car care - prevention - better than cure

driving in britain - you can't win. either you face what unpredictable winter weather can throw at you (and your car), or you resign yourself to traffic jams when the sun comes out and everyone heads for the sea.

Motorists need to be prepared for every eventuality and ensuring that your car is serviced regularly is the best way to avoid all the hassle of a breakdown.

Tyres should always be carefully checked as worn treads can be lethal. Tyre pressure, too, should be regularly monitored.

One of the most common causes of breakdown is battery failure. Many recovery patrols now carry new batteries for sale so that they can solve the problem on the spot. Sluggish starting is a sure sign that your car battery is getting old. As soon as starting becomes slow, it's time to think about buying a new battery.

Food for thought? Just a few simple checks on a regular basis would go a long way to preventing many breakdowns.

Decline of DIY servicing?

Fewer motorists are servicing their own cars these days, having decided that there's a lot to master under the bonnet. However, drivers are demanding higher standards from those who service their cars.

Leading suppliers of diagnostic equipment, Bosch, have drawn this conclusion from a survey aimed principally at customers and owners of independent garages. It appears that only 8% of motorists carry out their own mechanical DIY these days, while 20% turn to a friend with mechanical knowledge. Another 11% go to a garage approved by a component manufacturer, 27% to an independent garage and 34% to a franchised dealer.

Out Of Sight But Not Out Of Mind

One thing you almost certainly won't be able to check and rectify yourself prior to venturing out on roads are the shock absorbers. Yet the danger of driving a car with worn shock absorbers is considerable.

The performance of a shock absorber deteriorates gradually and imperceptibly over time. The effects of worn `shocks` are serious and include:

- Reduced braking efficiency & longer braking distances

- An increased risk of aquaplaning in the wet

- Reduced efficiency of anti-lock brakes

- Sloppy, loose steering control

- Increased tyre wear and reduced grip

- Increased headlight oscillation

- Driver fatigue and passenger discomfort

You can get your car's shock absorbers checked the next time you take it in for a service. Alternatively, drop by any good exhaust system or tyre dealer outlet.

Check That Cam Belt

Motorists buying a used car should automatically consider changing the cam belt, according to the RAC, who have to deal with 36,000 breakdowns a year caused by broken timing belts.

"And a broken belt could wreck the engine, causing £1000s worth of damage, while the cost of fitting a new belt is relatively low," warned RAC spokesman Peter Brill.

Most manufacturers have a schedule for belt replacement and their advice should be followed, he added. "But on used cars, if you are unsure of the service history of the vehicle, better to be safe than sorry."

There are no warning signs that the belt is about to break. That tends to happen as you try to start the engine and the car simply won't run.