A flat battery is one of the most common reasons for a breakdown, so make sure your car battery is properly secured with a clamp in the battery tray, because a loose battery can damage the delicate lead plates. To ensure the battery is charged up, the fan belt needs to be tight. So if you hear a screeching noise after you start the engine you will need to tighten the belt or possibly replace it.
Drivers commuting short distances who use their lights and heater can drain out the battery power. However a longer drive will recharge it fully and give the car a good workout. Ensure the top of your battery is kept clean and dry to stop charge leaking away. Do bear in mind that the car battery will wear out, so be prepared to replace it if it goes flat or is more than five years old.
Water for the radiator must be mixed with the right type of anti-freeze all year round to stop corrosion inside the engine – a common cause of blown head gaskets. Make sure you check the level weekly when the engine is cold. If you find you are topping up far too often, this may be a sign of a leak that needs to be fixed by a mechanic.
The first sub-zero day of autumn brings a flurry of frozen engines, caused by too little anti-freeze. Check you have enough frost protection by removing the filler cap. Siphon a little coolant into a small container and put it in your freezer overnight. If it freezes, you need more antifreeze.
When you check your oil, it's important to be on a level ground. It's not unusual for modern engines to use a little oil – some are designed that way – but a sudden increase in oil consumption is a sign that there's a problem. It's also important to use the correct oil for topping up, so make sure the oil you use meets the requirements listed in the owner's handbook. Blown turbo chargers and broken timing chains are possible results of using the wrong oil.
Modern cars will have a warning light to alert you of a low fluid level, but it's still worth taking a look at the reservoir while you're checking the other things under the bonnet. The level will drop slightly as the brakes wear down, but it should not fall so low that it needs topping up. When new brakes are fitted, the fluid will return to the full level. If the level has dropped below the minimum, the warning light should come on; get the brakes checked because there may be a fluid leak.