Bonnet Basics: The essential guide for learner drivers

Bonnet Basics: The essential guide for learner drivers

The practical driving test is the last vital step towards freedom on UK roads. It entails vigorous testing of not just the learner driver’s ability to drive, but to understand road safety and what precautions to take if there’s an issue with their vehicle.

One important aspect of the test is called ‘show me, tell me’ that involves the examiner asking two vehicle safety questions. We put together a handy guide featuring what new drivers need to know about underneath the bonnet for the ‘tell me’ questions.

Open Bonnet Diagram

Tell me: what’s under the bonnet?

Engine coolant reservoir

When asked to identify the coolant reservoir, the examiner will want the learner to show the markers that indicate the ‘min and max’ level markings or the filler cap. Check the vehicle manual to find out what coolant or antifreeze is required, and the coolant level should sit between the min/max markers.

TIP: If the coolant needs topping up, make sure the engine has cooled down first – otherwise the driver may scald themselves.

Engine oil levels

For this part, the examiner will want to know how the driver can check engine oil levels. First off, the learner will need to identify where the dipstick or the oil indicator is. Oil levels can be identified by pulling out the dipstick, cleaning it with a dry cloth, putting in back in for a moment, then seeing where the oil sits between the min and max marks.

TIP: Oil levels should be checked every month. If it needs topping, oil can be filled via the filler cap.

Brake fluid reservoir

Just like the engine coolant, the brake fluid reservoir will have min and max marked on the side of the tank; the examiner will want to know the learner can identify where the reservoir is.

TIP: Brake fluid is very toxic. If it needs changing, drivers should avoid any contact with human skin, and should be aware that it can eat away at paintwork if spilt.

Windscreen washer fluid

If the examiner asks about the windscreen fluid, they’ll want the reservoir to be identified and how to check the levels. As there’s no ‘min and max’ indicators like the other reservoirs, levels will have to be checked by opening the cap and looking.

TIP: It’s against the law to let your windscreen washer fluid run dry, so make sure it’s checked and topped regularly if it’s used a lot.

Dashboard warning lights you should know

The dashboard provides the driver with all the information about the car and how it’s performing, and symbols are used to identify what functions are on and to warn if there’s problems. Don’t panic if some of these lights appear as the car is first turned on - but if they don’t disappear when the engine is running, get the car looked at by a mechanic. We’ve collated some of the most important symbols to identify.

Firstly, these are the warning lights associated with reservoirs discussed in the previous section, such as the coolant overheating, loss of oil and windscreen washer fluid level.

Bonnet Open
Brake Pad Warning
Brake Light Warning
ABS Warning
Handbrake Warning
Windscreen Washer Fluid Level
Oil Pressure Warning
Engine Temperature Warning
  • The braking system is one of the most important parts of the car, so if there’s any warning lights on for this element, get it checked out immediately.
  • A red light warning about the temperature could mean that the engine is overheating. This could mean several different problems, so get it looked at as soon as possible to avoid expensive costs.
  • For the oil warning light, it’s like the temperate warnings – there could be a potential problem with the engine. As mentioned before, get the car looked at as soon as this light appears.

We’ve also put together a selection of other important symbols that new drivers should recognise when they appear on the dashboard.

Front Fog Lights
Rear Fog Lights
Full Beam Active
Battery Warning
Boot Open
Door Open
Low Fuel Warning
Engine Warning Light
Tyre Pressure Warning
  • Most of these dashboard lights are self-explanatory. It’s important to recognise if the fog lights are on as it’s illegal to driver with them on if it’s not foggy - it risks dazzling other road users and potentially causing an accident. The same if the full beams light is on.
  • The engine warning light could mean several things, from engine problems or faulty electronics in the car – so it’s important to get a mechanic to check the car over if this light comes up.
  • The battery warning light comes on when the car is first turned on. If it doesn’t go away, it could mean several different problems, such as: a faulty battery, a damaged connection or the battery isn’t charging.

These are just a selection of the different dashboard warning lights, but it is worth familiarising yourself with them by checking the car’s manual, so that problems can be attended quickly – to avoid unexpected costs.

Bonnet connoisseur

Although this is one element of the driving practical, this basic knowledge of the car and how to identify problems is crucial for all drivers throughout their driving years. Last year, the DVSA unveiled that almost 50% of all faults found during an MOT could have been avoided because drivers didn’t carry these small, regular checks. Being able to identify problems and fix them early on increases the life of a car, and helps drivers to save money when getting an MOT done.

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