The transition from winter to spring is historically a cheerful time for motorists, as washing, and maybe polishing, the car again become possible. And motoring trips become more pleasurable, without the threat of seriously adverse conditions – albeit that February and March can have some pretty nasty late winter weather up their sleeves! But it’s a good time to look at the basic principles of economy motoring, and one of those is to make sure that your car is in good shape, particularly for the longer trips that you might be planning for the coming months.
Aside from the way that you drive, which we know is very significant, your engine and tyres are two factors that cannot be ignored. If you keep an eye on your tank-to-tank fuel consumption, bearing in mind the sort of motoring you’ve been doing, you should spot any potential engine problems that are affecting your fuel economy. You’ll possibly have noticed the drop of maybe 3 to 5mpg that often comes with the switch to winter grade diesel (that fuel arrived at the pumps in early November) and taken this into account. But if you’re not using any fuel additives, or not buying the (usually overpriced) premium grade diesel fuel, it’s probably a great time to treat the engine to a bottle of Wynn’s, Millers, or Redex’s standard diesel additive, or what’s often called a “one shot” fuel system or injector cleaner, and run some through a tankful or two of fuel. It will get rid of any deposits that have built up over a winter of cold engine running, and at the same time make an excuse, if necessary, for a good run out of 50 miles or more, as that will do the engine no end of good if it’s been doing sub-15 mile trips most of the winter. You’ll probably feel the difference in the way that the engine responds, and later see the benefit in the mpg figures.
These additives are by no means quack medicine, they really do work, and we particularly get good reports of Wynn’s and Forte Diesel Turbocharger Cleaners, which are aimed primarily at variable geometry (that means nearly all ) diesel turbochargers, where the swivelling vanes can stick, due to deposit build-up. That often shows up in very poor pick-up from low engine speeds, and general lack of engine torque and flexibility. Many people have saved the significant cost of a full strip-down and cleaning, or even a brand new turbocharger, with a dose of these effective additives.
Tyre Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) tend to spoil us with regard to tyre maintenance, but now is the time for a good look around. TPMS will tell you if one tyre is down on pressure, but won’t do so if they are all down a few psi. Check them with a good pressure gauge, and top them up if necessary, but don’t over-inflate the rear tyres if you don’t carry heavy loads, as it can wear the tyres out quicker. Do check the spare though, full-size or space-saver. Then have a good look at the tread depths, and don’t run them down much below 3mm. It’s false economy to think that tyres with little tread depth are more economical, and it isn’t true anyway. Most of all though, don’t ignore uneven tread wear, as this can mean the steering tracking is out, or incorrect inflation pressures, as this can really hit your fuel economy and ruin good tyres very quickly, all at a significant cost to your wallet.
Dare we say it, but winter is also a time when those DPF problems can occur, as it takes longer for the engine to warm up and achieve the conditions necessary for a proper regeneration. If you’ve seen any dashboard warning lights (generally the engine shaped amber one), now is the time to get them sorted. Quite often a proprietary DPF System Cleaner from one of the aforementioned brands will sort your problems. If you’re not too keen on DIY jobs, your nearest Halfords Autocentre offers the possibility of either their £35 DPF Maintenance Clean or their £85 Deep DPF Clean that should sort your problems, or at least identify their origin.