Basic car maintenance

How To Look After Alloy Wheels

A number of people on here may now own cars with alloy wheels. Alloys can look great and really set off a car nicely, when compared with steelies with trims. Problem is, they tend to get awfully black with brake dust, especially the fronts.

This guide will explain briefly my personal preference in cleaning alloy wheels. I am not a car valet although I do have some amateur experience, so please read this as opinion only.

Firstly; what to use. This depends on your alloys, if multispoke (say > 8) then it will be different to a less complex alloy. Personally I like to use an alloy wheel brush, an example of which is shown as figure 1 below, about £1.50 from tesco. Reasons for this are that it is nice and flexible, soft enough to be safe but coarse enough to remove dirt. I use this for the front of the alloy and the holes (which depend on the design). In addition to this, I also have a fairly coarse plastic dustpan type brush, I use this for the rear of the alloys, I will go into that shortly.

I then use a simple wheel cleaner such as Wynn’s wheel cleaner or Halfords own brand wheel cleaner. I always avoid acidic cleaners because I have been advised that they are too powerful and repeated use can lift the surface of the alloys, not worth it for the sake of a bit of extra elbow grease!

Now you have two choices; clean wheels whilst on the car or clean whilst off. Personally I would suggest every 5 times you clean your alloys that you remove them from the car. Why? Brake dust is not good for the surface of the alloys and although at the back, you can still see through to the actual rim. If you can’t be bothered/not confident removing wheels, do not try it of course.

If you do remove the wheel, get a large piece of cardboard on the floor and rest alloy face down on it. Spray a fair amount (using instructions from the cleaner you buy but be generous) and use the coarse brush on the rim, rinse off frequently. The cleaners are VERY good but if you leave it to dry you will realise very quickly that you may as well not have bothered! Turn over alloy and use the alloy brush as per figure 1 cleaning again and rinse. Before refitting, use some form of car wax on the whole alloy and this should help prevent brake dust build up (in my experience) and provide a shinier finish.

Damage to alloys

OK, so you bought a car and the rims have been kerbed, I know mine have and it annoys me. Short of getting them professionally refurbished (approx £160 for a set in my area in my experience) or attacking it with a dremel (bad idea if you’re not patient and good at it!) you do have a choice. Get some alloy wheel silver paint and a size 1 brush, spray some into the cap. This is after cleaning the wheel which would have removed a lot of grease. Paint on the silver sparingly over any damage. Personally I would avoid doing anything to damage on the main surface, it never looks right as silver shades are impossible to match. Do two coats (leave 20 minutes in between) and the finish will be a lot improved though do not expect miracles, it is a very basic solution. Finish with a bit of lacquer if you like. Figure 2 shows what can be done to the back of a wheel I have done – took about 5-10 minutes and I have left the centre parts to show how it was before.

Figure 3 shows how big a difference it makes to my car.

Of course you could use your normal sponge whilst you wash your car, it’s up to you!

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Washing Your Car

Washing your car can take anything from 10 minutes to a day and it can yield a very different result. Personally I try to wash my car weekly or fortnightly, my last car was a weird green colour and it didn’t make a huge difference when clean so I could wash it less often. My newer car is black so it makes a huge difference.

For normal washing I suggest you use practically any basic car shampoo, the difference between most is tiny. Make sure you rinse, sponge with shampoo and rinse again, preferably as you go. Chammy at the end to avoid water stains. You can use items such as flash car wash to help avoid that but I have no experience with them, I am told Flash works. So do you stop now and forget about it? It’s up to you. Personally every 3-5 washes I try to put more effort into it.

My personal favourite is Meguiars 3 step system. On ebay it will cost you about £26 posted and it’s plenty for a fair few washes. This guide will look at using this specifically but the same goes for most basic polishes and waxes.

The 3 step system uses a paint cleaner, a polish and a wax. I go as far as to make it a 4 step system as I find the paint cleaner to be poor. I recently invested in a electric car polisher which is a god send in terms of time saving.

  1. After washing the car use a car polishing cloth to apply the paint cleaner, work this hard into the paint, this helps get rid of small scratches and spider webbing which is common on old paint due to car washes and light. If paint is in poor condition, work in using car polisher until the paint looks dull. Buff using a buffing cloth. At this point I repeat with Merr car polish which is slightly cutting.
  2. Same as above but use car polish, this time use manual methods unless you’re really lazy. Buff up and smile when you start to see the finish.
  3. As above but with wax, I like to use lots of wax – this is carnubba based. Why do I use lots? Wax forms a barrier between the elements and the paint work. It means that the shine looks deeper and any dirt stays on the outside of the wax. When you do your “in between washes” you will see the car returns to a finish close to as if you had just done all three steps. I would also buff using the electric buffer this time and finish off with a hand buffing cloth. Stand back and admire.

I would never do any area bigger than half the bonnet at a time if you’re using the electric buffer or a third of the bonnet if manually done. This is larger than most would suggest but since you’re doing 3 steps it would take weeks otherwise.

Make sure you clean all your windows inside and outside, it makes a huge difference!

Purchase some form of trim polish. I use some stuff produced for Ferarri that my Grandpa got, it’s excellent but can’t recall the actual make. I also have a gel made labelled Williams (as in the F1 team) but this is just branding, most stuff will do. Follow instructions but usually this is just to wipe on and rub in.

Touching Up Scratches and Marks

This is going to be the most controversial of my short guides I believe to this point. Why? Simply because you can do more harm than good touching up if you don’t know what you’re doing. I will go into that shortly. Despite this, protecting your body work with a coat of paint can help stop the all nasty rust which is tonnes more important than a not-so-perfect touch in.

First thing to do is find your car’s paint code; it should have a sticker somewhere to tell you, otherwise speak to a dealership. This could be under the bonnet or on the tailgate etc. For example, my Brava is “ink black, 812” out of memory. You now need to order a paint stick for it, often these come complete with primer, paint coat and lacquer. If not, make sure you get a tin of clear lacquer from somewhere if metallic.

First is preparation. Normally with paint work preparation is the most important step by far of a good finish. The rational behind that is that you’re painting a large surface which needs to be flat and show no surface blemishes etc. However, I would never suggest you do any touching up on areas that would require such preparation, simply as you won’t get a nice finish.

OK, little break from specifics and back to general:

It might surprise you to know that silver is actually probably the most difficult colour to match, get it a shade out and it shows up really badly in the light or dark. With black, if your match is poor you will only see it in bright sunshine typically, simply as the surface won’t be 100% flat. It seems – anecdotally – that the darker you get, the easier the match, but I am sure there’s a limit to that.

Back to the specifics:

You need to use a decent scratch remover and tooth brush to help remove any grease from the area involved and buff. This will also help lower the edge and try to make it flatter. Clean with water with the tiniest amount of fairy liquid (the only time washing up liquid should go near your car) to help remove any remaining grease.

The brush you get with your kit is usually like an eyeliner type thing – the girls will know – and this is useless. Go to an arts/crafts shop and buy a reasonable size 1 brush. I am not an artist so I don’t know what that means but it’s reasonable small 

Now a controversial comment; do not use the primer. Why? The primer will be white or grey, muck up now and you’re left with a serious blemish on your paintwork that will be difficult to remove. The primer helps the paint to stick to the metal work but without it on such a small area, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. If you use the primer, be so very sure that you know how to blend in the paint perfectly. So hoping you have some primer already there and sufficient coarseness of the metal, you can now put the paint on. Always start on an inconspicuous area to begin with, such as on the bumper or bottom of the wing.

Take out the eyeliner type stick and brush onto your size 1 brush a very small amount. With an ultra steady hand (rest one hand on the other if necessary) let the paint slowly drop onto the area of problem. If it is a deep stone chip it might just flow in which is great. If not, you need to be so light and just let it fall into a gap, you’re not brushing at all*. Make this layer very thin and go away and have a cup of tea. Come back, how is it looking? If good, repeat, if not, my advice is to leave it now and forget about it. Rarely will it get better with amateur’s work. At least the paint is now sealed and you have a bit of practice.

If at any point you make a mistake, have a damp cloth to wipe it off and be prepared to re-polish the area around to remove any excess paint.

When you do one that you’re happy with, do a second layer (or more, usually no more than 4 for reasons I won’t go into) and leave to dry for a few minutes in between layers. Great thing about touch in pens is that they dry very quickly due to the area involved, as long as you use thin layers as stated. In between each later, I personally would leave for longer and polisher the area with the scratch remover to help blend in the area in question.

Now you need to add the lacquer layer, think of this as helping to give the gloss of the paint and also to seal and protect the paint. Use the same method – but a new size 1 paint brush – as before, but you should find one layer is enough. Polish 30 minutes later and hopefully it should be a good finish.

I actually avoid doing touch in work on flat fully visible surfaces such as the top part of doors. Why? I can never seem to get it to blend in well enough as to prevent it from disturbing the side view of the car. Other people may be better at it than me. From knowing my paintwork well I can see a few bits of touched in work and they were better than me by far.

A further note is that if you’re paint work is faded (i.e. some yellows, reds etc.) you will find difficulty in matching the paint colour. Bare that in mind when you make a decision to touch in an area or not.

On a personal level, I prefer deepish stone chips to scratches which I never find to let me get the paint in, hence I leave such scratches once I have used a scratch remover. I don’t have pictures to show you of any touched in areas unfortunately – you wouldn’t be able to see much anyway.

As a main point; take your time, concentrate and if in doubt, don’t bother. Don’t be under the misapprehension that it will be easy and just suddenly blend in and look great – it probably won’t especially with first tries – but it will help prevent rust.

Changing Oil

Changing your oil is a reasonably cheap thing to do these days at garages; yet it is still something you can do the labour for for free. Firstly, however, you need a few tools, which a lot of people lack. As a minimum I would suggest:

  • Ramps (OR a proper trolley jack WITH a pair of Axle stands, or and inspection pit etc., basically a way to some more space under the front of your car)
  • Washing up bowl to collect all of the oil when released
  • A tray/cloth to stop oil going everywhere when you miss the washing up bowl
  • Sump plug key or spanner (as required)
  • New oil filter
  • Oil filter removal method (see below)

Some would consider this to be a very basic thing to do a guide on; something that a lot of people can do without thinking. Which is true; however, not everybody has such experience or knowledge. This guide will be written 'generally' - What I am writing will be a good indicator of what to do. However, I am pretty sure it won't be relevant to such work on a Bugatti Veryon . There are a few things that will be different marque to marque - such as oil type, sump plug key shape and oil filter type.

Generally I would advise changing the oil every 6k or so, the filter can be changed every 12k but I would still advise changing it each time. Go to the local motor factors and get the required oil filter, about £5 and oil.

What oil?

How long have you got? Who do you believe? Oil - unlike petrol to an extent - is a fairly differentiated product. Most people want a semi-synthetic. It will be labelled synthetic or even fully-synthetic. It won't be but we won't go into that! A good standard of oil is actually Castrol Magnetic GTX/GTD in my opinion, though that opinion isn't shared by all. Main importance is that you get the right grade. Look in your car manual booklet; it will say your engine then something like "10W40" or "30W5" as two common examples. I won't go into what this means or which oil to buy. Use common sense.

Whilst you're at the motor factors, you should also make sure you buy a sump plug washer if required. A sump plug washer is a compression washer which the majority of plugs use to seal the sump. They can sometimes be re-used if not badly worn/shaped.

You will also need a method of removing the oil filter, often, this can be done by hand if you have a good grip and some gloves, however, this isn't always possible. You can buy a tool which will grip the fuel filter, it's often a chain tool or newer versions are a little different in that they go over the front. In worst cases, people often smack a screw driver into the side and twist. I wouldn't advise doing this, messy and risky that you might damage something.


Run the car to get it fairly warm (5-10 mins), the oil will flow out better when warm but obviously you end up with issues such as hot engine parts which are not beneficial to you. So be careful.

Raise the car on the ramps as normal.

Get a decent size tray if you need to protect your drive (some people use cement mixing trays) and a decent sized bowl of some sort, I always use an old washing up bowl.

You will need to go under the car and locate the sump plug, it's usually pretty obvious. At this point I will say I don't know what shape tool you car requires but it could be some form of allan key or square key etc. Best to go to your main dealer and ask, they might sell you one for a few £, well worth it. Renault do, I can't remember the cost. I originally made my own tool but would advise against it if you can get the proper tool cheaply.

You put the tray and the bowl underneath (tray is to protect drive from any spots that might spit out)find the sump plug and undo, do your best not to round it (i.e. be careful) do the last few turns using your hands (wear old rubber gloves if you don't want to get dirty).

Release and the oil will drop out nicely, leave for about 10 mins. Undo the oil filler on the top of the engine to help the release pressure. Clean the sump plug whilst you're waiting with a clean cloth, make sure it has no damage and check for any metal particles on it. Some sump plugs are magnetic and collect dangerous metals.

Now using your hand/tool, unscrew the filter - it is normal direction, i.e. anticlockwise. Watch out since this still contains oil and some will drop out. Leave another 5-10 minutes, the final drips may be the worse of the oil. GO back underneath, refit the sump plug using a new sump plug washer (if applicable, not all sump plugs use washers) - this crushes when you tighten it up. Tighten the sump plug tight but not stupidly tight, you will have to remove it in ~6k miles but you don't want it to leak. DO NOT FORGET TO REFIT THE SUMP PLUG!

Smear some of the old oil onto the seal on the air filter and refit the oil filter, do it tightly but only using your hand.

Remove the oil filler cap (though you can do this earlier and it might help the oil drop through). Using a funnel if necessary, fill up engine, this is where it becomes difficult to know whether you have put the right amount of oil in. If the engine takes 5 litres, I would put in about 4.5 litres normally, drop the car off the ramps and then wait. Most small engines take a lot below this, look in the manual and do a quick guess from the size of the bottle. Do NOT overfill.

After a few minutes cleaning up, check the dipstick by removing, wiping the oil with a rag and then putting it back in, leave for 5 seconds then remove. Make a judgement about whether you want to add more (personally I would go to just below max at this point, no further, too much oil is bad).

Remember the oil is at the top of the engine and has to work its way down, if you're happy you have more than the minimum, run the engine for a little while to get the oil flowing, let the oil drop down to the dipstick area again and check the level, top up if necessary. Refit the oil filler cap.

Car has now had a basic oil service, it may have cost you a few quid for the bits this time but those tools are yours now. I won't go into the other areas of a basic 6k service on this guide but should include:

Visual check of spark plugs to see how they're going. (Haynes always has nice pictures to show you how the plugs are) Checking of all levels, topping up if necessary (should be done fortnightly) Preferably checking of front discs/pad brakes. Some rust-preventative waxoyl never hurt anybody - brush it on the sills, under the arches and any structural parts. Visual checking of tyres and depth of tread (should be done monthly) Replacement of air filter (often 12k miles) Replacement of fuel filter (often 12k or more)

Your car booklet might actually provide this sort of information and it is car and even fuel dependent!

Period Checks for running a Car

My next guide will help explain a few basic things that all drivers should be doing at select times. It is not comprehensive because I have better things to do

Weekly/fortnightly checks

On my car, I check the following items weekly (however, I have a 60 mile a day commute and drive for pleasure also, that's a high mileage):

Tyre pressures – important for lowing vibration at high road speed, tyre wear and fuel economy. Your car book will tell you the correct tyre pressures, typically in Psi or Bar. Use a decent foot pump or a petrol station machine with a reliable gauge. Typical Psi may be 32 psi. Also give the tyres a quick check on the side wall for any obvious damage.

Screenwash – I use mine an awful lot because I hate dirty windscreens, fill up with the mix given on the side of your screen wash.

Check all fluids – Look on the sides of the cylinders on flat ground and check they’re all between max/min. Check the oil dipstick briefly, it should be just below the maximum mark. If not, fill up but be careful not to overfill. Most cars burn oil – it’s within their design.

General driving

This is a lot of common sense. Your engine is arguably the most important part of your car. A good engine will not only last you longer, run quieter and smoother but will also perform better. All cars should be given a chance to warm up before you push them too hard. This means that if you live next to the motorway junction, you shouldn’t start the car up and be going at 4k RPM 30 seconds later. This will damage the engine. For most people, simply take it easy for the first 5 minutes of driving. If you have any form of turbocharged/supercharged car, your turbo/supercharger needs time to get warmed up and oiled (depending on the design). That means that even ‘low pressure’ turbos like in modern diesels should be considered at the end of the journey. For example, if you come off the motorway from doing 3k RPM and constant boost, don’t just park up and switch off the engine, this will lead to premature turbo wear. Stop, leave the engine running for a minute or so and then switch off. If however, like me, you live in an area where you can’t go quickly to your house, it is likely you haven’t been living on boost for a while so 20 seconds when stationary is enough. However, as stated, this does depend on your type of charger.

Wheel spin may well make you think you’re cool but it’s simply loss of friction and gets you nowhere but bald tyres. Not having full control of your car is a criminal offence and people have got into trouble with the police for excessive wheel spin. Simply ease off the clutch and go. Whilst stopped at traffic lights, consideration should be made to how long you will be stopped. If a few seconds, leave the car in gear and clutch down, brake/handbrake on. If however it is expected to be a long stop, knock the car into neutral. This removes wear from the thrust bearing (*I believe, I haven’t checked). However, most clutches wear before the thrust bearing so it’s not the end of the world. Personally I prefer to keep it in gear.

When using the clutch when driving, make sure you never ‘ride it’ – this is meant typically in two senses. Some cars don’t have foot rests for your clutch foot and people tend to rest their foot actually on the clutch, with no real force. However, this does wear the clutch and is not good practice. Secondly, when stopped on a slight slope, don’t hold the car at biting point to keep it from slipping back for more than a very brief period. Again, this will wear your clutch and is bad practice.

If you’re driving a diesel car, especially a modern common rail, be always aware of your RPM. Maximising acceleration in a diesel requires you to think about gear changers since unlike a petrol, your maximum power (BHP and torque) come a lot lower. Most common rails give little more than extra noise above 3.5k RPM depending on the car so make sure you’re already into the next gear.

If you’re driving a warmed up petrol, little harm can be done taking it higher in the rev range but attention must be paid to how it effects your driving. For example, although not the quickest on the race track, typically changing up a gear to your maximum torque RPM will give you the maximum acceleration. Redlining most cars is just putting undue stress on the engine without giving any extra performance – maximum power always comes before redline so you’re dropping off in performance at that point.

Do not coast. When coasting, your engine is idling, not only will you not have the use of engine braking but more importantly, you’re burning unnecessary fuel. If you’re approaching traffic lights at 30 and ease off (no accelerator) and drop it into second at an appropriate road speed, your ECU will now use negligible fuel input and let the road motion turn the engine.

Having your windows down can cost you 5-15% in fuel economy, air con can do 10-15% +. I know which I prefer to use given those figures and it’s not the one that causes your hair to get messy.

Driving in an economical way can save your wallet. Rather than pulling up to lights and braking, is it possible for you to slow gradually and still have 15 mph when you reach them, for example.


Notes originally written by pghstochaj.

I'm sorry but telling people to watch the Power band of a common rail or older direct or indirect injection diesel is not good practice either.

Give your diesel a good boot now and again to the redline, this will prevent any build of carbon in the EGR Valve, Turbo, wastegate etc.

A drop of redex and an italian tune up will also lower your emissions come MOT time.

Diesels like to be driven hard.

So do it ;)