Throughout the lockdown, we’ve received important advice about how to keep our minds and bodies happy and healthy while we shield ourselves and those we love from this terrible virus. But most of our cars have been suffering during these uncertain times as well.
If you’re not a key worker or have been walking to buy your essentials, you probably haven’t used your car very much during this lockdown period, if at all. That’s not good for it and you could suffer when normality returns. But what can we all do to keep our cars safe during this period?
Well, here are 9 simple tips to help you look after your car. Follow these to prevent your car from letting you down as lockdown restrictions continue to ease.
Make sure it will start when you need it to
When you don’t drive your car for a while, the battery suffers the most. If your car hasn’t moved from your driveway for two months, it might have run flat. Think about how your car struggles to start after a two week holiday: it’s a lot less instant, right? Well, after two months, it’s a whole lot worse.
If your battery is flat, you might be able to shock it back into life using another vehicle and some jump leads (from the same household, of course). Once you’ve got it running, try and keep it charged. If you’re not taking your car for regular drives, invest in a trickle charger. It helps recharge the battery slowly and stops it from depleting while parked. You’ll save the starter motor a lot of grief as well. When the battery is running low, it becomes an unfortunate casualty as it has to work extra hard.
To look after your car and keep your battery in great condition, try and go for one longer drive a week. Batteries struggle to retain charge on shorter journeys, so it’s important to give them a bit of extra time on the road to build their charge back up.
Keep your windscreen wipers in top shape
Normally, your wipers would have had enough work with all the April showers we drive through. Not this year (and not least because April was a ridiculously dry month)! That means that your wiper rubber could be frayed, ripped or torn. In other words, no use to anyone!
To make sure your wipers still work the next time you drive in the rain, use them during the lockdown. If the rubber feels worn, be sure to replace your wiper blades before you use them again. Then, keep those new ones in good condition by using them whenever you can. Just lifting them off the windscreen a couple of times a week is much better than doing nothing.
It’s worth noting that if you do switch your engine on, never move your wipers up and down a dry windscreen. The general grime which has gathered on your windscreen will shred the blades to pieces – and you don’t want to replace them twice! Use your screen wash to clean the windscreen and get your wipers moving at the same time. If you’ve run out, make sure you top yours up.
Look after your car by checking the fuel, oil and coolant
No one likes to run on something that’s past its best. That’s why we have expiry dates! Well, you might not know that fuel has an expiry date too. You might be quite happy that you haven’t had to fill your car up since lockdown started, sitting there as it is with half a tank, ready for you to drive it again.
Well, that depends on how long you leave your car between drives.
If the fuel in your tank is less than six months old, you won’t suffer the poor performance associated with old fuel. Just bear that expiry date in mind the longer you leave your car. However, any fuel that’s older should be drained and refilled before use. The more air in your tank, the quicker the fuel ages – so a quarter tank goes bad a lot faster than a full one. It’s worth checking the quality to look after your car, not least because old fuel can damage the engine!
Oil and coolant can also ‘go bad’ if you leave your car too long between uses. They need to flow around the car regularly or the chemicals can damage the internal workings of your engine. We recommended that you change your engine oil and coolant before storing your car for a long period of time. If you didn’t, you might want to think about changing them now. What’s more, check the fluid quality before taking your car out of storage. If you’re not happy with the colour, you might want to think about another full flush.
If you did change the fluids before storing your car and they still look great, give yourself a pat on the back. However, make sure you switch the engine on every now and then to get the oil circulating and keep it fresh. It’s also worth checking your oil and coolant levels, just in case your car has a leak.
Are your tyres still road legal?
The last thing we want is for you to be lumped with a £2,500 fine and 3 points on your licence the first time you go driving after the lockdown eases. Unfortunately, that’s a real possibility if you don’t look after your tyres now. Your tyre tread may have deteriorated to dangerous levels before the lockdown, leaving you at risk of a blowout now. This is even more of a risk for all those whose MOT has been extended, as this is one of the most common reasons for MOT failures – by the time your MOT comes around, your tyres could have gone unchecked by a mechanic for 18 months. Oh, and that slow puncture you didn’t know about? It has run your tyre flat.
You can easily check your tyres yourself. You need at least 1.6mm of tread (up to and including the inner rim of a 20 pence piece), for them to be road legal. If it’s significantly lower across one or more tyres, then you need to get them changed. Make it your top priority before you start driving again.
Once your tyres are healthy, it’s important to keep them that way. Make sure you rotate them regularly. If you can’t drive anywhere, tyre expert Jonathan Benson recommends pushing your car back and forth along your driveway by hand. That helps to get the rubber moving and spreads the load out across the tyre. Try and rotate your tyres at least once a week to keep your car and wallet happy. For more tyre tips from the experts, check out this article.
Protect your brakes and handbrake
Like most people, you probably left your handbrake on the last time you got out of your car. Well, holding your car on the handbrake for long periods of time is a lot worse than you might think. Moisture can build up in the brake mechanism and leave the handbrake stuck on, even when you release the lever. It also spells trouble for the quality of your brakes later down the line – which puts your safety at risk.
If you park your car on flat ground inside a secure garage, the RAC recommends releasing the handbrake and having your car rest without it. However, this is only something to do if you feel completely safe leaving your car like this. If not, try and release the handbrake every now and then. You’ll help relieve the tension on the braking cable a little bit if you do. And reducing the damage now helps look after your car for when your life gets moving again.
Have a diesel car? Don’t use it for short journeys
If you own a diesel car, lots of short journeys do much more harm than good. That’s because your DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter), still fills up with the same amount of soot – it just can’t burn any off. Diesel cars undertake passive regeneration at speeds over 40 mph, burning off the soot in a cleaner way than just belching out clouds of pollution during the combustion process. Popping to the shops or picking up a prescription usually won’t allow that.
If you have used your diesel for these short journeys during lockdown, now’s the time to stop. If you don’t feel comfortable taking advantage of the nice weather and the easing of lockdown restrictions to go for a proper drive, walk to the shops if you can. If your DPF warning light is on, or you can’t avoid short journeys at all, garages are still open for DPF cleaning appointments. Many also offer contact-free collection and delivery of your vehicle for your peace of mind. During the appointment, the mechanic will force your car to ‘actively regenerate’. This means it burns off the soot in a controlled fashion to improve your fuel efficiency, emissions and performance. If you look after your car now, it will thank you for it in the future.
Give your car a good clean
Not all of us are blessed with a garage or somewhere we can shield our vehicles from the environment. Many have been exposed to dust, tree sap, bird mess and other assorted grime and muck over the last two months. Show your car you care by washing it thoroughly with warm water. If you can get your hands on some, mix some special car soap or shampoo in to give your car a deluxe feeling. This will help remove the muck and leave you feeling good about your car again.
Now that your car is clean, you wouldn’t want your elbow grease to go to waste would you? If you can park your car in a more sheltered place, why not move it? If there’s no way for you to do that, then invest in a car cover. It’s how most classic car enthusiasts keep their precious vehicles safe over the winter. There’s a range of options, but Amazon offers a basic cover fairly cheaply. Just don’t cover up any parking permits!
Be sure to aerate the inside as well. Trapped moisture easily cultivates mould during hot weather, so it’s best to get some fresh air circulating through your cabin. If you store your car in a cool, dry place, leave a window open. However, you should never compromise the security of your car to do so. Otherwise, open a window when you’re near your car – perhaps when you’re completing the rest of these car health checks?
Keep everything ticking over
We don’t mean idling your car for a minute or two or breaking any rules. A 10-minute gentle drive to pick up some groceries or safely drop off key supplies to an elderly relative will help warm everything back up and ease your car back into life. This is a surefire way to look after your car during lockdown. If you live in England and can get a little further afield, why not treat yourself and your car with a nice drive while you have a socially distanced catch up with a friend or a walk around a local beauty spot at the other end?
Driving your car once a week is a perfect way to help both of you shake off your lockdown blues. Driving might come back naturally to you, but if you haven’t been behind the wheel of a car for several weeks, you might be a little bit rusty. Take the time to reacquaint yourself with the basics so you don’t risk an accident when the roads get busier again.
If you gradually bring your car back into life, it will be much happier on longer, more regular commutes as the country returns to normality.
Book a Vehicle Safety Check
Here at BookMyGarage, we’re proud to stand by the nation, keeping our key workers moving with essential car repairs as well as a specially designed safety check which is perfect for vehicles which haven’t tasted the open road in a few months. It is also ideal for those who have been using their car but are unsure of its condition due to its MOT being extended. If you’re worried about your car’s health and want an expert’s judgment, we recommend booking a safety check at one of our 4,500 participating garages. Most importantly, for all you key workers that have been risking it all to keep us safe, we offer this 16-point check free of charge, as a thank you.
To see exactly what is included and for some other simple checks you can do yourself, check out this short video
Whether you’ve used your car recently or not, it’s worth spending some time with it now to make sure it keeps you safe when life returns to normal. Show your car some TLC, look after it during the lockdown and keep following all the appropriate guidelines. Most importantly, stay safe out there.
Mandy is an ex-mechanic, with 22 years’ experience in the motor industry. As an in-house motoring expert, Mandy is the go-to woman for any relevant questions that our customers have; both garages and drivers. From specific problems with your car to general maintenance, Mandy is a reliable source of information and advice. Her passion for motoring is a huge factor to her success and the huge wealth of knowledge that she has. She now uses her remarkable grasp of the industry to write regular content for our readers to help drivers understand their car better, avoid being ripped off by garages and save money on their motoring requirements.