As lockdown measures across the country begin to ease, more of us are starting to return to work. But if you haven’t been driving your car in weeks or even months, then it’s a good idea to give it a thorough check over before you head off on your first journey. In this article, we’ll take you through some of the areas often affected when a car is out of use and offer some tips to help get you back on the road.
Getting your car back on the road – What to look out for?
In this section, we take a look at the different areas of your car you should focus on when getting it back on the road after lockdown.
Tyres are one of the most important features on your car, as they are the only point of contact with the road surface. Making sure your tyres are in good condition is vital before you set off.
- Check your tyres for any signs of bumps, gouges or cracks.
- Check your tyres tread depth at various points on the tyre. The legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm. An easy way to check your tyres comply is the 20p test. Take a 20p coin and insert it into the tread grooves on the tyre. If you can’t see the band on the coin the tread depth is above the legal limit. Be sure to make the check at several points across and around the tyre.
- Look out for any flat spots on the tyre. Leaving your car parked up for long periods can create a deformity at the bottom of the wheel that can become semi-permanent. If you notice a flat spot get your tyres checked out at your local garage.
- Make sure your tyre pressures are correct. Usually, the correct tyre pressure is listed in your car manual, or on a sticker on the inside of your door frame. If you have a tyre pressure gauge and pump at home, it is easy to check the pressure and inflate if necessary. If not you can pop down to a fuel station with an air station and do the checks there.
It goes without saying that you need your brakes to be in full working order when you head back onto the road. Cars left parked up are susceptible to brake surface corrosion. This is usually only a surface level rust and is entirely normal.
The solution is simple; when you first take the car for a drive, drive slowly gently applying the brake pedal to remove the surface corrosion. Once this surface corrosion has gone, the brakes should work as normal. The brakes may also sound louder than normal, to begin with, but this should subside as the corrosion clears.
If you do notice any issues when applying your brakes or your brakes continue to make an unusual sound, you should get them checked at a garage to ensure they are working correctly.
Your car battery is one of the components most susceptible to issues when your car is out of action for a long time.
It is not uncommon for conventionally fuelled car batteries to drain if your car is not used for a while. It’s a good idea to make your first drive at least 30 minutes long to give your battery a chance to recharge itself. Or you can plug your car into a battery charger to keep it topped up while it is still stood.
Don’t forget to turn off all your electrics when you leave your vehicle, so you don’t drain your battery unnecessarily.
- If possible start your car when it is warmer as cold weather can put an extra strain on the battery
- Check under the bonnet for signs of corrosion or residue on the terminals which can reduce the connection with the battery
- Check your battery age as most are stamped with a date code – if your battery is over five years it is at more risk of failing, especially if you are only carrying out short and infrequent trips
For electric vehicles, it is a good idea to charge the battery every few days, even when not in use as this helps maintain the condition of the battery. Manufacturers may have their own recommendations, so if you are unsure it is worth getting in touch with your local dealership.
Your windscreen can quickly become grimy when parked up, so you need to make sure it is clean, and you can see clearly out of it before you set off.
Substances like tree sap or bird poo can take quickly become stuck on when not cleared away regularly. Don’t try and scrape these off, instead try applying windscreen wash or car washing detergent and let it soak into the affected area before wiping away.
Once clean, you should inspect your windscreen looking for any chips or cracks which you may need to get repaired.
Now is also a great time to check that your windscreen washer fluid is topped up. You don’t want to get down the road and discover you don’t have any when you need to clear your windscreen. Plus it is never a good idea to use your windscreen wipers dry as they can scratch or damage the glass which can obscure your view and increase the effects of glare permanently.
You must make sure all of your lights are working before you set off. Many cars come with a multitude of sensors and will ping up with a dash warning to let you know if a light is out. However, after a long period of not being in use, it is a good idea to make a visual check they are working. The easiest way to do this is with someone else; one of you in the car switching the lights on and off and the other outside the car checking they come on.
It is a good idea to wipe over your lights too, as dirt can quickly build up when you are parked up, which can dramatically reduce the light emitted.
Before your first journey, you should turn over your engine and leave it running for at least ten minutes before setting off. Doing so helps give your engine chance to get working and allows oil which may have settled to circulate and lubricate engine parts to prevent any damage occurring.
If it is safe to do so, you can make use of this time by having a quick walk around your vehicle and listening to it running to make sure everything sounds ok. If you think your car is making an unusual noise, then you should make sure you get it checked out by a mechanic.
Your handbrake is susceptible to sticking when parked up for long periods. If you are struggling to release your handbrake, it is best to call your recovery company who will be able to either sort the issue or safely move you to a garage.
- Prevent the handbrake sticking by letting the handbrake off every so often – at least once a week if possible.
- If you can park your car in your garage you can release the handbrake, pop the car in first gear and place chocks under the wheels to prevent it from moving anywhere.
Most modern cars utilise the coolant which flows through the air-conditioning to lubricate the seals in the system. When the air-conditioning is not in use, the seals can dry out, resulting in leaks. Often this kind of problem is seen in the summer when we switch on our air-conditioning for the first time after a long period of not using it in the winter. To help alleviate this issue, you should switch on your air-conditioning regularly when running your car.
We’ve mentioned your windscreen washer fluid, but it’s also a good idea to check other fluid levels too. You can check your oil level by using the dipstick under the bonnet. With coolant, you should be able to see if it reaches the full line on the side of the coolant reservoir. If you are not confident making these checks yourself, you can take it down to your local Stoneacre garage for a quick check over.
Diesel particulate filter (DPF)
The DPF filter is used in diesel cars to reduce emissions. However, to run effectively, the DPF must reach a certain temperature to burn off the harmful particles. In order to do this, the car must run for long enough to reach the peak temperature. If the car doesn’t reach the correct temperature the filter can become blocked, which is why modern diesel cars aren’t suited to short, infrequent trips.
The DPF can be cleaned by a professional mechanic and many cars will present with a dash warning when this service is required. It is important to pay attention to this, as the DPF can be expensive to replace.
Unless your car has spent lockdown tucked safely in the garage or under a good car cover, then there is a good chance your bodywork may need some attention. Generally, this is just cosmetic and maybe dirt build-up, surface scratches or dents. However, it is vital to look out for early signs of rust which can compromise the integrity of your bodywork and get it treated as soon as possible.
Getting your car back on the road – The legalities
So now you know the checks you need to be making before getting your car back on the road, it’s time to take a look at the paperwork you might need to complete before hitting the road.
What if I have registered my vehicle as SORN?
If you registered your vehicle as SORN during lockdown it is important you cancel the SORN by taxing it. You can tax your vehicle online or through a post office branch. If you want to double-check you’ve done everything correctly, you can check the status of your vehicle by heading to the government website.
Don’t forget if you have cancelled or amended your car insurance during lockdown to reflect your lessened use, you will also need to get new or updated insurance sorted before you head back onto the road.
What about my MOT?
During the lockdown, the government offered six-month MOT extensions. Anyone with a car due an MOT between 30th March and 31st July qualifies for a six-month extension. If your MOT is due after 1st August you must get it booked in on time.
As many people have put their MOT’s off during lockdown garages are expecting a surge in enquiries. We are advising anyone due an MOT to get in touch as soon as possible so that we can get an appointment booked. Head to our blog on MOT extensions to read more.
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Hopefully, you’ve found this article helpful and know what to look out for when getting your car back on the road. To let us know about your experience getting back behind the wheel after lockdown just leave a comment below.