Check and prep your vehicle to save lives this winter, says charity

Survey reveals rising ignorance on vehicle maintenance

Road safety charity Brake and Direct Line are urging drivers to take vehicle maintenance seriously, especially during winter weather, as a survey reveals alarming numbers of drivers do not make, or know how to make, basic and essential safety checks. Even if they notice a problem with their vehicle, many drivers admit to knowingly putting lives at risk by driving anyway.

Brake and Direct Line’s survey found:

  • Almost half (45%) admit having driven with at least one risky vehicle problem or defect in the past year, with men and young drivers the worst offenders.
  • More than a quarter are not confident they know how to make essential checks like ensuring tyres are in safe and legal condition (27%) and brakes are working properly (26%), with confidence lowest among women and young drivers. For tyres, this is up from two in five (20%) three years ago [1]. See the full report for more on trends.
  • One in three (37%) do not ensure their tyres have 3mm tread (recommended in wet weather).
  • Only a minority carry some important emergency items in winter, like a high-vis vest (27%), food and water (20%) and blanket or warm clothes (38%).
  • One in seven (15%) do not make basic checks such as correct oil and water levels or working lights, indicators, or brakes before long journeys, with women less likely to make checks than men.

Younger drivers are most at risk, with a third (33%) of 17-24 year olds not confident they know how to check brakes are working properly and more than three in five 17-34 year olds (63% 17-24, 62% 25-34) having driven when they knew there was a problem with their vehicle.

Men performed better than women in terms of making and being confident about maintenance checks. However, men were also more willing to take risks by knowingly driving a vehicle with problems. See full results below or the survey report.

With vehicle defects contributing to 2,000 crashes – 42 of them fatal – in 2013 alone (latest figures) [2], vehicle maintenance is a serious issue. Brake is urging all drivers to take responsibility for the safety of their own vehicle, by making basic checks once a week and before any long journeys, and getting any problems fixed straight away. See Brake’s advice below or visit

With winter upon us, Brake is also concerned that many drivers are unprepared for bad conditions or breakdowns. Stopping distances can double in the wet and increase ten-fold in ice and snow, so keeping tyres and brakes in good condition is more critical than ever. See Brake’s winter driving advice at

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: “Safe driving starts before you get behind the wheel – the driver has to be fit to drive, and so does the vehicle. Taking a vehicle on the road without being sure it is roadworthy is asking for trouble, exposing yourself and others to unnecessary danger and potentially costing you more in the long-run. It is shocking to see so many drivers both ignorant and wilfully negligent when it comes to basic and essential vehicle maintenance checks. It’s especially worrying at this time of year, when drivers need to make sure they and their vehicle are prepared in case bad weather hits. You don’t need to be an expert to carry out basic vehicle checks, and it needn’t take long. If you are unsure of what to do, follow Brake’s advice, and consult a local mechanic if you need to. And if you do discover a problem, don’t put off getting it fixed, which risks a breakdown, extra costs, or worse, a devastating crash.”

Rob Miles, director of motor at Direct Line, commented: “Drivers are putting themselves, their passengers and other road users in jeopardy through their actions. If you fail to make basic maintenance checks on your vehicle, particularly in the cold weather, you are dramatically increasing your chances of a crash, not to mention the risk of a fine and even points on your licence.“

Tweet us: @Brakecharity. Read the survey report. You can also visit for more car maintenance tips.


Drivers and fleet operators have a responsibility to ensure their vehicles are roadworthy and well-maintained. If safety critical parts such as brakes, tyres, windscreen wipers and wheels are not kept in good repair, this could cause the driver to lose control or fail to respond in an emergency, with potentially fatal results.

Vehicle defects contributed to 2,000 crashes in 2013, 42 of them causing deaths [3]. Illegal, defective or under-inflated tyres are the most common defect contributing to fatal crashes [4].

In the UK, all cars, motorbikes and light passenger vehicles must pass an annual MOT test once they are three years old. Trucks and buses have their own version of the MOT, known as the annual vehicle test. 40 percent of cars and vans failed their initial MOT in 2012/13 [5].

The legal minimum tread depth for tyres is 1.6mm in the UK, but less than 3mm can be risky in wet weather, as it results in significantly increased stopping distances [6].

Brake’s advice

Making sure your vehicle is in good working order before you set off needn't take long. There are a few simple checks you can do yourself to make sure your vehicle is as safe as it can be. Brake advises drivers to do the following once a week and before any long journeys.


  • tyres have a tread depth of at least 3mm (less is risky in the wet), are free from cracks, buckles or bulges, and are at the right pressure (using a gauge to check);
  • all lights and indicators are working properly by having someone stand outside the vehicle as you switch them on and off;
  • windscreen wipers and washers are working by testing them while the car is stationary, and topping up the windscreen washer if needed;
  • oil and water levels are correct;
  • windows and mirrors are clean and clear, and the latter positioned properly;
  • brakes are working, by applying them gently while driving very slowly in a safe, flat place with no one else around. If they feel different to how they usually feel – such as taking longer to 'bite' or are harder to push down or are making squeaking or grinding noises – you need to get them checked with a mechanic immediately.

If you notice any problems, get them fixed straight away, and consult a garage if you have concerns.

About the report

These survey results come from Section 1 of Report 1: Are you ready to drive?, part of the Direct Line and Brake report on safe driving, 2012-14, released today (Thursday 22 January 2014). The survey consisted of 1,000 drivers and was conducted by Surveygoo. Read the report.

Full results

Q1: Do you check the following on your vehicle before setting out on long journeys?

  • Correct oil and water levels: 42% said always; 43% said sometimes; 15% said no (19% women, 11% men)
  • Working wipers and washers: 45% said always; 40% said sometimes; 15% said no (1% women, 11% men)
  • Clean and clear windows and mirrors: 59% said always; 32% said sometimes; 9% said no (12% women, 5% men)
  • Tyres in good, legal condition: 49% said always; 40% said sometimes; 11% said no (14% women, 8% men)
  • Working lights and indicators: 49% said always; 36% said sometimes; 15% said no  (17% women, 12% men)
  • Working brakes: 57% said always; 27% said sometimes; 15% said no (17% women, 13% men)

Q2: Are you confident you know how to check the following on your vehicle?

  • Correct oil and water levels: 83% said yes (79% women, 88% men; 74% 17-24, 91% over 65)
  • Tyres have legal tread depth, right tyre pressure and in good condition: 73% said yes (61% women, 86% men; 70% 17-24, 84% over 65)
  • Brakes working properly: 74% said yes (68% women, 81% men; 67% 17-24, 85% over 65)
  • 9% said none of the above (11% women, 6% men; 0% 17-24, 8% over 65)
  • 4% said they don’t know (6% women, 2% men; 5% 17-24, 4% over 65)

Q3: In the past 12 months, have you driven, even once, when you knew your vehicle had any of the following problems?

  • Windows or mirrors not clear or clean: 24% said yes (24% women, 24% men; 18% 17-24, 40% 25-34, 16% over 65)
  • Windscreen wipers broken or washers not topped up: 19% said yes (16% women, 23% men; 39% 17-24, 26% 25-34, 8% over 65)
  • Lights broke or faulty (when it was dark): 12% said yes (11% women, 14% men; 15% 17-24, 24% 25-34, 0% over 65)
  • Tyres defective (worn tread, wrong pressure, or cracks or bulges): 12% said yes (12% women, 12% men; 13% 17-24, 26% 25-34, 4% over 65)
  • Broken indicators: 4% said yes (3% women, 5% men; 5% 17-24, 8% 25-34, 0% over 65)
  • 55% said they have not driven with any of the above (58% women, 51% men; 37% 17-24, 38% 25-34, 77% over 65)

Q4: What items do you carry in your vehicle in winter in case of bad weather or breakdowns?

  • 85% carry an ice-scraper/de-icer (85% 17-24, 90% over 65)
  • 53% carry a torch (32% 17-24, 67% over 65)
  • 51% carry cloths (45% 17-24, 72% over 65)
  • 47% carry a first aid kit (54% 17-24, 57% over 65)
  • 38% carry a blanket/warm clothes (38% 17-24, 37% over 65)
  • 31% carry a warning triangle (19% 17-24, 40% over 65)
  • 27% carry a high-visibility vest (29% 17-24, 28% over 65)
  • 20% carry food and drink (4% 17-24, 15% over 65)
  • 16% carry a spade (7% 17-24, 23% over 65)
  • 3% carry none of the above (0% 17-24, 5% 25-34, 1% over 65)

Q5: The recommended minimum tyre tread depth in wet weather is 3mm. Do you check for this on your vehicle?

  • 10% said no, but they do check they meet the legal minimum requirement (1.6mm) monthly or more (12% women, 9% men; 8% 17-24)
  • 13% said no, but they do check they meet the legal minimum requirement (1.6mm) less than monthly (14% women, 12% men; 4% 17-24)
  • 14% said no, they never check their tyre depth (19% women, 7% men; 5% 17-24)
  • 21% said yes, less than once a month (18% women, 25% men; 18% 17-24)
  • 31% said yes, about once a month (27% women, 35% men; 42% 17-24)
  • 11% said yes, weekly or more (10% women, 12% men, 23% 17-24)


Brake is a national road safety charity that exists to stop the needless deaths and serious injuries that happen on roads every day, make streets and communities safer for everyone, and care for families bereaved and injured in road crashes. Brake promotes road safety awareness, safe and sustainable road use, and effective road safety policies. We do this through national campaignscommunity education, services for road safety professionals and employers, and by coordinating the UK's flagship road safety event every November, Road Safety Week. Brake is a national, government-funded provider of support to families and individuals devastated by road death and serious injury, including through a helpline and support packs.

Brake was founded in the UK in 1995, and now has domestic operations in the UK and New Zealand, and works globally to promote action on road safety.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

Direct Line

Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by UK Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England No 1179980. UK Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc. Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0845 246 3761 or visiting

End notes

[1] Direct Line and Brake Reports on Safe Driving 2012-2014: report one, section two – vehicle maintenance, Brake, 2012

[2] Reported road casualties Great Britain: annual report 2013, Department for Transport, 2014

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] VOSA effectiveness report 2012 to 2013, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, 2014

[6] Tyres should be changed at 3mm, RoadSafe, Mira, Continental, 2005

Tags: research