According to the Cabinet Office, motor traffic had dropped a staggering 73 per cent against the average by 29 March 2020, only days after the Government introduced lockdown measures in the country’s fight against the spread of COVID-19. The UK’s roads haven’t been this empty since 1955.
But with the profound transformations people are experiencing in their day-to-day lives during lockdown, many are forgetting that vehicles are built to be driven—and suffer when they are not driven for long periods. According to Chris Barella, Digital Services Director at EuroCarParts,
"Lack of use can cause lasting damage to your vehicle. Before storing it away for any significant amount of time, it’s essential to ensure that the car is fully prepared, in order to avoid any issues when it comes out of storage."
Lack of use can cause lasting damage to your vehicle. Before storing it away for any significant amount of time, it’s essential to ensure that the car is fully prepared, in order to avoid any issues when it comes out of storage.
With many cars, vans and motorcycles left languishing on driveways, in garages and on roadsides, their engines unignited for weeks or even months on end, problems may be occurring and their conditions may be deteriorating without drivers realising.
Today, we look at the best ways to maintain your vehicle during lockdown, so you’re ready to hit the road with confidence when this is all over.
There’s probably never been a more opportune time to get down on your haunches and inspect your tyres. The top tip from Falken Tyres is to
"Check for uneven tread wear, as well as any cuts and bulges in the sidewall. In the tread surface, check for nails and screws embedded in the tyre. If there are stones lodged in the tread, remove them carefully."
Furthermore, if you own a set of axle stands, it’s well worth elevating your vehicle off the ground to prevent flat spots in your tyres.
Brake discs can corrode relatively fast during extensive disuse. This can lead to your brakes seizing entirely, and you probably wouldn’t be able to solve this problem without professional assistance. Preventative measures are quite straightforward, however: rolling your vehicle back and forth a few metres every once in a while can be enough to prevent corrosion of your brake discs.
If your vehicle is on private property and you’re certain the ground is level, you may wish to take the handbrake off. This can help prevent it from sticking and thus rendering your vehicle immobile. For peace of mind, leaving your vehicle in gear can prevent it from rolling, too. Just remember to not use this method if you are parked on a public road, as you would risk your vehicle rolling away dangerously if another vehicle knocked into it.
It’s advisable to check your fog lamps, brake lights, headlamps and side lights every so often. You never know when you might next need to drive in the dark. AA Cars CEO James Fairclough advices,
"Look over your car and check your brake lights, headlamps, fog lamps and side lights. You may need someone else to help you with this. If any don’t work, make sure you replace the bulbs as soon as you possibly can."
Oil, coolant and antifreeze
If you know you’re not going to be using your vehicle for months, you may wish to consider changing the engine oil. The additives and chemicals in motor oil may damage mechanical components if it is left to stagnate for a long time, so swapping it out for some fresh fluid before hanging up your keys may be worth your while. And remember to switch on the ignition occasionally in order that the oil circulates around the engine.
Much of the above applies to your coolant, too. Consider replacing it if your vehicle will be out of action for a few months, and make sure to top up the antifreeze in accordance with the volume stated in your vehicle’s handbook.
If possible, link your vehicle’s battery up to a mains-powered battery maintainer. If you can’t, make sure to start the engine once a week and keep it running for 15 minutes. According to AA Cars CEO James Fairclough,
"It’s important to allow the engine to run for this long so the battery can charge properly. In the case of petrol engine cars, it also helps to prevent engines from flooding with fuel."
Furthermore, make sure all electrical systems are turned off. Leaving your lights or stereo on can sap your battery’s charge. And finally, remember to not leave your vehicle unattended if you have left the engine running—and to not lock yourself out if it has central locking.
DPF (diesel particulate filter)
If your vehicle is relatively new and runs on diesel, it’s probably been fitted with a diesel particulate filter (DPF), which expunges harmful substances from the exhaust.
Under normal circumstances, the DPF cleans itself by way of a regenerative process when the engine is running at over 2,500rpm for an extended period. But during lockdown, this speed may be difficult to reach, let alone maintain.
This could leave your DPF clogged with soot if you’re using your vehicle for repeated short journeys. The best way to avoid this scenario is to avoid short spurts of driving wherever possible, then take your vehicle for a long journey on the motorway once lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Many vehicle owners are unaware that fuel has an expiry date. Waking your vehicle after a long hibernation and forcing it to run on old petrol or diesel will not go down well.
Filling your tank to the brim can help prevent a build-up of air and therefore prolong the life of your fuel. However, a quality fuel stabiliser will keep petrol or diesel fresh for as long as 12 months. And when the time comes to finally take your vehicle out for a spin once again, make sure to check your seals and fuel lines for any signs of dryness or fatigue.
According to AA Cars CEO James Fairclough, electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles charge differently to conventional cars. Pressing the start button will operate the charging system and leaving the car in ready mode for about 10 minutes once a week should keep the battery topped up. Some electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles can maintain their 12-volt batteries if they’re plugged into the mains charger, and you should check your vehicle handbook for details on this.
Lockdown has meant vehicles being forgotten about—but this has exacerbated the risk of theft and damage. Your best bet is to leave your vehicle in a well lit area to deter criminals operating under the cover of darkness. A steering lock and a dashcam may prove sound investments—and it goes without saying to always leave your vehicle locked.
Finally, if you drive a newer vehicle then it may have come fitted with keyless entry. Make sure your keys are left in a Faraday pouch (which blocks signals that thieves use to gain entry to your vehicle) and a considerable distance from windows and doors.
If you’re fortunate enough to own a garage, keeping your vehicle under a roof protects it from moss, dirt, rust and bird mess. Leave a window slightly open to allow air to circulate and prevent mould. Just make sure to check that no animals have crept in and made your vehicle their temporary home. Insects, rats and small birds have been known to build nests in neglected vehicles and chew through seats, dashboards and wiring looms.
If you don’t have a garage, you could purchase a vehicle cover. If you’re going to use one, just make sure to clean your vehicle first to prevent the cover compressing any grime and damaging the paintwork.
Whilst your vehicle is off the road, take some time to get your paperwork shipshape. As well as checking how long your MOT has left before expiry, you may also wish to ensure your car insurance and breakdown cover is still valid and your road tax has been paid.
If your vehicle is going to be out of action for a long time, it might be worth applying for a Statutory Off-Road Notification, which informs the DVLA that the vehicle will not be used on public roads and therefore temporarily exempts it from road tax. And remember, owners of cars, motorcycles, light vans and other light vehicles have been granted a 6-month MOT extension by the Government.
GSF Car Parts Ecommerce Manager, Mark Barclay states,
"Cars, vans and motorcycles have been granted an MOT extension due to the coronavirus crisis, so those with a test due between 30th March and 30th September 2020 don't need to worry. However, you will still need to keep your vehicle in roadworthy condition, unless you make a SORN."
Be ready to hit the open road once more
Even if you feel totally confined to your home during lockdown, you never know when you might next need your vehicle for essential travel. Keeping it well maintained and in a roadworthy condition is simple and takes up very little time, and if you take the necessary steps then you’ll be ready to get back into gear once lockdown restrictions have been lifted.