How to Make Sure You Are Getting the Best Performance from Your Car

by Dave Humphreys | 7 min read     August 30th, 2018

You may or may not realise that over time the performance of your car can begin to deteriorate. It’s a common trait among most vehicles, but there are some easy steps that you can take to ensure that you’re getting the best performance from your car.

Look after your tyres

Tyres play a significant role in how your car performs. Not only do they affect handling, but the right tyres can also help to reduce braking distance.

Ensuring that you’re getting the best from them is relatively easy once you follow some routine tasks. The easiest thing is to check the tyre pressures at least once a month. Setting a reminder in the calendar in your diary or phone is a handy way to remember to do it. We also recommend buying a tyre pressure gauge. These don’t cost very much and can provide a more accurate reading than the one at a fuel station.Over inflation can not only affect the handling characteristics of the vehicle and reduce the effectiveness of the tyres ability to provide sufficient levels of grip and can increase the stopping distance when braking. If you frequently carry a heavier weight in the car, some brands may suggest slightly increasing the tyre pressures used. However, it is best to consult the owner’s handbook in this scenario. If your car is equipped with a spare wheel, it is good practice also to ensure that the pressure in this is also correct as part of your monthly check.    

While doing this, it is an ideal opportunity to check the tread depth of your tyres and to have a quick look for any uneven wear. The surface should have even amounts of wear across it. If you detect uneven wear on the surface of the tyre, it generally indicates that your wheels are out of alignment. Modern tyres have tread-wear indicators between the groove pattern that help to show when it is reaching its minimal depth.Another way to prolong the life of your tyres is to rotate them. It is a relatively simple task that you can do at home. Alternatively, your local garage may only charge a small fee for doing so. The front tyres can experience a faster rate of wear due to steering and if it is a front-wheel drive vehicle. By moving them around, from front to rear, you won’t get any performance gain as such, but you will extend the life of your tyres. If you are carrying this task out yourself, it is vital that you refit the wheels with the directional arrow pointing the correct way. There should be a stamp displaying this on the sidewall of each tyre.

Check your brakes

Getting the best performance from your car isn’t just about speed, being able to stop properly is far more important. Your brakes are one of the essential parts of your vehicle, so it’s crucial that they are working at their optimum level.

The amount and type of driving that you do will have an impact on the lifespan on your brakes. On average, most drivers should expect to get between 50,000 - to 110,000 kilometres from a set of disc brakes, but don’t take this as a given. Most reputable garages will always inspect your vehicle’s brakes during routine servicing. It is one of the reasons why you should always adhere to the recommended service intervals outlined by the manufacturer.

If you notice anything usual, like longer breaking distances or spongey feeling from the brake pedal, or the pedal pulsating during use, then you need to have your braking system inspected immediately.

Most cars have disc brakes on the front and drum brakes on the rear, with newer cars featuring discs all-round. These are a wear-and-tear item and require regular maintenance. A full service may include replacement of the discs, pads and brake fluid, though this may not be necessary every time. When carrying out this work, if you have a manual handbrake, have this adjusted at the same time.

Change the filters

For your vehicle’s engine to function correctly it uses a few different filters, but over time these can become clogged, leading to a reduction in their performance. In most cases, the air filter can be the most accessible item to replace, usually requiring only basic tools to do so. When these become clogged over time, they reduce the airflow going into the engine, reducing performance. The oil filter shouldn’t require replacement between services, but if you aren’t sure of when it was last replaced, if ever, on your car, then it’s a good idea to replace it and change the engine oil. The same approach applies to fuel filters and the transmission fluid.

If you happen to notice that your vehicle is leaving drops of fluid or oil when it is parked up, then you should get it looked at sooner than later. Remember not to confuse this with water, which can form underneath the car when the air conditioning is running. It is perfectly normal for the air conditioning system to do this. If you notice that the fluid is oil, it may only be something small like a pinched gasket on the oil sump. If it is a more persistent occurrence, it could be a more severe problem such as a gearbox leak. Either way, it’s important to have it looked at by a qualified mechanic before it becomes a more significant problem.

Follow the service schedule

By sticking to the service schedule outlined by your car’s manufacturer, there is a higher chance that you will enjoy better reliability from your car. Keeping your car’s servicing up to date can improve the chances of finding any potential issues early on before they become more expensive to repair.

Replace the oil

The one easy item is to replace the engine oil when required and to use the correct type. Depending on the type of climate you live in, a different viscosity of oil may improve your engine's performance. If you’re unsure about what kind of oil your car’s engine requires then consult the owner’s handbook or contact a garage that represents that brand of vehicle. The frequency in which you change your oil is dependent on the type of oil you’re using. You must also remember to check the oil level in your car regularly. The best way to do this is after the engine has gotten up to normal operating temperature. Switch it off and allow it to settle for a few minutes, ensuring that the car is parked on a level surface. Pull out the dipstick, clean it before reinserting it to measure the level. Remember to replace the dipstick afterwards correctly.

Be a bright spark

Old and tired spark plugs can quickly reduce the performance of your engine, so it’s a good idea to have them checked to ensure they’re working optimally. Over time they can begin to lose effectiveness or become fouled, and this can lead to your engine not idling smoothly or misfiring. You may also find that the engine is becoming more difficult to start.

Ease off the air conditioning

It is nice having cool air conditioning during the summer months, but all the while it is drawing power from the engine and slightly increasing the fuel consumption of your car. Since we don’t tend to get extremes of temperature in this part of the world, sometimes it is as good to roll down your window, especially when you’re driving slowly in traffic. If you aren’t a hay fever sufferer, then you might find it almost as refreshing to have the windows down during your commute. Where it makes more sense to use your car’s air conditioning is at higher speeds. Keeping the windows shut reduces drag thus helping fuel efficiency so that the air conditioning won’t have as much of an impact on your fuel bill. The worst thing you can do is keep it on while the windows are open as it just defeats the purpose.

Empty your car

Many of us have been guilty at some point of having the boot full of items that aren’t essential. These things all add weight to your car, which means the engine not only has to work that bit harder but over time it also impacts on fuel efficiency. It’s no different than you having to carry an extra bag of stuff on your back everywhere you go. Take a few minutes to look at what is in your car and decide if you need to have it in there. If not, take it out and find somewhere to store it.

Lose the roof box

You may have fitted a roof box to the top of your car for a recent holiday. These are undoubtedly useful things, but when you aren’t relying on them to transport your stuff, they quickly add a lot of weight and aerodynamic drag to your car, increasing fuel consumption. If you know that you aren’t going to be using it for a period of time, then consider taking it off and storing it until you need it. Doing so can also reduce the risk of thieves attempting to break into it in the hope of it containing any valuables.

Help your diesel to breathe better

If you own a diesel car that’s approximately ten years old or less, then it’s likely that it features a diesel particulate filter (DPF). This filter is in the exhaust and prevents large soot particles from escaping. However, these need to be burned off, which typically happens automatically at higher speeds.

But if you primarily drive at slow speeds in urban environments, the car may not get the opportunity to do this, resulting in it becoming blocked. That, in turn, can lead to more severe problems if not remedied in time.

Every 400 kilometres or so, it is a good idea to drive the car on a 30-minute motorway drive at higher engine speeds, so use a lower gear than usual. Doing this should allow for the regeneration to occur which is how it burns off the excess soot.


Information correct as of date of publishing. This blog will not be updated or edited so the information may become outdated.

Dave Humphreys
Motoring journalist on 2 & 4 wheels. Road Test Editor @CompleteCar, Editor @50to70 & @EngineRoomShow. Writer for @CE_editorial & more. AUTOBEST Jury member