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Sue Hayward

Car maintenance: How much should you spend under the bonnet?


When it comes to liquids and lubricants, can you get away with budget brands or should you go the extra mile for big names?

Woman with head under bonnet

Head to any motor store and when it comes to car care essentials like oil, coolant and screen wash, there’s often a baffling array of products, prices and promises.

But what you decide to put in can depend on the age of your vehicle. 

“With new cars you must be careful not to invalidate the warranty,” says Bill Fennell, managing director of Motor Codes, a government backed self-regulatory body for the motor industry.

Should you skimp on oil?

When selecting the right oil, Fennell says first rule is to check the brand or product recommended in the manufacturer’s handbook.

“In many cases manufacturers do a tie-up with a particular brand,” he says.

“It’s while the engine’s being developed and tested that the manufacturers will choose the ‘best’ oil.”

Once your vehicle’s beyond any warranty period, it’s up to you what you use, but it’s important to get the right type of oil.

Pouring oil into car
There are three types of oil. These are, conventional, fully synthetic and semi-synthetic. Generally the last two that are used for cars made from around the late 1990s onwards.

Saving a few quid buying cheap oil may not be the best thing for your car. Cheaper brands could cause wear and tear problems over time, especially with the pistons. 

Can you go cheap with coolant?

Coolant is the liquid that goes in your car’s radiator and the anti-freeze in it stops the engine freezing in winter.

You can buy it ready mixed, or it can be bought as concentrate, which should be diluted with water and according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

With modern cars the most important thing is to get the right specification of coolant, be sure to check the manufacturer’s handbook for this.   

Whatever brand you buy, the most important thing to check is that your coolant contains anti-freeze during the winter.

Cars parked on a snowy road

Saving money on screen wash

If money’s tight, screen wash is the one thing you can save on, but don’t think you can get away with a DIY mix of washing up liquid and water.

You must never use washing up liquid and water as while it might clean the screen, it can damage the paintwork. 

Ideally you should look for one with anti-freeze protection. Some brands claim to work in sub-zero temperatures to around minus 20 Celsius. However, within the UK products that promise to work down to minus 10 or even 15 Celsius are more than fine.

If you’re really on a tight budget, the advice from Fennell is to buy concentrate screen wash, which means you can “vary how much you dilute it by”. This way it lasts longer.

Shop around 

With all maintenance products, it can pay to shop around even on brand names as dealerships may charge more than motor stores and you can even save money buying oil and screen wash on Amazon.  

And if you’re not sure what type of oil or coolant to buy don’t guess, as most motor retailers can instantly check the make and model of your car to find the correct one.


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