Basic vehicle maintenance

There are some routine maintenance checks that you’re responsible for as the vehicle driver, and others that the vehicle operator is responsible for. By checking your vehicle each day you’ll be able to spot any problems that could cause the vehicle to break down or make it illegal to drive on the road.

If you notice any problems, make a note of them and get them fixed before you start your journey. Before carrying out any maintenance, check the vehicle handbook and follow any safety guidance it gives.

You might find that many of the mechanical parts in your HGV are sealed and can only be checked by a qualified mechanic. Look at the vehicle handbook to see which checks you can make and how to do them.

Engine oil

Engine oil keeps the engine lubricated so it can work efficiently. You need to keep the oil at the level recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Check the oil level often, making sure the vehicle is parked on a level area and ideally the engine is cold.

Look at your vehicle handbook to find out how to check the oil level and how to top it up if necessary. It should also tell you what type of oil to use. Using the wrong type of oil can increase fuel consumption, damage the engine and could affect the vehicle warranty.

While it’s important not to let the oil level get too low, you also need to be careful not to put too much oil in. Overfilling with engine oil can damage the engine and can cause extra emissions from your vehicle, which are bad for the environment.

Engine coolant

The engine coolant is a mixture of coolant solution (containing anti-freeze and a corrosion inhibitor) and water, which stops the engine from overheating. The coolant solution is usually diluted with the same volume of water before being added to the cooling system.

You should check the coolant level frequently. If you find you’re topping it up regularly, there may be a leak or other fault in the cooling system. Look at your vehicle handbook to find out how to check the engine coolant and how to top it up if necessary.


The tyres are vital to the safety of your heavy goods vehicles (HGV). All the tyres on the vehicle and any trailer must be in good condition and should be checked weekly

  • to make sure the tyres are correctly fitted and the pressures are correct
  • for signs of damage or wear that could make them unsafe or illegal to use; for example, bulges, exposed ply or cord or deep cuts more than 25 mm long
  • to make sure there is sufficient tread depthl for example, using tread-depth indicators.

The wheel fixings must be tightened to the torque specified by the vehicle manufacturer to make sure the wheels are safely attached. Use the information in the vehicle handbook and a torque wrench to check this has been done.

You can use tyres that are specially adapted for different weather conditions.

  • Winter tyres are better than summer tyres for braking and grip when the temperature is under 7°C. You’d need to change the tyres when temperatures rise above this.
  • All-season tyres are between a winter tyre and a summer tyre: they’re designed to work well in low temperatures and in the summer.

Uneven or excessive tyre wear can mean that there’s a fault with the tyres, brakes, steering, suspension, wheel alignment or wheel balance. If you notice abnormal tyre wear, get your vehicle checked by a mechanic as soon as possible so any faults can be put right.

Windscreen and windows

Keep the windscreen and the windows in your vehicle clean and clear – do not cover them with stickers or decorations that could make it difficult for you to see clearly.

If you notice a crack or chip in the windscreen, report it immediately. The damaged area can quickly become larger during a journey so it will need fixing as soon as possible.

Electrical equipment


Make sure the terminals on the battery are secure, clean and greased. Most modern batteries are maintenance-free and sealed for life. However, if the battery has a filler cap, you’ll need to check the fluid level to make sure the plates in each cell are covered. Top up the battery with distilled water if necessary, but be careful not to overfill it.


Make sure the front and rear lights, brake lights, indicators and hazard lights work. You should do this each time you use the vehicle. Use reflections in windows and garage doors to help you see whether the lights are working, or ask someone to help you.

Keep your vehicle’s lights, indicators, reflectors and number plates clean at all times. Dirt on the lights and reflectors will stop them working effectively.

Windscreen washers and wipers

Check the washers are working correctly and make sure there’s enough liquid in the washer reservoir. This is especially important in wet, muddy conditions. Check the wipers too – replace the wiper blades if they’re damaged or worn.


Check the horn is working properly but be careful not to do it when it might frighten or annoy other people.

The controls

Get your vehicle checked by a qualified mechanic as soon as possible if

  • you feel or hear knocking or rattling from the steering or suspension
  • there is a lot of ‘play’ in the steering wheel (ie you can move the steering wheel from side to side without the wheels moving from side to side)
  • the steering begins to feel heavy (ie it needs a lot of effort to turn the wheel)
  • the brakes feel spongy or slack.

Check your brakes are working whenever you set out on a journey.

Air braking systems use a reservoir of air to make the brakes work whereas hydraulic brakes use brake fluid. If your vehicle has air brakes, you must make sure the braking system is working correctly before you start a journey. This includes

  • checking whether the air reservoirs need draining to remove moisture 
  • checking that the air lines have no signs of damage
  • listening for leaks from the system while the engine is turned off.

Disposing of oil, batteries and tyres

If you service your own vehicle, make sure you dispose of old engine oil, batteries and tyres by taking them to a local authority site or a garage. Do not put these items in the household waste or pour oil down the drain because they can damage the environment.

Disposing of these items incorrectly is illegal: you could be fined or given a prison sentence. By taking them to a local authority site, they can be safely disposed of or recycled.

Checks before you start a journey

Before you start driving your vehicle each day, you’ll need to do a walk-round check including

  • brakes
  • lights and indicators
  • tyres and nuts securing the wheels
  • windscreen wipers and washers
  • horn
  • mirrors
  • fuel tanks and caps
  • speedometer
  • tachograph
  • number plates
  • bodywork
  • reflectors and reflective plates
  • exhaust system
  • any coupling gear
  • speed limiter
  • correct plating
  • current test certificate (if needed)
  • proper licensing with the appropriate valid disc(s) displayed
  • insurance
  • seat belts
  • construction and use
  • any load being carried.

If you spot any defects, you must report them using the correct procedure so they can be fixed before you start driving.

Make sure you know what sort of fuel your vehicle uses. Most large goods vehicles use diesel fuel. Be very careful not to put the wrong type of fuel in your vehicle because this will cause serious damage to the engine.

Some large vehicles need a fuel additive to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. Check whether your vehicle needs a fuel additive, what sort it uses and how to use the additive before refuelling your vehicle.

While you’re driving, keep an eye on how much fuel you have left. Some vehicles have a warning light that shows when fuel is getting low; others may have a gauge that tells you how many miles you’ll be able to drive on the remaining fuel (called a range indicator). Do not rely on this too closely: the distance you can drive will depend on the load on the vehicle, how you’re driving and in what traffic conditions. Only use the range indicator to give you an idea of how far you’ll be able to drive, and refuel in good time.

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