Your car has hidden within it a box of electronic tricks which help to keep every beat of the engine and turn of the wheels operating to their designed efficiency. The good news is that the electronic control systems require no maintenance and will easily outlast the life of the car itself but there are many mechanical parts which can go wrong and which do need regular maintenance both on a daily basis and on a mileage or annual schedule.
The detail of the items discussed in this short maintenance guide will be found under the headings within the web site. Sterling garage has made information available to provide a guide to the most frequently asked questions about repairs and often, what it is that needs rectification or replacement.
Most of us try to avoid lifting the bonnet , hoping that the annual service or even the annual Mot test will take care of the day to day running. To some extent, this may be true but there is a need to ensure that the fluid levels do not get below dangerous levels and that we keep enough rubber on the road to give the grip to go round corners and stop the car when we want it to stop, especially if there is some urgency in our braking.
The primary under bonnet check will of course be the oil level in the engine. Manufacturers provide a dipstick to determine the level, some models even tell us at the dashboard if the oil level is low. This level indicator should not be confused with the oil light which is designed to identify that the engine oil pressure is very low. If this does come on when driving then the best advice would be to pull over and determine the reason. Possibly very low oil level or at worst case, a major engine fault. Modern engines do use oil in their normal running, so it is an important 'between service' check.
With the engine turned off, locate the oil cap and the dipstick– either from your manual or look for an oil can icon on the filler cap. Remove the dipstick. Clean it off with a clean cloth or kitchen roll, then insert back into the engine, making sure it’s pressed down as far as it will go. Remove again and check how far up the oil reaches on the stick. If on or below the minimum mark and using the correct grade of oil, fill through the filler. Do not add too much oil and check the dipstick marks as before, allowing time for the oil to get down into the engine. Normal top ups use less than a litre of oil so don't get too carried away before re-checking.
The second area is the cooling system. There should not be any loss of coolant during normal running but most modern vehicles have a header tank through which the level can be seen although, some cars will have electronic coolant level sensors. If the level is low then almost certainly the engine has a leak in the cooling system which requires investigation. In the short term then, top up with ordinary tap water but do not remove the cap when the engine is hot as the cooling system runs under pressure which could mean that the temperature often exceeds the natural boiling point. Removing the cap releases the pressure and then the coolant turns to steam with the potential to scald as it boils out of the header tank. During winter when there is the potential for freezing conditions, restoring the anti freeze quality is essential. Loss of coolant could be something simple like a leaking hose, a leaking radiator or worst case an engine cylinder head leaking. Whatever, the reason, it needs resolving before refilling with the correct antifreeze. Check with your driver's handbook for the correct type to use. The pink and blue antifreeze types which are common today should not be mixed. If unsure, ask at the garage, that's what we do. It should be borne in mind that total loss of coolant will cause the engine temperature to rise but if the engine temperature sender is not in the fluid, the gauge may fall into the cold area and the car heater blow cold.
The brake and power steering reservoirs are two other areas which may need checking and possibly topping up. Again, small top ups should not be a cause for concern but if either are very low, it usually indicates a problem which should be investigated. It is important that the correct header tank is identified and most importantly, the correct fluid used to top up. The driver's handbook will provide the correct information but if in doubt, call in to the garage.
The last under bonnet area to check and top up is the windscreen washer bottle. Top up with tapwater but use a proprietry additive screenwash mixed to the recommended level. Never use washing up liquid, it tends to block pipes and nozzles and also wreck the washer pump seals.
An area which should not be neglected is tyre wear and along with that the remaining tread depth across the profile of the tyre. Tyre maintenance includes tyre pressures and tread depth remaining. Under inflated tyres will increase fuel consumption and cause the tyres to wear unevenly in addition to making the car unstable when being driven.
Most manufacturers require that cars should be serviced every year or 10,000 miles. Later models sometimes have what is called 'long life' service intervals, two years or twenty thousand miles. The service interval will depend on the manufacturer's instructions but the minimum would be oil and oil filter change and then, although it doesn't always get included in the schedule a visual inspection, while the vehicle is in the air, of the tyres and importantly the brakes, joints and rubber boots. All levels should be topped up and antifreeze strength tested. Wheel bearings checked for noise and free play. Sterling garage provide for all service intervals, these extra checks which are important to the well being of the car.
The use of the correct oil is important to ensure that engines run at peak performance. Most today use a semi-synthetic oil but the grades vary by manufacturer. The most common is 10/40 grade although Ford for instance specify a 5/30 grade. Long life service intervals where the oil is not renewed for 20,000 miles demand a specialist Long Life oil. Diesels are also very specific about the type of oil used, and particularly VW and Audi, which require the use of Pump Diesel (PD) oil.
Modern vehicles no longer have the old fashioned distributor and related ignition coil however spark plugs are still used in petrol engined cars, the High Voltage to fire the spark is now triggered within the car's electronic control unit (ECU). Plugs are not changed at every service interval and it is this which will differentiate the type of service which needs to be done. A general rule of thumb is that the service is standard service at 10,000 miles and major service at 20,000 miles followed by a standard service at 30,000 miles and so on. Some spark plugs, particularly the more expensive platinum tipped type, have very long replacement intervals and this should always be taken into account to prevent unnecessary expense by early replacement. Whatever the case, the style of service and serviceable items replaced will depend on the requirements laid down by the manufacturer for the vehicle concerened. Sterling garage maintain a full multi manufacturer lookup system which identifies all the requirements along with all other appropriate information needed to provide the service appropriate to the make, model and engine of the vehicle being serviced.
Timing/cambelt replacement, although not always considerd to be a service item, should be considered as such and replaced as per current manufacturers recommendations.