Following weeks, even months, of COVID-19 related restrictions, lockdown and shelter-in-place orders are being gradually eased in some parts of the world. Some of us are now able to travel to work or for leisure again.
Unsurprisingly, however, many of us are clambering into the driver’s seat and finding that our cars aren’t roadworthy after a long period off the road. Flat tires and batteries or a seized handbrake are amongst the most common problems.
For most of us, the lockdown came at short notice. At that worrying time, very few of us gave any thought to our car’s general health or the possibility that it may go largely unused for a long time. But, as you may be finding now, several problems can occur if cars are left unused for lengthy periods.
The good news is that there are some simple preventative car maintenance steps you can take to ensure that your car will be in good working order after a long break. If your place is still under lockdown, you can enact these tips now.
If you’re able to go out, it’s still worth brushing up on this knowledge. Nobody can rule out the possibility of further lockdowns, and there may be other times in life when you’ll have to take your car off the road temporarily.
Here’s what you need to do:
When cars are off the road for weeks at a time, there’s a chance of flat-spotting. Flat spotting happens when the tire rubber that’s in contact with the ground flattens out due to continual pressure from the weight of the car.
Minor flat-spotting can cause vibrations for a few miles when you drive again before it gets ironed out. Severe flat-spotting, which often occurs when your vehicle is parked for a month or more, is more troublesome. You will likely need professional help to remedy it, and perhaps even new tires.
There are two strategies that can help prevent flat-spotting. Firstly, make sure your tires are properly inflated according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Do this regularly. If you are confident your vehicle will be off the road for months, it may be wise to slightly over-inflate. However long your vehicle stays put, you must check that your tires are correctly and safely inflated before you drive on a highway again.
Secondly, drive your vehicle if you can legally do so safely without breaking lockdown rules. This will reset any minor flat-spotting that may already have occurred.
Rusting on the surface of brake rotors can cause real problems when you need to use the car again after a lengthy period of no use. The handbrake can even seize completely due to the pads binding to the surface rotors.
There are a few preventative steps you can take.
First, check if your ABS fluid has been recently changed. The fluid can absorb moisture over time and this can be a cause of internal corrosion. Secondly, try to move your vehicle back and forth regularly, even if you are unable to leave your driveway. Lastly, you could consider leaving the handbrake off. However, this can only be done if your vehicle is parked on a completely flat surface on private land and wheels are chocked to prevent any chance of it rolling away.
Even if you are not using your vehicle, your battery will still be draining. Needing a jump-start on your first trip out is not ideal.
To avoid battery drain, you could disconnect the battery. Alternatively, running the engine regularly should keep it topped up. There are also battery maintaining devices (sometimes called tricklers or battery tenders) that you can plug your car into.
If you own an electric vehicle, you should plug your vehicle in regularly to maintain charge. Check your vehicle handbook for more precise information.
For an engine to stay healthy, it needs to run at full operating temperature regularly. This allows the oil and fluids in the engine to keep moving. Ideally, your engine should run for at least twenty minutes solid once a week. If you are only popping to a local store, you are unlikely to be doing this.
If regulations allow, go for a longer drive. You’ll be topping up your battery, helping your brakes, and preventing flat-spotting at the same time. If a drive is not possible, it is wise to run the engine on the driveway for twenty minutes. Never run the engine in a garage or enclosed space, however, or leave it unattended. These situations would be incredibly dangerous.
These tips cover the basics of at-home preventative maintenance for lockdown situations. It is highly recommended that, if you can, you continue to get your vehicle serviced regularly by professionals. Not only will this mean that you still adhere to manufacturer’s warranty stipulations, but that your vehicle remains safe, roadworthy and in tip-top condition however long it is before you can drive regularly again.
Make sure any minor issues are looked at by a mechanic as soon as possible. In many places, garages are able to carry out mechanical repair services even in fairly strict lockdown conditions (be sure to check the latest relevant government announcement where you are).
Some repair centers are even offering pickup and drop-off services, with a full vehicle disinfection service. So, there’s no reason to let good vehicle maintenance slide even at this time.