As lockdown restrictions ease and we’re progressively given the green light to use our cars more, there are a few things you can check to make sure they are fit and healthy and ready to go. Here’s Richard Aucock’s guide to getting your car back on the road after lockdown.
Modern cars are far less susceptible to issues than older models, but there are still a few key areas you need to look over before enjoying the freedom of the open road again.
Here are six key areas experts suggest you should give attention to in order to make sure your car remains safe and healthy following any period of extended inactivity.
If you have taken care of your battery by running your car for a while every couple of weeks, you shouldn’t discover any problems here. If, however, you do discover the battery is flat, it’s advisable to call RAC Motability Assist (RAC) for a jump-start: this is the safest way.
If you do have to call the RAC then they aim to get someone out to Motability Scheme customers within 45 minutes. However, if you have a trip planned, it’s a good idea to check your car a day or so before, this way you’re prepared, and your plans won’t be delayed.
On your first trip, be sure to drive for at least half an hour, and ideally an hour, to give the battery enough time to charge up and condition itself back to full health.
Before you drive, it’s also a good idea to check your car’s oil level, and whether there’s any fluid in the windscreen washer bottle. After being left standing for a period of time, you’re likely to need to use the windscreen washers to clean the screen.
Sticking brakes are a common problem with cars that have been left standing for long periods. When you remove the handbrake, you might find the car doesn’t move, and ‘sits down’ on its suspension as you feed in the accelerator.
It’s best to err on the side of caution here. Try to pull away gently and take care because when the brakes do release themselves, they may do so with a jolt. If the brakes still don’t release, and you’re not certain what to do, it’s best not to take any risks. Telephone your dealer for advice or call out the RAC.
The brakes will also probably be ‘noisy’ as the surfaces will be covered in a light coating of corrosion. This soon clears away as you drive and is a common side-effect of cars being left standing, so it shouldn’t cause concern. Just remember your brakes won’t be fully effective until the surface corrosion is removed, so drive cautiously until the noise goes away.
Your vehicle’s tyres should always be inflated to the recommended pressures (find these in the car’s handbook, or on the panel inside the door). It makes this check a simple one. Before you take a drive, check them again, to ensure they are all inflated correctly.
Cleaning cars won’t have been high on your list of priorities during lockdown. Many vehicles will have gathered dust and tree sap, or been generously coated in spring pollen.
A good post-lockdown car clean is highly recommended. Either take it to a car wash or do it yourself – but before you do, have a look around the bodywork for any potential troublespots. Bird mess, for example, attacks the paintwork and is tricky to remove. Don’t attempt to scrub it away! Our advice is to tip a bottle of water over the mess, then cover it with a wet piece of kitchen roll and leave it for a few minutes. This should loosen it and allow you to remove it without damage.
You might also consider getting your car polished. Many car wash centres can apply a coat of polish for a fee. It’s a good way of removing any small marks and imperfections, plus it gives your car an extra protective coat.
Diesel particulate filters
Short journeys during lockdown are not kind to diesel particulate filters (also known as DPFs). As soon as you’re able, take a longer trip, ideally at higher speeds on a motorway or dual carriageway, and run the car for at least 10 miles. This will give the particulate filter time to regenerate itself and clear out the pollutants captured and stored within. The vehicle will only begin regeneration when the engine is at normal operating temperature; it’s advised that your fuel tank is at least half full before you begin this procedure.
Keep an eye on the dashboard for the diesel particulate filter warning light – if it’s illuminated, keep on driving until it disappears. Check your owner’s manual to make sure you’re looking at the right symbol – it’s usually orange in colour.The quickest way to achieve a good regeneration with the steps above, is to drive at consistent speed with slightly higher revolutions per minute (RPM) than usual. 40-50mph at around 2,000rpm is usually most optimal. Please check your owner’s manual for specific details for your vehicle.
When you first start using your car, the ventilation system might smell a bit stale. Don’t worry, it will clear. Another tip is to make sure the air vents aren’t pointing at your face when you first switch your car on. Dust can sometimes enter the system, then be blown onto your face and eyes.
The best way to get everything back to full health is to run the fan for a while with the air-con switched on. This will allow the air conditioner to do exactly that – cleanse and condition the air throughout the system, and freshen up the car itself.
What about the driver?
For those who choose to drive, the advice is to plan your route, including breaks. If you do have to visit a garage, filling station or motorway service area, limit your time there and either wash or sanitise your hands both before and after.
Ideally, motorists will stay local, but there are also precautions here. There’s a drive to provide more road space for pedestrians and cyclists, so motorists should be cautious in case familiar roads have changed. They should also anticipate a greater concentration of cyclists and pedestrians on familiar routes.
As for inside the car, opening the windows is recommended, to ensure there’s not a concentration of stale air within. Also, use the car’s ventilation system.
Your Motability Scheme car or WAV is covered for breakdown assistance for the whole of your lease. Cover is provided by RAC Motability Assist, which provides full breakdown support for Motability Scheme customers.
What if my car is due a service?
Many car companies relaxed service requirements during the coronavirus lockdown, focusing only on key workers. Blanket extensions were automatically given, which allowed motorists to carry on driving their cars even if they had exceeded the service mileage or date requirements. Warranties remained valid and car companies advised customers their vehicles would still be safe to use for the limited amount of motoring permissible during lockdown.
Dealerships are now arranging appointments for any outstanding services and non-essential maintenance, although please bear with them as this could take longer than usual as they work to catch up, whilst operating with social distancing measure in place.
What about Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles?
Motability Scheme customers with Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles, or WAVs, have a few extra checks to make for safe post-lockdown motoring. First, make sure the wheelchair restraint belts are not tangled or frayed. If your vehicle has a wheelchair winch, do the same with its belt or rope.
If your vehicle has a ramp, first take a close look around to make sure there’s no gravel or dirt in the hinge area. Then, deploy it, and watch to make sure it’s working OK. Now you have full access, it’s worth dusting the hinge area again.
Those with an electric lift should turn it on for a quick check. You don’t need to fully deploy it, just press the button to make sure it’s working, 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 the vehicle, to make sure you don’t use too much of the vehicle’s battery. If you’re unsure, then contact your WAV supplier who will be able to help.