We’ve rounded up some seriously exceptional experts to share their advice on how to care for and maintain your new, modern, old and used cars, with advice on everything from how to minimise damage to your tyres while on the road, to washing, waxing and caring for your cars paint job.
Meet the Experts:
British racing driver, former co-presenter of Top Gear and current co-presenter of Fifth Gear. Tiff.tv
Dream car: McLaren F1.
First car: Morris 1000 Traveller – very second hand!
Most memorable driving experience: Sitting on the grid for my Grand Prix debut in Belgium in 1980 – or standing on the podium at Le Mans in 1990 having finished 3rd!
Australian motorsport driver, currently competing in the IndyCar Series, driving for Team Penske. Current IndyCar Series Champion. WillPower12.com
Dream car: Porsche GT3 Turbo
First car: VL Commodore
Most memorable driving experience: My first time testing an IndyCar, it was a very awesome experience…because of all the horsepower.
Australian V8 Supercar driver for the Holden Racing Team.
Dream car: 1965 Lincoln Continental. Black. Suicide Doors. Convertible.
First car: It was a 1960’s Toyota Corolla or Corona, bird poo in colour, around $300. The lady I bought it off was in tears when I took it because it was her first car as well. I drove it around for a while and realised it wasn’t very cool, so I turned it into a paddock basher at the farm. The first day driving it on the farm, I broke something in the differential. So we blew it up with 4kgs of ammonium nitrate, which was pretty impressive. All under controlled circumstances of course!
Most memorable driving experience: This is a tough question because most of my memorable driving experiences are on the race track! Winning my first ever race in the V8Supercar Development Series was pretty cool, and qualifying for the Top 10 Shootout at Bathurst last year was also pretty special. To have the best race track in Australia to yourself for one whole lap whilst millions are watching on TV – that’s kinda cool.
Australian race car driver. The first Australian to win an official Road To Indy race. ElleryMotorsport.com
Dream car: Porsche 917 in Gulf colours
First car: 1962 Austin Healey Sprite
Most memorable driving experience: Winning at Sebring, Florida, in a USF2000 car
Australian Managing Director of Zen Automotive Suppliers and owner of Zas.com.au
Dream car: A Porsche 911 Turbo. The styling isn’t “look at me” over the top but the performance is amazing.
First car: A 1981 Datsun Bluebird. It has a terrible cream respray but was very reliable for what it was and how it was treated!
Most memorable driving experience: As a passenger in the Ford Fiesta we sponsor in the Australian Rally Championship. These guys are crazy!
Car enthusiast and Associate Editor at Jalopnik.com
Dream car: This is tricky; there’s lots of cars I dream about. If I had to pick, probably a Tatra T87. It’s a fascinating Czech car from the ’40s that feels like a refugee from an alternate world where zeppelin travel and jet packs were commonplace. It’s a rear engined-V8 with a massive dorsal fin. I did get to drive one, finally.
First car: My first car, which I bought for $600 made from my after-school job selling Apple IIs, was a 1968 VW Beetle. Wrigley’s gum-beige. I’ve come a long way since then; my current daily driver is a ’73 Beetle.
Most memorable driving experience: This is tricky, too — I’ve been fortunate in having a lot of memorable driving experiences. I’ve almost wrecked a dragster, driven through rivers in Iceland, and once convinced an auto-rickshaw driver in New Delhi to let me drive his 3-wheeler in Delhi traffic. But I think another driving experience in India, driving a 4×4 Mahindra Thar in a desert rally through the beautiful and desolate Rajasthan desert, would have to be the most memorable.
It was there, out in the middle of absolute nowhere, that I met some kids from a remote village and learned that absolutely everyone is on Facebook.
How to Minimise Wear and Tear When You’re Driving
It’s important to drive safely and smoothly on the roads, not only for yourself, your passengers and other road users but to extend the life of your car. But what can you do to minimise wear and tear when you’re driving? Will Power sums it up best with “the biggest thing is not to thrash your car.”
Tiff Needell: “Be as smooth as you can with all the controls. Use progressive applications whether it’s steering, accelerating, braking or changing gear – don’t rush things.”
Jason Torchinsky: “For my vintage cars, the biggest thing I do is let the engine warm up for about a minute or two when I first start it. Old engines are more reliant on oil, and I want to get it all nice and splashed around before I put a load on the engine. Beyond that, I mostly just drive.”
Luke Ellery: “On the road it’s easy to look after your car, leave 5 minutes earlier and take it safe and gently!”
Jack Perkins: “It’s pretty easy on the road, stick to the speed limits, don’t race around corners and streets, and try to avoid unnecessary quick acceleration and big braking stops.”
How to Minimise Damage When You’re Parking
When you’re parking, you’re not only trying to minimise damage to your paint job but also park far enough away from other cars to avoid damage from them. Try and find a park as risk free as possible.
Luke Ellery: “Shade looks after the paint on your car and generally reduces Ultra Violet sun damage. Clear coats can often flake in tropical conditions or on vehicles left outdoors so it’s wise to keep your car sheltered when not in use.”
Tiff Needell: “Try to avoid trees that either drop their sap or are full of birds that leave droppings!”
Joel Blake: “I look for a space with the least chance of someone opening a door on me, or running a shopping trolley into the car.”
Jack Perkins: “I live in Melbourne’s inner suburbs so normally I try and find a car park that is free and doesn’t cost me any money! In summer I look for parks with a shade, but like anyone, you try and park as close to the destination as possible!”
Jason Torchinsky: “Cars are creatures of the outdoors. They’ll be fine wherever, or you’re driving something really fragile.”
How to Prevent Tyre Damage and Prolong the Life of Your Tyres
Make sure to check your tyre pressure often and drive smoothly. More advice from our experts on preventing tyre damage:
Tiff Needell: “Kerbs and potholes are a tyres biggest enemy. Obviously the faster you corner the sooner you’re going to wear them out but it’s hitting sharp edges that can do instant damage. Tyre pressures should be checked regularly, if they go soft they’ll overheat even on a long straight, weaken the sidewalls and in the worst cases blow out.”
Will Power: “Well, you prevent tire degradation by being very gentle on the throttle and very smooth. Not too much slip angle, which will make the tires last longer. The opposite of that is pushing really hard and locking the wheels up. One big thing, when you’re doing a lot of mileage is to make sure that the wheel alignment is dead straight, because it can definitely scrub the tires away very quickly.”
Jason Torchinsky: “I try not to drive like an idiot, and make sure the pressure is proper. I’ll visually inspect most every time I go to the car, and use my fingers to quickly check how they feel. Then I’ll destroy all my efforts by autocrossing the car, or something.”
Luke Ellery: “Always keep your tyre pressures at the correct level – make sure you ask your local tyre store what’s the best pressure for your car. A service station will generally have an Air station to fill your tyres. Check them fortnightly.”
How Often Should You Change Your Engine Oil and Filters
Every car is different in this respect but as a general rule you should change your engine oil and filters every 1,609km to 4,828km or every 1000 to 3000 miles, according to Will Power. Tiff Needell suggests changing “whenever the car manufacturer recommends”.
Luke Ellery: “Depending on your car, as often as possible – never change the oil to an unknown or non-recommended brand. Jump on Google or read your owner’s manual to find out what oil best suits your engine.”
Jack Perkins: “Depending on the car and its performance, also its existing maintenance schedule, normally oil change every 10,000kms is worthwhile and filter every 10,000kms. If it’s a brand new car it’s worth checking both at say 2,000 or 5,000kms, in case there’s an issue from the factory – something you won’t often find with Holden’s!”
Jason Torchinsky: “For my old Beetle, ideally I should probably change at 1500-2000 miles, but it’s usually 3000 or so. For our more modern car, 3000-6000 is common. Filters usually get changed with oil changes, but I tend to change the Beetle’s fuel filter more so, because it’s so easily visible.”
How to Maintain Your Cars Cooling System
While there’s “very little need” to do anything to maintain you cars cooling system, according to Tiff Needell, if you have a modern car, there are still some steps you can take.
Will Power: “In today’s modern car you don’t really have to maintain that type of thing all that much anymore, but I guess making sure you have fluid in it, helps to maintain the engine.”
Jack Perkins: “Most modern cars have fantastic cooling systems and have alarm systems and sensors in place if there’s a problem with the engine cooling. Most temperature gauges are measured from the water temperature, if the system loses water often the sensors won’t show any issues because there’s no water to measure! Whenever you park somewhere it’s worth having a quick look behind or in front to see if you left any fluid or oil behind. Often in summer after you have used the air-conditioning, condensation can drip on the ground leaving a pool of water. This is fine, but on the odd occasion this pool could be fluid from the cooling system or even oil, so it’s worth keeping an eye open.”
Luke Ellery: “A simple flush and refill when you change oil is always helpful, when flushing your water system make sure you have bled the air from the system to avoid an air lock – this can easily kill the engine. Be careful with Subaru’s, some of these horizontally configured engines can be difficult to bleed.”
Jason Torchinsky: “The Beetle is air-cooled, so it’s mostly just about keeping the engine compartment clean and the rubber seals in good shape. For the Scion xB, I hardly think about it beyond occasionally checking the fluid level.”
How to Clean Your Car Engine
If Tiff Needell’s response to “How often do you clean your car engine?” is anything to go by (as in “Never!”) then it’s perfectly acceptable to not ever bother, however if you do find yourself in a position where you need to clean your engine, then here is some advice on how to do it:
Luke Ellery: “Be sure not to spray too much water or cleaning products over vital electronics in the engine bay. Sometimes it’s best to just wipe clean any oil or grime with a rag. If necessary use a solvent that won’t interfere with electronics.”
Jack Perkins: “Again it depends on the car and its history. Spraying water directly at the engine is not something engine builders recommend, as water doesn’t mix well with petrol and oil. If the car is quite old and has lots of oil and residue, it’s worth degreasing the engine and engine bay and hot washing the area. Once completed taking the car for a drive or blowing off with compressed air will remove any extra water that could seep into areas it’s not wanted.”
How Often Should You Wash and Wax Your Car
There certainly doesn’t seem to be any clear schedule for car washing and waxing according to our experts but they do offer up some words of wisdom in order to keep your car shiny and clean.
Joel Blake: “I wash the car at least twice a month, or more if the car has been subjected to a lot of contamination. If the car isn’t washed regularly, dirt and grime will bond to the paint making removal far more difficult. Rain on a very dirty car can also cause water spotting on the paint. I currently use a ceramic coating on my vehicle called Opti-Coat. This coating doesn’t require any further waxing and just regular washing. When using a wax I take note of when the water beading starts to die off. This is a sign that the wax needs to be reapplied.
Never let the car air dry and always dry with a high quality micro fiber towel. Drying is the number one cause of swirl marks in the paint so avoid excessive pressure and don’t rush the job.”
Luke Ellery: “Depending on what car and the imminent weather, I tend to wash every 2-3 weeks, sometimes more. I choose Bowden’s Own Products as they’re specially designed not to hurt the paint, I have found they don’t take away a layer of clear coat – instead removing the haze and built up grime.”
How to Prepare Your Car for Seasonal Changes
Thankfully in Australia there is not a lot we need to do to prepare for seasonal changes, Tiff, Will and Jason however are not so lucky and need to prepare for snow and salty roads. There are of course a few things we can do in order to be prepared.
Joel Blake: “In Australia, the seasons are not so extreme and we are lucky enough to be able to maintain our cars all year round. In countries with extreme winters, it is necessary to apply a long lasting sealant to the paint that will last out the winter and chemicals such as salt on the road.”
Luke Ellery: “In Melbourne it’s not too much of a problem, my friends in Minnesota have issues with snow tyres but thankfully we don’t have that issue here!”
Jack Perkins: “I always check the tyre pressures visually almost daily, and then with a tyre gauge once every 2-3 weeks. Other than that it’s worth checking the quality of the windscreen wipers every now and again!”
How Often Should You Have Your Car Inspected by a Mechanic
Our experts Tiff Needell and Will Power both agree that you should have your car inspected by a mechanic at least once a year, more if you do a lot of kilometres and of course it is dependant on the age of your car. Generally though, once a year is good for a check-up for modern cars.
Jason Torchinsky: “I think being aware of how your car feels, sounds, smells, and performs when it’s healthy is most important. When anything starts to deviate, that’s when you need to evaluate and, if you get stuck, see your mechanic. Do it when you first sense it, ideally before things get bad and/or break.”
Jack Perkins: “New cars should just follow the suggested service guides and if under warranty make sure the dealerships follow through and service the car per the schedule. If you have bought a new car its worth getting it checked out by a mechanic to make sure the basics are in order, such as oil in the engine, wheel nuts/studs tight and that the basic mechanicals are in order.”
Luke Ellery: “As often as possible, if something is sounding strange or feeling odd – don’t hesitate, a mechanic could save your life!”
Other Car Care Tips
Jack Perkins: “A flat battery can be an absolute nightmare. If you are going away for more than 4-6 months it may be worth either disconnecting the battery, or making sure you charge it when you get home!”