Posts tagged ‘car maintenance’

Getting Ready for Winter

Hi All.

I just wanted to write a quick post with regards to the Winter.
Autumn/Winter can be a bit of a challenge for new drivers and can even catch out a few experienced ones.
I have compiled a few top tips to keep yourself away from Hazards and NOT ceate any for any other drivers.

As we know already, Cork roads are not the best. They are plagued with poor surface and idiot drivers.
The first defence is to make sure the basic car checks are done.

  1. Check ALL lights, brake lights and indicators – Get someone to help you or use your local TOPAZ. They have a Mirror beside the Tyre inflator to help you check your lights without getting out of the seat. This will allow other drivers to see you and help them make better driving decisions based on your signals. People have lost their lives because other drivers lights were broken.
  2. Check Tyre Condition and Tyre pressures – Check that the grooves in the tyre are deep enough. The minimum legal Tread depth is 1.6mm. On all tyres there are little tyre wear indicator stubbs in the groove to tell you when theyre illegal. If theres no deep groove then the tyre will not displace any water etc and thus NO GRIP. Also check your tyre pressure. Under inflated tyres are like driving on Raw Eggs. Over inflated tyres reduce your grip. If in Doubt, I always inflate to 30 psi. The tyre inflators in most petrol stations are free and most garages will assist you. Its not difficult but essential. People have died from driving on under inflated tyres.
  3. Check your Coolant – Open the Bonnet and look for the resevoir that has a thermometer on it or CAUTION HOT text on the cap. This is your coolant. This keeps your engine cool. The fluid should be RED or GREENISH colour. This is the ANTIFREEZE additive that stops it from freezing. If its clear or transparant, bring it to a mechanic for a mini service. NO ANTIFREEZE = FROZEN ENGINE and LEAKS. Drivers have broken their cars from not checking antifreeze levels. Remember water expands when it freezes !
  4. Top up your Screenwash – Open the Bonnet and look for the resevoir with the windscreen and dashed lines squirting over it. This is the fluid that squirts onto your window when you pull the window wiper stick attached to your steering wheel. For €2 you can get screen wash liguid soap from the petrol station then top it up with ordinary tap water. This is essential if we get frost. Why? Because if we get frost, they send out the grit lorries to grit the roads to prevent them freezing. Grit is basically salt. The vehicle in front of you will spray salt up on your window from its tyres and your windows will go white. It becomes very difficult to see. People have lost their lives from not topping up their screenwash.

This is all basic stuff, but if your not comfortable doing it yourself, then find your nearest ADVANCE PITSTOP in Cork or Local Mechanic and ask them to do a Winter Check.

Secondly – Keep your driving smooth and creamy. What I mean by this (and most of my students will already know this) is to keep the car steady and safe. Dont be erratic with the steering or the pedals. You will only discover loss of grip when its too late and YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO RECOVER FROM A SKID without prior training.

Brake earlier and softer on the pedal. This warns drivers behind you sooner and prevents your wheels LOCKING UP.

And Thirdly, Do I need to say it? Really?


Theres too many idiots on the road.


  1. Keep your self out of danger
  2. Dont create any danger for anyone else (requires forward thinking)

Hope this helps at least one of you stay safe this winter.

Safe Driving





Thinking of Buying your 1st Car?

Hi All

I wanted to write a few words about buying your first car. For those of you that are taking Driving Lessons with me at the moment would have heard me mention the importance of PRACTICE between Driving Lessons. The best way to get practice driving and to develop your driving skills further and faster is to get your own car.
There are a few myths out there that I wish to quash and give you all some good sound basic advice on finding, buying, and collecting your first car.
To help you with this Ive recently added an RSS Feed to Donedeal. Its over there on the left of the screen. I have bought and sold a few cars on Donedeal over the last year and I have found that once you know what youre looking for, its the best place to find a true BARGAIN.

So here it goes…

1. Stop Dreaming

Be realistic when choosing your first car. My first car was going to be a BMW 316i with alloy wheels, blacked out windows with a sub woofer and TVs in the back. What I ended up buying for my fist car was a bright red Nissan Micra with a big dent in the front bumber, a blue wing and fag burns throughout. Nice eh?

Your first car is a dummy run to your first proper car. So if anything happens to your beloved ride in your first year you wont really be that bothered.
So be realistic and lower your expectations a bit.

2. Budget

If youre going to buy a car then have a budget that will cover all of the following

  • Car – Approx €500 to €3000
  • Insurance – €1000 to €3000 if going on your own policy
  • €50 to €500 if going as a named driver on someone elses policy
  • Road Tax – €80 to €400 depending on engine size
  • Repairs or updates ie tryes, windscreen, stone chips etc

When you’re searching your prefered website or newspaper for your first car, use this as a basic rule of thumb

  • The price should match the year

for example

  • A 2003 should cost €3000 or less
  • A 2002 should cost €2000 or less
  • A 2001 should cost €1000 or less

If you find a car thats a year 2002 and its €3000 then it would want to be immaculate or “like new”

If you find a car thats a year 2002 and its €1000 then ask yourself – Whats wrong with it that its so cheap?

3. NCT or Not NCT ?

One of the most important things you should look for when browsing is the validity of the NCT (National Car Test). Not just if it has one or not but when it was last tested and when is it next due. It could end up costing you more to put the car through an NCT than what you paid for it. I have just spent €1000 putting the our beloved School Car through an NCT. Mostly on worn parts, timing belt and tyres.

If a car is for sale and the NCT is “out” or “failed” then run a mile from it.

Look for an advert thats says the NCT has “just passed” or “expires next year” etc. This means that the vehicle has met all the european safety requirements. You will have piece of mind that the car is sound and should hopefully not cost you anything after youve parted with your hard earned cash.

Some people are selling there cars because they cant afford to put it through an NCT so make sure you dont pick up the Tab.

4. Engine Size

Try and keep your engine size down to below 1400 cc. So a 1.0cc 1.2cc 1.3cc 1.4cc should be what you’re looking for. This will keep your insurance quote down and keep your Road Tax down. You can opt for Petrol or Diesel. I have both. Just beware that if you go for a Deisel there is usually a TURBO attached to it. This is seen as a performance enhancer and your insurance company starts rubbing their hands together as they increase your premium.

5. Brands

The ole myth that you should steer clear of certain brands of car because of X Y or Z is rubbish. Most cars from the year 2000 onwards are all pretty well built, they generally have good reliabilty come in varied styles and models. I would recommend popular brands like Ford, VW and Toyota. These brands have lots of companies competing on making replacement parts or what they sometimes call SPURIUS parts. This means that if you do need to repair your car, parts are usually cheaper. Brands like Diahatsu or Mitsubishi usually mean going to the main dealer and end up costing more. Renault, Citroen and Peugeot all have common faults that kick in over time. If your reading this Artur you will know what Im talking about. Artur has a Peugeot 307 and the indicator stick is broken…it doesnt click off. When he went to scrap yards they were all gone. Signs of a common fault. The only other option is a new one costing €200. OUCH!

6. First Look

When you have picked your first car, pick up the phone, arrange an appoitment and go to see it. Then follow these simple steps….

  • Ask to see the Tax Book or Registration Certificate – Make sure the person you are buying from is the registered owner. If they are not then walk away. Also check that the Registration Plate matches the Tax Book.
  • Grab a pen and paper and start writing down things you are not happy with. Start on the outside and look at the bodywork, check the condition of tyres, look for signs of accident damage, windscreen cracks or chips and check the gaps between body panels. They should be the same width end to end.
  • Look on the inside and look for fag burns, broken parts and have a sniff – Moldy cars usually mean water leaks or it may have been parked up for a year.
  • Put the Key into the ignition and turn on the electrics. Press every button in sight to check it all works. Theres nothing worse than buying a car then realising the windows dont open and the radio doesnt work. (been there, done that, Bought the fuses)

7. The Test Drive

So now its time for the test drive. You have narrowed down your search, found a car, gone to look at it, its in reasonable condition inside and out and now its all about the test Drive.

Turn the engine on and take it for a spin. If you are not comfortable driving it then bring someone with you that knows a bit about cars. I have helped quite a few of my students buy their first Car, so if you need me just pick up the phone. This is what you need to look for in the test drive.

  • First check the clutch. Put it into 4th gear, release the handbrake and slowly let out the clutch. If the car cuts out then the clutch is good. If the car starts hopping forward then the clutch is banjaxed. Walk away or negotiate €300 – €400 off the asking price.
  • Find an empty car park and Drive the car slowly in circles. If there is clicking noise from the wheels then the CV Joints are gone. Walk away or negotiate €200 off the asking price.
  • Find some bumps in the road. Drive over them or through them and listen for knocking noises from the suspension. If there is, then the bushings are gone either on the stabiliser links, track rod ends, Wishbones or the anti roll bar. I wouldnt walk away but I would negotiate €50 – €100 off the asking price.
  • Test the brakes. Pick up the speed to 50kph, check your mirrors, make sure its clear and brake hard. Make sure the car stops. Listen for a grinding sound or a metal to metal sound. This means the brakes need replacing. If you feel a clicking in the pedal then dont worry. Thats just the ABS (anti lock braking) system working – a good sign.
  • Park on a hill and check the handbrake. If it doesnt hold or needs excessive pulling then either the pads or the cables need replacing. €100 – €150 off the asking price.
  • Make sure the speedometer works, fuel guages etc. If not, walk away. This is not only expensive to fix but illegal.
  • Finally. How does the car make you feel. Are you happy with the way it drives?


If you are then at decision point then choose the following.

  1. Shake the sellers hand and agree to buy it for a price you both agree on (usually 75% of asking price)
  2. Thank them for their time, Walk away and find your next suitable option.



IF STILL IN DOUBT OVER HOW LEGITIMATE THE CAR IS. GO ONTO and buy the information. It basically tells you if there is any money owed on the vehicle or if its been in a

You dont need to be a Mechanic

Maintaining your car and keeping it running like new is quite easy and you dont need to be a mechanic to do so.
Keeping your 5 fluids topped up is one of the very basic things that all drivers should do to ensure they dont break down.

So what are the 5 fluids I hear you ask?

1. Engine oil

This protects all the internal parts of the engine and keeps your engine sounding smooth. Use the dipstick to check the oil level. Park on a flat service. Ensure engine is cooled by approx 20 mins. Pull the dip stick….wipe… dip…and check that the oil level is between the 2 marks on the dipstick. Look also for condition of the oil. If its black and watery it must be changed. Your oil should look golden brown and should stick to the dip stick. If the oil level is low…top it up via the oil filler cap on top of the engine with the correct grade of oil. This grade will be given on your cars handbook. Most petrol stations will sell small bottles of oil for topping up.

2. Brake Fluid

This is critical. When you squeeze your footbrake hydraulic oil is pushed into the brake calipers giving you braking ability. If you dont keep this topped up or get it changed your brakes will fail and you could end up in a serious accident. On most vehicles there is a resevoir marked with “brake fluid” or a brake symbol. Just make sure its topped up to maximum mark with the correct brake fluid found at most petrol stations.

3. Power steering fluid.

This gives you assistance in turning the steering wheel. Some cars have electric motors to assist so check your handbook before panicking. Much like your brake fluid…you will have a resevoir marked with “power steering” or a steering wheel symbol. Again…keep it topped up to the maximum mark with power steering fluid found at some petrol stations but if not try a motor factors near you.

4. Coolant

This is to stop your engine freezing in cold weather and also keeps your engine from over heating.
The coolant circulates around your engine and absorbs heat then is pumped to the radiator at very front of your car to be cooled by air as your driving forwards.
Your coolant is a mixture of antifreeze and water.
Be careful with the antifreeze as it is corrosive and can burn your skin.
Make sure that the engine is cool before opening the cap as it will be boiling.
Just top up on a regular basis with cold tap water upto the maximum mark.
If you dont …your engine will overheat….crack and then its a gonna…and it aint cheap to replace an engine. Tap water in most cases is free.

5. Screenwash

Needless to say…if you cannot see out your windows you are likely to have an accident.
Keep your screenwash topped up with water and a screenwash additive to use while driving.
Water and screenwash additive are available at most petrol stations.

My 2006 Ford Fiesta driving school cork school car…..the 5 fluids all have yellow markings so theyre easy to find.

Have a look at your own engine bay and remember you dont need to be a mechanic to keep your car maintained

Future posts will include info on tyres and electrics

Safe Driving