Complaining about the state of Britain’s roads is one of the most familiar grumbles amongst motorists. Whether it’s collapsing verges that can drag cars into hedgerows, potholes that will swallow a wheel whole or drains that seem to do a better job of acting like a plug than, well, a drain, there’s no shortage of hazards that can cause damage to cars.
So the results of a survey of 1000 British drivers paint an alarming picture. Despite our cars most vulnerable parts coming under daily assault, the majority of drivers admit they don’t know how to change a wheel.
It’s a concerning snapshot of the level of knowledge that drivers have when it comes to maintaining their car and staying safe on the road. And it tallies with Green Flag’s experience: in 2014, the breakdown company’s skilled technicians sailed – okay, drove their exactingly equipped vans and recovery trucks – to the rescue of nearly 200,000 members, and the second most common cause of the breakdown was to change a wheel with a flat tyre.
The survey was conduced on behalf of Leasing Options, and highlighted other worrying trends. Read on and ask yourself – honestly now – whether you’re a know-it-all, a know a bit or a know nothing?
79% of drivers can’t check their car’s brake fluid level
If you’re asking yourself why anyone would need to check their car’s brake fluid level, here’s a simple reason: without sufficient fluid, the braking system could fail. So, never ignore a red warning light if it shouts for attention from your car’s instrument display.
The vehicle handbook will explain where the filler for the brake system’s reservoir is situated (hint: it’s in the engine bay, not the glovebox) and it’s best, where practical, to check this when the engine is cool. The reservoir will be transparent plastic and have a minimum and maximum mark embossed on the side. The fluid level should be between these points; if you’re having trouble seeing clearly, shine a torch at it. If it’s below the minimum level, any local garage will be able to check the system and top it up.
55% of drivers can’t change a wheel
Given this is the second most common cause for Green Flag getting its members back on the roads, a lot of drivers could save themselves from a lot of inconvenience by knowing how to change a wheel when they get a puncture. Not all cars have a spare wheel, so check the handbook for instructions if a tyre-repair kit is fitted instead of a spare wheel and tyre.
The car should be safely parked off the road, on a flat, stable surface. Take the jack and wheel brace from the boot of the car, slightly loosen off the wheel nuts and then locate the jack at the car’s mounting point (check the handbook to locate these) and raise the car enough so the tyre isn’t touching the ground. Then undo the wheel nuts, carefully lift away the wheel, and replace with the spare wheel. (For more detail, see here.)
53% of drivers can’t adjust the steering wheel to get comfortable
Astonishing but true: the majority of drivers could be driving around in discomfort, as they don’t know how to move the steering wheel in and out or up and down, to help them be more comfortable and – more importantly – in control. If this sounds like you, the easiest thing to do is check the car’s handbook: there will be an explanation, and you’ll kick yourself once you realise just how easy it is. Typically, you release a lever, adjust the wheel, then close the lever. Hey presto!
34% of drivers don’t know how to check tyres’ air pressure
You just need one piece of equipment to keep your car’s tyres at the correct air pressure: a tyre inflation compressor. You can buy one for about £12, and can then carry out the check whether you’re at home or at an antique market loading up a back-breakingly heavy chest of drawers. The correct air pressure setting will be displayed either inside the fuel filler flap, the driver’s door or in the handbook.
Unscrew the dust caps from the tyres’ valves, attach the compressor and check they are inflated to the correct air pressure according the car maker’s instructions. Remember: a heavily laden car with the family aboard and a chest of drawers on the roof will need extra air in its tyres. You can then return this to the everyday setting later.
Expert advice: Everything you need to know to look after car tyres