When the New Year looms large on the horizon, and Christmas memories start to slowly fade like a bunch of deflating balloons, the back-to-work blues can kick in.
For commuters who drive, even the shortest trip can be hard work. And it’s only going to get tougher. The government is forecasting a rise in traffic volume. That means we’ll spend even more than the current average of 30 hours a year sitting in traffic.
The last thing drivers need is for their car to conk out at the roadside on the first day back to work, or for a windscreen wiper blade to peel away like a banana skin.
Here are some simple checks that all drivers can easily carry out in the space of around 15 minutes. They’ll ensure the back-to-work commute doesn’t give you the blues.
Start your checks with the outside of the car
Reassure yourself that the tyres have the correct air pressure and that the tread depth is no less than 2mm. The simplest way to keep an eye on tyre pressures is to buy a portable pump. The best one Auto Express tested in 2016 is made by Ring and only costs £25. It will probably last you a lifetime, and means you can adjust your car’s tyre pressures no matter where you are.
As for the 2mm tread depth, there’s an easy way to make sure the tyres are safe. Take a 20 pence piece and insert it into the grooves between the tyre’s tread blocks. Then make sure that the outer groove around the circumference of the coin does not show.
Replacement windscreen wipers
Next, inspect the windscreen wipers. You’ll know if they’re on their last legs because they’ll leave water smeared across the glass when you use them. Also, the rubber tips of the blades will feel rough to the touch.
A good pair of wipers need only cost £20, and sites such as Wiperblades offer everything you need. They even match the right wipers to your make and model of car.
Finally, are all your car’s lights working? Start it up and check the side lights, headlamps, tail lamps and indicators. Ask someone to help check the brake lights. Even if you don’t fancy replacing a bulb yourself – the vehicle handbook will explain how to do this – you can at least ask your local garage to fix it promptly.
Checks under the bonnet
First things first, if you don’t know your way around your car’s engine bay, grab the vehicle handbook and look up the relevant section that explains what’s located where.
During the winter, it’s a good idea to check the level of coolant fluid in a car. You don’t need to fiddle with the radiator to do this. Instead, locate the clear plastic expansion tank and visually check that the fluid level is between the minimum and maximum markers.
Next, check the oil. Use two pieces of kitchen paper for this – one to grasp the dipstick (assuming your car doesn’t have a digital oil display on the dashboard) and the other to wipe the dipstick clean after removing it. Then reinsert it, remove and check that the oil level is between the minimum and maximum levels.
The handbook will explain how to top up the coolant and oil, and which types to use, if required.
And finally, mix up some water and windscreen washer fluid and top up the reservoir. The last thing you want on your first commute of 2017 is a filthy windscreen that you can’t see through clearly.
Finally, spare a thought for the car’s battery
If your car has been parked up for two weeks in cold temperatures, there’s a good chance that its battery will feel the strain when you come to start the engine for the first commute of the year.
So pre-empt any problems and take the car for a 20-minute drive a day or two before. This will revive the battery and ensure that there are no unpleasant shocks the next morning.
James is a motoring journalist and former magazine editor at BBC Top Gear and Auto Express. He has scooped, reported on and reviewed most new cars of the past 20 years, and currently contributes to the Driving section of The Sunday Times.