Aside from some of the 33% of the UK workforce who are key workers, most of you have only used your vehicles for essential journeys for the most part of the lockdown. Some of you who have been working from home, shielding or have two cars might not have used your vehicles, or continue not to use them at all right now.
In March, the government announced that car, motorcycle and van owners would receive a 6-month exemption from MOT testing if your MOT was due after 30th March. On Monday 29th June, the government announced that the extension will end from 31st July, so if your MOT is due on 1st August and beyond you will be required to have an MOT. Even if you are not using your car as much at the moment, it’s still important to keep it in a roadworthy condition. Below, we’re sharing our tips for keeping your car in good health during the lockdown.
If you’re still only using your car for limited purposes, it’s important to look after its battery. To maintain battery health, charge petrol cars by letting the engine run for about 15 minutes every week or two. It’s better to do this whilst you’re already out driving, such as on your weekly trip to the supermarket. However, if you’re not currently using your car at all, you can run the engine in a well-ventilated space. The other option is investing in a trickle charger or mains-powered battery maintainer to keep your car’s battery topped up.
On the other hand, short journeys aren’t ideal if you have a diesel car. The DPF (diesel particulate filter) catches soot, stops it entering the atmosphere and burns off on longer, high speed journeys to regenerate the DPF. It would be better to avoid using your diesel car at all, rather than taking it for a quick run and risking a blocked DPF. If possible, walk where you can during lockdown and take your car for a longer ride when you’re able to.
If you own an electric or hybrid vehicle, check your owner’s manual in the first instance for guidance. However, most advise that both should be left plugged in when not in use.
Starting your car regularly will also circulate oil and fuel around the engine, which can prevent engine flooding in petrol cars. It’s better to warm up engines properly to bring them to an ideal operating temperature before driving, which they are most likely not having much of a chance to do at the moment while you are not using your car as much. Again, running your engine for no less than 15 minutes will allow it to warm up. This also applies if you own a hybrid vehicle.
When a car has been stationary for a long period of time with the hand brake on, brake discs can corrode, and brakes seize. Brakes corroding can also cause the hand brake to stick, which can immobilise the vehicle entirely. One option is to leave your vehicle in gear with the parking brake off, but only if you are on private land with the wheels chocked and not if you are parked on a public road or on a slope.
The other thing you can do is release the parking brake and move your vehicle a short distance while running the engine. Sit in your vehicle and engage and disengage the foot and hand brake to keep your brakes healthy.
If your vehicle has an ABS (anti-lock braking system), check that the brake fluid has been changed in the last two years. Otherwise, the moisture absorbed by the brake fluid could cause internal corrosion.
Tyres can gradually lose pressure, even if your car isn’t in use. Flat-spotting occurs when a car has been stationary for a long period of time and its tyres have been sitting under its weight, causing the tyre area that’s in contact with the ground to flatten. If you are able to, it’s worth considering moving your car forwards and backwards so that the weight of your car isn’t on the same spot on your tyres all of the time.
Check the tread depth of your tyres before heading off after long periods of not using your car. The minimum legal tread depth in the UK is 1.6mm, and this can be checked easily with a 20p piece. Simply insert the piece into the tyre groove and if the outer band of the coin is obscured by the tread block, then your car is safe and legal to drive.
In addition, check that your tyres are properly inflated to the recommended pressure, which you will be able to find in your owner’s handbook. Your car will use more fuel if your tyres are under-inflated and even more worryingly, they will affect the performance of your brakes. If you’re not using your car for prolonged periods of time, over-pressurise your tyres by a few PSI.
It’s really important to check your fluid levels, whether you are still doing limited journeys or driving more regularly again. Make sure that your fluid levels, such as oil, brake fluid, engine coolant and windscreen wash are at the minimum recommended levels and top them up if needed.
It’s also worth keeping your fuel tank full to keep air out to prevent internal condensation and slow down the rate at which your fuel oxidises and degrades. A fuel stabiliser will provide a protective layer for the fuel sitting in your tank and can keep it fresh for up to 12 months. If you haven’t driven for quite some time, check your fuel seals and lines for dryness or fatigue before you head off.
Getting Back on the Road
Amongst the car maintenance checks above, below are a few other checks to carry out regularly before you head out on the road:
- Make sure all of your lights are in working order.
- Check that your windscreen wipers and lights are free of cracks.
- Look out for scuffs and bumps on tyres.
- If you are going to start your car to charge the battery, turn on the air con to prevent mould from developing.
Remember that garages are now open to carry out MOTs if your vehicle is due an MOT and also for repairs if you are at all worried that something might not be right with your vehicle.
Most importantly, whether your MOT has been extended or your vehicle is simply stored away in the garage, it’s crucial to make sure that its insurance and road tax is up to date so that your vehicle is road legal.
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