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Second car TLC: get your motor spruced up and safe

3 minutes

If you're a two-car household, how well do you look after your second car? A little love now again could help your car keep its value and improve safety.

Motoring journalist Sue Baker gathers expert advice on how to give your second car the love it deserves.

  • Stick to regular service intervals even if the mileage is low
  • Take the car for a longer run every six weeks or so
  • Remember to check wipers and lights on a second car too

Give your second car some love.

Having a second car in the family may seem like a luxury, but for many it's a necessity. In fact, over a third of families now own a second car - the highest percentage in history.

If you do have one, you may tend to spend more of your effort keeping your first car up to scratch - after all, it's probably the one you use for the longer journeys, or for going to swankier destinations. 

But the second car is often the one used for younger drivers in the family, including learners, as well as the day-to-day family ferrying - so keeping it in top condition is super important. 

What are the key things to know about maintaining your second car? Sue Baker (@carscribe), writing for LV= multi-car insurance, finds out.

 

How do I keep my second car in good condition?

Tim Shalcross is head of technical policy at IAM RoadSmart (@IAMRoadSmart), and he says the most important thing to remember about running a second car is having the service done on time regardless of how many miles the car has done.

'A typical second car's mileage is only about 5,000 miles a year, and often at relatively low speeds, pottering about on urban streets,' says Tim. 'Even so, the service should still be done at the correct time, regardless of how few miles the car has covered.'

Ella Colley is Halfords's motoring expert (@Halfords_uk), and she agrees that good maintenance is vital.

'If your second car doesn't get as much use as your main one, it's important to keep it maintained,' she says. 'Our recent survey has shown that 40 per cent of Brits don't check their cars over winter. With reduced visibility, unpredictable weather and harsh driving conditions, keeping a second vehicle maintained is doubly important, which is why it's important to give it a regular health check - or take it to a Halfords where we will do this for you for free.'

 

Why can't you delay a service if the mileage is half that of another car?

Tim says: 'Lots of people are tempted to put off having a service if the mileage is low, but some things are essential to be done on time not distance - the oil change, for example. Water condenses inside the engine and starts to mix with the oil, which becomes an emulsified solution and turns black as a result.

'The oil in a modern car engine is absolutely critical. Changing it gets rid of waste products that you don't want inside your engine.' 

 

How does the effort you put into caring for your second car affect its value?

'Keeping your second car maintained will help keep its resale value and save you money,' Ella says. 'Getting your car serviced each year is money well spent as most serious problems are likely to be caught early on when they're cheaper and easier to fix, and means your car will have a better resale value and a longer life. A well-maintained car is also more efficient, so you'll save money on fuel as well.'

 

What are the safety risks of not looking after your second car properly?

'If the car breaks down because you're not taking good enough care of it, it puts you in danger, especially at this time of the year' says Tim.

'Even a low mileage car needs regular checks on basic items,' he continues. 'Don't forget to keep an eye on the tyres and their condition. At this time of year, having sufficient antifreeze is important. Being low on antifreeze in modern aluminium engines can lead to corrosion of the water passages - one of the most common causes of head gasket failure.

What else do you need to keep an eye on even if the car isn't used much?

'Looking after your battery is a good place to start when it comes to safety as it is likely to bear the brunt of punishment during winter,' says Ella. 'Leaving your car idle over a winter break may mean that your car battery will refuse to start.

'If your car has been left idle over long periods, a trickle charger, a maintenance charger, or a smart charger with a maintenance mode is ideal to keep the battery topped up,' she adds

Both trickle and maintenance chargers are designed to slowly recharge car batteries up to their optimum levels. The difference between the two is that maintenance chargers will monitor the battery's level, and shut off once it is recharged. Trickle chargers need to be disconnected once charging has finished.

 

If the car is mostly driven gently around town, isn't that good for it?

Possibly the opposite, according to Tim.

'Cars like to be exercised - they don't just like pottering about and then a longer run after six months,' he says. 'If most of a car's mileage is shorter trips, it needs a longer, faster run, a good workout on good roads, every six weeks or so.

'Taking it on a decent run can transform a car. It cleans everything out and clears the sooty deposits you get when you're running cold, gets everything running at normal temperature and ensures the battery gets fully charged.'

 

What else should you avoid neglecting on a second car?

The wipers, says Ella: 'As soon as a wiper begins to smear rather than clear your windscreen it is past its best and should be changed. Modern flat wiper blades don't screech on the windscreen, so drivers listening for this audible warning are likely to miss the signs that their blades aren't cutting it anymore.'

For Tim, it's the lights: 'A blown head, side or tail light bulb can significantly increase the risk of an accident, but in a hectic period it's easy to miss this, and especially on a second car.'

Look after your second car and it will look after you. Regular servicing, maintenance and a little TLC, especially over the winter months, will mean the drives you take in your second car are better - for longer.

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