How drivers can prepare their car for life after lockdown
In the UK the first lockdown was announced in March last year and since then we have been in three lockdowns, including the current one. This has seen most of us stay at home a lot more and millions of drivers use their cars far less than normal.
If you have been using your car less, and have only been making short trips, your car could struggle to start when you need it most. It’s vitally important that you look after your car at home and this guide shares some tips about what you can do to make sure your car is ready to go when the lockdown ends.
- Check your brakes
- Check your battery
- Check your tyres
- Go on an extended drive to clear diesel particulate filters
- Drive your car regularly
- Check your car’s fluids
- Let your handbrake on and off
Check your brakes
When you start your car for the first time in a long time, you may notice that the brakes are a bit noisy. This is normal as the discs can rust easily when left, but this will quickly clear when you start using your brakes again. When you go on your first long drive after lockdown, it is recommended that you apply the brakes gently to warm them up again.
Francesca Pipistrelli from Foxy Lady Drivers recommends taking your car on short drives every now and then so your brakes don’t seize up.
She said: “Cars are designed to be driven, not to sit around for long periods of time. For example, if your car is left for extended periods of time unused, the brake disks can begin to corrode which could eventually lead to the brakes seizing. If this happens you will require the assistance of your local garage… and a totally avoidable hit to your bank balance!”
Check your battery
Another important thing to do is to make a car battery check before you plan a long drive after lockdown. A car battery that isn’t working properly will mean that you are unable to start your car. There are three main reasons why your battery may run out of juice:
- The battery is old and it no longer holds its charge very well.
- The lockdown has meant that your car has only been used occasionally for very short runs so the battery hasn’t had a chance to charge.
- The battery has been drained – this could happen because accessories like dash cams have been left plugged in, or you’ve left the radio and interior lights on etc.
Niall Julian, who is a member of The Guild of Motoring Writers and Founder and Editor of the Take to the Road blog, tells us how people can look after their batteries.
“The lockdown coupled with winter has been hard on cars that have seen little use over the past 12 months. It is a good idea to keep the battery in good condition by using a trickle charger. If you can’t use one then disconnect the battery to reduce the drain on it.”
Check your tyres
There are two very important checks you need to make when it comes to the tyres of your car and that is the condition of all four tyres and the pressure of them. You need to keep an eye out for any cracking in the sidewalls on your tyres and if there is any visible damage then you will need to change them.
If you’ve bought a new car from a Ford dealership or you have a relatively new vehicle, then you may have a spare tyre in the boot of your vehicle, which means you can change a damaged tyre with that. If you don’t have a spare tyre in the boot of your vehicle then you will have a quick repair kit, but if the tyre is badly damaged you will need to take your car to your nearest garage to get a new one fitted.
Before your first drive after lockdown, you need to check the pressure of each tyre as the tyres may have gone down if your car hasn’t been used. There is normally a tyre pressure gauge at your nearest petrol station and if they have gone down, then you need to inflate them to the recommended levels for your vehicle.
Niall Julian adds: “Tyre pressures are also an important detail to check as they may have dropped with the car sitting in one spot for a long time. Tyres can also get flat spots if they’ve been left in the same position for a long time. This increases the risk of flat spots and can lead to your tyres cracking. Moving your car around reduces the risk of that happening.”
If you are doing a tyre check, you’ll also need to check the tyre tread. An easy way to see if the tyre tread on your wheels is ok is to get a 20p coin and put it into one of the tread grooves and if you can’t see the outer ring of the coin, which is about 2mm, then you’re tyre tread is ok and passes the legal limit of 1.6mm.
Go on an extended drive to clear diesel particulate filters
If you own a diesel car it is likely the vehicle will have a diesel particulate filter (DPF) fitted. This captures and stores exhaust soot (some refer to them as soot traps) in order to reduce emissions from diesel cars.
DPFs only have a finite capacity and therefore the trapped soot needs to be emptied or burned off from time-to-time. It is a check that Francesca Pipistrelli from Foxy Lady Drivers recommends you make.
She adds, “If you are driving a diesel car it is of paramount importance to take it on an extended drive on a motorway. The DPF filter will not be able to run through its regeneration if you are only using your car for a short trip to the supermarket. A blocked DPF filter can result in a very costly repair which can only be carried out at your local garage.”
Drive your car regularly as restrictions ease
Driving your car once a day or every other day will not only help keep your battery healthy, but it will keep your car ticking over nicely. Simply starting your vehicle occasionally and leaving it to run for just a few minutes won’t help and, in some cases, may end up draining your battery.
If you have two cars in your household you can make alternate trips in them to ensure they are both getting a good run out each week.
Niall Julian said: “Cars don’t always like to sit for long periods of time so starting them up and letting them run up to temperature for 30 minutes or so every few weeks is always a good idea. This will warm the engine up and help fluids move and circulate. Keeping on top of this will reduce the risk of problems arising from lack of use.”
Whilst taking these drives, it is prime time to refresh your air conditioning. Running your air conditioning whilst you drive will help you avoid expensive component damage in the long run.
Check your cars fluids
Another important check to make is your cars fluid, including things like your cars oil, coolant and washer fluid.
If you choose to change the oil in your car yourself, it is important that you safely drain the used oil and that after you have changed the oil you take your car on a decent journey so that the fresh oil circulates around the engine.
This can also be a great opportunity to check the levels of your windscreen wash and coolant, topping them up ready for longer journeys after lockdown starts to ease.
Let your handbrake on and off
Your handbrake may get stuck if it isn’t used for long periods of time and one great way to reduce the chances of this happening during the current lockdown is by letting it on and off, but make sure you test this when the car is parked on a completely flat surface.
If you feel your handbrake isn’t working, then you should contact your local garage and arrange for a mechanic to take a look at it for you.
These are just the major checks that you should make as we ease out of lockdown and your car usage starts to increase to ensure that your vehicle is still safe and roadworthy.