Brake and Direct Line are urging drivers to take vehicle maintenance seriously, especially during winter weather, after a survey reveals alarming numbers of drivers do not make, or know how to make, basic and essential safety checks.
And, even if they notice a problem with their vehicle, many drivers admit to knowingly putting lives at risk by driving anyway, says the road safety charity.
The survey reveals that 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.
Meanwhile, 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.
The survey also suggests: one in three (37%) do not ensure their tyres have 3mm tread; 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%); and 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.
With vehicle defects contributing to 2,000 crashes - 42 of them fatal - in 2013 alone (latest figures available), vehicle maintenance is a serious issue.
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.”
Rob Miles, director of motor at Direct Line, added: "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."
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.