How to maintain your car during the lockdown
16 April 2020 - autocar
Your car can deteriorate when you're not driving it, so take these precautions to keep it fighting fit
You're probably not driving your car as much as you normally would at the moment. The lockdown has taken thousands of motorists off the road and left many cars languishing on driveways, in garages and at the side of the road.
We can't wait to get back out on the road again, but for now it's important to keep your car parked if you don't need to use it for essential purposes. We don't know how long the lockdown will last, so it's a good idea to prepare your car for storage. That way, its condition won't deteriorate while you're not driving it, and it will be ready to go when we're all allowed back behind the wheel.
Here are our top tips for laying up your car:
In or out
If you have a garage at your disposal, clear some space and stick your car in there to minimise the risk of it becoming covered in moss, dirt, bird mess or - worse - rust. If not, a variety of car covers are available online; these can protect your car from the worst of the elements. Always clean your car thoroughly before putting it under any sort of cover to prevent any stuck-on grime damaging the paintwork.
If your car is lucky enough to have a roof over its head, you should leave one of the windows slightly open to prevent the build-up of mould in the interior. Be careful, though: any openings can allow insects, small birds and even rats to enter your car and make a nest. In some cases, animals have been known to chew wiring looms, seats and dashboards to pieces, so check your car regularly for any unwanted guests.
Brakes and tyres
Wherever you leave it, your car should ideally be on flat ground with the handbrake off (this might sound strange, but you really don't want it to seize up). A good pair of wheel chocks will stop your car rolling away, but raising it off the ground entirely with a set of axle stands will stop your tyres from developing flat spots.
It's also worth remembering that brake discs corrode quickly when not in use, so always make sure they're up to scratch when recommissioning the car.
If you're not driving your car for long periods at a time, it will be the battery that starts to complain first. You might notice your car is slower to start when you get back from a two-week holiday, and that's because your battery has been slowly discharging since the car was last driven.
Batteries hate the cold, so we're lucky (in a sense) that the weather has been warming up in recent weeks, because this means you don't need to worry too much about buying a battery warmer when laying your car up. But to avoid shelling out for a new battery when the lockdown ends, there are a few things you can do to preserve it.
Using your car for any regular essential shopping trips will keep up the battery's charge, provided the supermarket is a few miles away, but if you're walking to grab your groceries, invest in a trickle charger and leave your car plugged into the mains while it's not in use.
This should be obvious, but any electrical systems left running will quickly sap your battery's strength, so make sure you've turned all lights and the stereo off.
Oil and coolant
When storing your car, you only need to change the engine oil if it won't be driven again for at least a couple of months. Used motor oil contains chemicals and additives that can damage mechanical components over time, so it's best to swap it out for some clean fluid before hanging up your keys. Also start your car occasionally to allow the oil to circulate around the engine.
The same goes for coolant, which should be replaced before storage. Take care to add the right amount of antifreeze according to your car's handbook.
You know in apocalypse movies where the hero is driving round a deserted city in a muscle car, years after the demise of everyone else on the planet? Well, don't try that at home. One thing Hollywood always seems to forget is that fuel has an expiry date; your car really won't appreciate being woken up after a long hibernation and being forced to run on petrol that's past its best.
Brimming your tank will prevent a build-up of air and prolong the life of your fuel, but a decent fuel stabiliser can keep things fresh for up to twelve months. When the time comes to finally drive again, make sure to check your fuel lines and seals for any signs of fatigue or dryness.
If you own a newer diesel car, it's likely fitted with a diesel particulate filter (DPF), which removes harmful substances from the exhaust. In normal use, these clean themselves in a regenerative process that takes place when the engine is running at above 2500rpm for a prolonged period. During the lockdown, it will be difficult to reach, let alone maintain, the speeds necessary for this to take place, and your DPF could get clogged up with soot if you're using it for repeated short journeys. The best course of action with a modern diesel car is to avoid using it if you're able to walk to the shops, and then go for a big motorway blast when the lockdown ends.
Aside from the health of your car, there's the exacerbated risk of theft or criminal damage that goes with leaving it unused for so long.
Your best bet is to leave your car fully locked and in a well-lit area to deter any would-be thieves from visiting under cover of darkness. A good steering lock would be a sound investment too, because it's as much of a deterrent as it is an obstacle, as is a visible dashcam.
If you drive a newer car, there's a good chance it's equipped with keyless entry, so keep your car keys in a Faraday pouch and well away from any windows or the front door.
While your car is off the road, take some time to get your paperwork in order: check how many months MOT you have left, ensure your road tax has been paid and see that your insurance is still valid.
Depending on how long it's going to be off the road, it might be worth applying a SORN (statutory off-road notice) which notifies the DVLA that you're not driving your car on public roads, and that it is temporarily exempt from road tax. It's crucial that you have the SORN removed before driving on public roads again.
Hitting the road again
If you take all the necessary precautions, your car should be raring and ready to go once the lockdown ends, but make sure you keep a list of what you've done so you can prepare it for regular use again.
It's always a good idea to wash off any dust, test the brakes and check the fluids before going for a drive. But you should also make sure that you renew your car's MOT if necessary and that all consumable parts are still in serviceable condition.