair old chance it’s a little worse for wear. Sure, you might have driven it around the block every other day, which is good, but that’s not enough. And with restrictions easing across the country, it pays to make sure your car is ready to get back into the daily grind.

But there’s more to it than that. We’ve also added some advice around checking and replacing consumables like filters because it’s important you know what these things are and why you should think about changing them yourself. Or, at the very least, checking them over to make sure they’re in good nick. Many of the things we’ve covered below can and should become part of a weekly routine.

Before you get into this, it’s a good idea to get one of your kids (or your better half) to help out, that way you are educating one your kids or sharing the load with your partner. Like homeschooling only fun.

  1. Check your tyres: This is the simplest and easiest thing you can do with your car. It’s also one of the most important things because, remember, your car’s grip is all about its tyres. So, get down and have a good look at all four of your tyres. You’re looking for damage to the tyre or the sidewall.
    If that’s all good then you can get out your pressure gauge, you’ve got a pressure gauge right? No. Well, you should have. Go straight to your local automotive retailer and buy one…now…we’ll wait. Check the manufacturer’s guide to the pressure you should be running and then check all your tyres. If the tyres are low then you can use a compressor (at home) or at a service station to top them up.
    Before you finish up, make sure you check the spare tyre. You never know when you might need it.
  2. Check the windscreen: This is a really easy one but just as important as anything else on this list. Give the windscreen a good check over to make sure there are no chips or cracks. Probably a good time to give it a clean too. If there are any cracks or chips then you can either call a windscreen specialist to fix your windscreen, most insurance policies allow for a windscreen replacement… or if it’s a small chip you can use a DIY window filler to protect the chip from becoming worse.
  3. Check your windscreen wipers: Another easy one. Once you’ve had a look at the windscreen, lift up your windscreen wipers and check the rubbers. These are a perishable item and cop an absolute battering dealing with wind, rain and sun. You want to make sure there are no cracks in the rubber or notches in the blade. If they feel hard then it’s time to replace them. Most automotive stores will carry spares and will be able to help you choose the correct ones. Some car makers, however, like Skoda and others, have wipers that can only be replaced through a workshop; they ain’t a DIY item and that’s really annoying…ask me how I know.
  4. Check your headlights: Continuing with our visual inspections, turn on your headlights, low and high beam, and check they’re working. Then turn off the lights and check the lights for discoloration, something that can occur over time. You’ll know it if your lights look dull. There are plenty of light restoration kits available. I shouldn’t have to tell you that you can have the best lights in the world but if the lenses are dull then it’s like trying to see while squinting. We’ll talk about how to replace light bulbs in another article.
  5. The outside of the car: Once you’ve done the tyres, lights, and wipers you need to walk around your vehicle and take note of any chips in paint work etc. General wear and tear is fine and it’s not really a safety concern…but it’s good to know what condition your rig is in and if there are any chips through to bare metal which could rust. And if you park your vehicle under trees then make sure you clean out any leaves and rubbish that can accumulate at the base of the windscreen and clog the drainage holes.
  6. Check the fluids: Another easy one that we should be able to do. Most of the checkable fluids are marked with a coloured lid…these are the items that car makers are ‘happy’ for the likes of you and me to check over. You’ll see on the sides of the bottle(s) a low and full mark…obviously you want the fluids sitting at the high point. When checking the oil, for instance, you want to make sure the vehicle has cooled down. Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean. Then replace it and remove again. You’ll be able to see where the oil level is against the markings on the stick. If fluids are low, then top them up or, if you’re nervous, make an appointment with your mechanic and get them to do it for you.
  7. Check the filters: While you’ve got your head under the bonnet you could take a look at the air filter. All of the filters in your vehicle are consumable products that need to be checked and replaced regularly. Most times this is done when your vehicle is serviced (that’s why it’s important you stick with the regular schedule). But, there are aftermarket air filters out there, for instance, that are of a much higher quality than OEM product. So, replacing with a better quality filter doesn’t hurt. And, you can always make a note of when you replaced it and advise your mechanic of the date.
  8. Take a look under the car: This is a good thing to do regularly and definitely after off-road adventures. You’re looking for leaks, damage or anything that’s hanging down or that looks out of place.
  9. Accessories: If you’ve got a 4×4 that’s brimming with accessories, then it’s a good time to give them a check. Check that your driving lights are tight and the wiring is still going where it’s meant to, check that they’re working. Maybe take a look at your traction boards (if you’re one of those people who leave them on the side of their vehicle rain, hail and shine). If you’ve got a roof rack, maybe get up and have a look that it’s still nice and secure. Check your in-car tool kit and in-car first aid kit…you’ve got them in your vehicle, right. We’ll explore what you should have in your in-car tool kit in another article.
  10. Get inside the car: Turn on your vehicle and run through all of its functions to make sure everything from the wipers to the stereo is working as it should. Take a look at the state of the interior and seat belts. Are there any cracks, tears or anything else that needs to be addressed. Make sure the belts spring back into place when released and check that the buckles lock into place.
  11. Clean out the rubbish: A clean car is a much nicer place to be than one filled with junk…or that smells because of something long-forgotten that’s fallen under a seat; ask me how I know about that one.
  12. Wash your car: Before you head back inside maybe grab some car wash and the vacuum (remember you’ve just cleaned out all the rubbish) give your car a clean inside and out. It’s all pretty basic stuff…check on water restrictions in your area before grabbing out the hose. Rinse down your vehicle (and you’ll want two buckets or a bucket with a sieve in it) and then soap up your sponge and clean down your car, starting at the top and working your way down. Don’t clean the wheels with the same sponge you use for the body. If your bucket has a sieve this will allow any grit to fall to the bottom of the bucket and ensure you’ve got clean, soapy water for your sponge. Then, once you’re finished, rinse off your car and then clean the wheels with a different sponge. Once that’s done then rinse off the wheels. And you’re done. That’s a basic wash. We’ll go into a more detailed explanation in another article.

Right now take a step back and know that your vehicle is in good nick and, if it’s not, you’ll have a better idea of what’s wrong with it.

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Isaac Bober has been writing about cars and 4x4s for more than 20 years, has worked on some of the country's biggest motoring magazines (remember what they were?), and launched Practical Motoring. Now he's back, back again... to share dad jokes and much more.