Looking after your car during lockdown

In this article Richard Aucock, from Motoring Research, explains how you can keep your car in tip-top condition this Winter despite getting out and about less. Read his tips below.

The latest Government advice is that we should all stay at home, unless we are undertaking an essential journey. Due to this, many Motability Scheme customers will be travelling less, but how do you keep your car in tip-top condition so it’s ready for an emergency?

Modern cars are not like older, more temperamental motors. They generally can easily cope with being left for a few weeks without causing any trouble when you get back. However, infrequent use, even post-lockdown, can increase the risk of problems during the winter months. You may therefore wish to take a few precautions, just to make sure your car remains in good condition.

Battery basics

During the colder months, the biggest area to focus on is the health of your car battery. Cold weather reduces the battery’s ability to hold charge – something that may already be depleted through a lack of use. Using lights, de-misters, heated rear windows and heated seats all put extra strain on the battery at this time of year.

Indeed, flat batteries are among the most common reasons for calling out a breakdown service at this time of year. Of course, modern car batteries are more powerful and reliable than ever, but they still need a bit of care and attention. In Winter, it can take half an hour of running just to restore the charge taken out through starting up the vehicle. So, we recommend starting your car up every other week and running it for at least 30 minutes, longer if you can. 

Be cautious: of course, you shouldn’t leave the car unattended with the engine running, and also don’t do this if it’s parked in a garage – this is very dangerous. And, be considerate: if your car is parked in the street, please be mindful of your neighbours when you choose to run the engine; during the day is likely to cause less disturbances.

Running an engine for a while will also let it warm through, keeping all the car’s systems working as they should be – and heating up the interior too. This will pay dividends when we are allowed to travel normally again.

Quick tips for looking after your vehicle

  • The first sensible thing to do, if you can, is fill your car with fuel. This prevents the (admittedly rare) risk of condensation forming in the fuel tank. It also means you’re ready to go in an emergency, even if your local filling station isn’t open. Take advantage of the current low petrol and diesel prices!
  • Washing your car isn’t essential, however you need to ensure that you can see through the windscreen for safety reasons. If you are using your car on a regular basis, then it’s a good idea to vacuum the interior – and you might like to wipe down the steering wheel, door handles and other contact points within the car.
  • Get your tyre pressures checked. If they need air, inflate them to the recommended levels (you’ll find these in the owner’s manual or, sometimes, on a sticker on the inside of the driver’s door). This will stop any ‘flat spots’ being created while the car is standing still.
  • Check your windscreen washer fluid level. Your screen will get dirty if you leave your car for a long while, and you don’t want the risk of not being able to see safely when you return to it.
  • If you’re parking on level ground, consider leaving the handbrake off. This will stop the brakes binding. If you have a manual car, leave it in gear. With an automatic, leave it in ‘P’. If you’re worried, place some bricks behind the tyres to stop the car rolling – and stick a note on the steering wheel to remind you to remove them before driving!

Weekly check

Maintaining your car is crucial without use

It’s a good idea to check your car every week, even if you’re not driving it, walk around and look for any sign of damage. If you do spot substantial damage then call our insurance provider on 0300 037 3737 to discuss arrangements, there’s no need to call if you spot a scratch or any minor wear and tear.

When you get inside, check the interior to make sure condensation hasn’t caused any dampness. Sometimes, windows left slightly ajar can cause leaks from Winter rain, so check each door for this. Make sure the carpets or floor mats aren’t excessively damp either – wet shoes and boots can cause it to build up and if left unattended, it can start to go mouldy.

Our final weekly recommendation, if you don’t plan to drive the vehicle, is to at least move it back and forth within the parking space or on your driveway. This will make sure the brakes don’t stick on (known in the trade as ‘binding’) – damp Winter weather increases the risk of this, so it’s worth taking precautions.

What about if I drive a diesel car?

You don’t need to do anything differently if you drive a diesel. Their exhaust systems contain particulate filters, which only regenerate themselves when driving – but it’s unlikely they will become blocked when cars are left and not driven.

However, diesel engines do take longer to warm up than petrol motors, so you might like to leave it running for longer – perhaps up to an hour.

The best way to keep a diesel particulate filter in optimum condition comes when we’re able to freely travel again. Take the car for a run of at least 15 miles, which will allow the system to fully regenerate and keep pollution levels as they should be.

What if my car is a hybrid?

Toyota is the world’s best-selling maker of hybrid cars. Its experts confirm that no additional maintenance techniques are required.

Hybrids actually contain two batteries. The first is a regular 12v battery, used for the lights, windscreen wipers and other features. The second is the high-voltage battery for the hybrid system. The one most susceptible to going flat while mothballed is actually the 12v battery.

Toyota advises owners to carry out a weekly process: press the ‘start’ button and wait for the ‘Ready’ light to illuminate on the dashboard. Then, leave it like this for around 60 minutes.

The engine will kick in and out, advises Toyota. It will do it fully automatically and this is perfectly normal as the system goes through its healthcare process. Otherwise, there’s nothing extra you need to do in order to keep a hybrid healthy.

What if my car is electric?

If you drive an electric car, experts say the only additional precaution you need to take during a lockdown is to unplug your car. Leaving it connected to the charge point could damage the batteries by keeping them charged to 100% capacity for weeks at a time.

Don’t worry about your electric car going flat, though. As a rule of thumb, EV batteries only lose around 2 percent of charge per month – this is power used by the security system and other devices.

What if I have a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle?

In addition to the points above, there are a few extra checks you can do to your Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) to keep it at its best.

WAVs tend to have more electrical features fitted than a standard car, like electric tie-downs and ramps. Electrical systems left running will quickly sap your battery’s strength, so make sure that you turn everything off when it’s not in use, this includes the switch for your tie-downs.

You should also test the ramp or lift function of your WAV. If your vehicle has a ramp, deploy it to make sure it’s working fine, and be sure to brush or clean out any gravel or dirt from the hinge area to ensure smooth operation.

For vehicles with an electric wheelchair lift, turn on the lift and make sure the in/out buttons are working. You don’t need to fully deploy the lift – just a quick press on the button to deploy it to make sure that it it’s operating properly, and then press the store button again. If possible, don’t fully deploy and stow the lift unless you are planning on taking a trip in your WAV, this will ensure that you don’t use too much of the vehicle’s battery.

What about when we can drive freely again?

Car care means you can be up and driving as soon as lockdown ends.

If you’ve looked after your car, you shouldn’t face any issues when the lockdown lifts. You may like to check the tyre pressures and give the car a visual walk-around check for peace of mind, but otherwise you don’t need to do anything special.

The only area you need to be careful with is the brakes. The surfaces of the discs will probably be coated in light corrosion. This isn’t anything to worry about, however, and will soon be cleared off as you drive.

Try to apply the brakes gently soon after moving off, to begin clearing the surface. The brakes will make a noise, but again, don’t worry – it’s perfectly normal.

If you were unable to leave the handbrake off, the car might be ‘stuck’ when you release it and prepare to move away. This is common, but does need a little care. Don’t rev the engine, but gently ease out the clutch or apply the accelerator until the brakes free themselves – and be aware that the car could suddenly ‘jump’ forwards as the brakes release.

Otherwise, the best advice is to simply go for a decent drive of at least half an hour, on faster roads if possible, to make sure your car is quickly back to its very best.

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