Top tips to save you money and aggro

Here are a few useful tips for making your old car last longer, be more reliable and use less fuel, so that you can spend all your cash on holidays instead:

1. Many drivers, when they are waiting to exit from a side road which faces uphill, will put the car in first gear and slip the clutch to prevent them from rolling backwards.  This is a bad idea as it wears the clutch plates faster than anything else.  Applying the handbrake is free; a new clutch costs £100-£200.

2. If  your car has a manual choke, use it as sparingly as possible.  Once the engine is running, push the choke control in as soon as you can (without stopping the engine of course).  Too much choke not only wastes fuel, it also wears out the engine.

3. So does thrashing the engine mercilessly from cold.  Give it a chance to warm up before you use high revs and full throttle.

4. If your car is difficult to start from cold, but the battery is OK, try replacing spark plugs, distributor cap and rotor arm (also points and condensor if the car is old enough to have them).  This should cost you around £20-£25, and will eliminate 95% of starting problems.

5. Modern car batteries only last about 3 years.  If yours is older than this, it may be worth replacing it before it dies, rather than crossing your fingers and hoping it lasts.  It probably won't, and you are better off changing it at a time which is convenient to you.

6. If your car will not start, and you run the battery flat trying to start it, do not leave it in this condition.  A battery left discharged for any length of time will die completely.

7. A loud squealing sound from the engine probably means the fan belt is loose.  Tightening it will take about 30 seconds, and prevents the battery from going flat when you drive with the lights on.

8. Antifreeze is not an optional extra, even in the summer.  It prevents rust forming in your engine and blocking up the radiator.  A 2 litre can of antifreeze is much cheaper than a new radiator.

9. If your car pulls to one side, the front tracking is probably out of adjustment, which means the tyres will be wearing away on one side.  Having the tracking adjusted by a garage is cheaper than two new tyres.

10. Clean your car regularly, and make sure you hose away the mud and rubbish under the wheelarches, around the suspension mounts and especially round the inside of the wheelarch lip.  Otherwise your car will soon resemble a string vest.

11. Unleaded petrol - you will be amazed how many old cars will run on it.  If you are still using LRP, ring up the local dealer (or the AA) and ask whether your car is suited to the cheaper fuel.

12. If your windscreen wipers smear and don't clean the screen properly, try taking the wiper blades out of their holders, turning them round through 180 degrees and refitting them.  Don't ask me why this works, but it does.

13. If a warning light comes on, or one of the gauges indicates trouble, stop and investigate.  My mate Graham carried on driving, and became the only person I know who has blown up a VW Golf.

14. Hole in the radiator?  Clean up the area as best you can, then cover it in Araldite.  This usually works, and costs next to nothing.

15. Worn brakes are hardly ever expensive to have fixed.  Major accidents are always expensive.  If your brakes frighten you, get them looked at.


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