Whether you want to keep your car roadworthy for essential journeys, or are concerned about the impact of not driving it at all for a while, we’ve teamed up with a Which? Trusted Trader garage to round up our car maintenance tips to see you safely through the coronavirus lockdown.
Keeping your car in good nick is essential to make sure it runs smoothly and reduce the risk of an accident – never more so than right now, when the pressure on our emergency services is huge.
Unless you’re driving for one of the reasons outlined by the government – including work, shopping for necessities, exercise (in some parts of the UK) or medical reasons – you should keep driving to a minimum for the time being.
For many of us that means our cars will be sat parked for extended periods of time. A vehicle that is left unused can develop problems that will prevent it working properly when you come to drive it.
Whether you’re driving your car or not, there are sensible measures you can take to ensure your car remains both safe and legal. Our car experts and Which? Trusted Trader of the Month, IN’n’OUT Autocentres, Wigan, have the following advice on the key issues to look out for.
Read the latest coronavirus news and advice from Which?.
Maintain batteries and brakes if you’re not driving during lockdown
If left for a while, a car’s brake discs can begin to corrode. This can eventually lead to the brakes seizing entirely, which will require a mechanic’s attention to put right. To prevent this from happening, roll your car back and forth a few metres every so often if safe to do so. This will also help prevent your tyres from developing flat spots.
Corrosion of brake discs can also cause the handbrake to stick. If you’ve left your car on level ground in a private area and can be certain it won’t roll, you may want to avoid using the handbrake. This can cause the handbrake to stick, rendering the car immobile. Leaving the car in gear can help prevent it moving.
Don’t use this tactic if you’re parked on a public road where there’s the risk of other vehicles knocking you, or if you’re parked on a slope.
It’s also important to keep your battery maintained. Even when the car’s switched off, electrical items running in the background (such as security devices) can drain the battery.
- If your car is privately parked, you may want to invest in a mains-powered battery maintainer or trickle charger, which will keep it in tip-top condition.
- If you can’t realistically run a lead to your car, simply start it up once a week and let it run for around 15 minutes. Not only will this give the battery time to increase its charge, but will also circulate oil and fuel around the engine, which can prevent engine flooding in petrol cars.
- While the car is running, turn the air conditioning on. This will help maintain the seals in the air conditioning system and reduce the chance of mould developing in your car’s air circulation system.
- Avoid turning your car on and off again in quick succession. The starter motor requires battery power each time, which won’t be replenished unless the battery is given time to charge.
Never leave your car unattended when it’s switched on.
Video: how to keep your car running in lockdown
Watch our video for our top tips on reducing the strain on your car’s battery.
Keeping your car roadworthy if you need to drive
Car, motorcycle and van owners whose MOTs had been due from 30 March 2020 have been given a six-month extension on having this test done, but are still expected to keep their vehicles in a safe and roadworthy condition, as we explain in our guide on how to pass an MOT test.
If you need to drive for essential reasons, check the following. It’s also a good checklist for when you go back to driving after the restrictions end.
- Check fluid levels including oil, engine coolant, brake fluid and screen-wash to ensure they’re at least at minimum recommended levels.
- Gently try your brakes when first setting off to ensure they’re working properly. If they’ve built up corrosion, they may make a crunching or grinding noise for the first mile or so. If this persists, or you notice any vibration through the pedal, you may have warped brake discs.
- Check that all of your lights are working properly. If possible, ask someone to help you with this (for example checking that brake lights come on when you press the brakes). Alternatively, park in front of a reflective surface, such as a window, and you’ll be able to see the lights in your mirrors.
- Check that tyres have sufficient tread depth and no defects. The minimum legal tread depth in the UK is 1.6mm. You can easily check by inserting a 20p piece into a tyre groove. If the outer band of the coin is not obscured by the treadblock, they’re too low and illegal to use.
- Ensure tyres are properly inflated. Under-inflated tyres increase fuel consumption and can affect the braking performance of your car. You’ll be able to find the recommended tyre pressures for your model in the owner’s handbook.
Many newer cars now have a tyre pressure monitor which will warn you when your tyres have lost pressure. Alternatively, you can check tyre pressures at most petrol stations, or buy a portable pressure gauge to use at home, from retailers such as Amazon or Halfords.
Garages are allowed to remain open for essential repairs, so if you have any concerns about your vehicle’s roadworthiness, get it checked out as soon as possible.
For peace of mind, many reputable garages (including IN’n’OUT Autocentres) will offer a free vehicle health check once you’re back on the road, meaning potential issues can be spotted before they turn into serious problems.
Use Which? Trusted Traders to find garages near you. Only garages that have passed an assessment by trading standards professionals, and who follow our Code of Conduct, can become Trusted Traders.
Maintain your tax and insurance
Finally, while all car owners have been given a six-month MOT exemption to keep garages free for essential repairs, you’ll still need to keep your road tax and car insurance up to date to ensure your car is road legal.
The only exception to this is if you make a statutory off-road notification (SORN), though if you do this, you won’t be able to use your car at all, even for essential or emergency journeys. You’ll be able to claim back the value of any full months of tax remaining on the car, and you’ll no longer be obliged to insure it.
Unfortunately this option isn’t available to those who don’t have access to off-road parking. If you have to leave your car on the street, park in as safe a place as possible and remember to use your handbrake (and leave the car in gear if you’ve got a manual gearbox) if you’ve left it on a slope.