Is your vehicle road-ready for the end of the lockdown?
Image : Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
Here’s a warning - did you know lockdown measures could cause vehicles to break down after restrictions are lifted, if vehicles have been left unused or unmaintained for months?
As the pandemic situation changes in the US with discussions about how and when to come out of lockdown, we can see some states are starting to ease restrictions. Already we are starting to see some increases in road traffic and there is clearly a huge demand from vehicle owners to get back behind the wheel and get out of the house, even for short spells.
But there is a danger here - the pandemic and enforced lockdown may cause essential vehicle parts to fail. In particular, road users may suffer issues with their batteries, tires or engines after the lockdown if their cars have not been used for a long period of time.
During these difficult times, most people will have followed the guidelines over social distancing and isolation, and may have left their cars and trucks idle for an extended period.
A vehicle that is left idle can develop problems that stop it functioning fully when you do start to drive it.. And vehicle owners could be forced to spend hundreds of dollars on auto repair bills after the crisis has ended, for a whole series of avoidable issues.
So it's important to keep your vehicle in good working order in readiness for that time when you can hit the road again. And that means being prepared not just for short essential trips, but also long trips whether it's a long commute to work or the weekend getaway that Americans love and have missed so much these last weeks and months.
Here are some things to look out for and steps you can take to make sure your vehicle is road-ready when the time comes.
These include :
- Taking regular short trips
- Avoiding a flat battery
- Take good care of your brakes
- Keep your tires inflated and avoid flat spots
- Be prepared for breakdowns
- Washing and cleaning your vehicle
- Critters and pests
- Spare parts and essential liquids
- Secure parking or storage
Taking regular short trips
Where possible, try to take your car out on the road at least a couple of times each week for about 20 minutes or a longer to ensure that everything ticks over and is in working condition while you’re driving. This may be easier if you use these short trips to complete essential tasks, such as shopping for groceries or medical supplies. Pay special attention to all the features and functions of your vehicle - from your indicator or brake lights and fuel gauges, to your steering, braking, transmission and gears, air con system and sat nav. It’s better to find any issues now, and have a chance to resolve them, than to be caught out suddenly when the lockdown is lifted and you discover your car isn’t safe for the road.
Avoiding a flat battery
It’s very important to keep your battery maintained. Even when your vehicle is switched off and lying idle, electrical items running in the background (alarms, for example) can drain the battery. If your car is privately parked, you might want to invest in a battery charger (mains-powered) or trickle charger, which will keep your vehicle in best condition. If you’re unable to run a lead to your car, then just start it up once per week and let it run for about 10 to 15 minutes, giving it a little throttle to keep the RPM at around 1000 to allow the alternator to kick in. This gives the battery enough time to increase its charge and will also circulate oil and fuel around the engine, which can prevent engine flooding.
Avoid turning your car on and off again in quick succession. The starter motor requires battery power each time, which won’t be replenished unless the battery is given time to charge.
Take good care of your brakes
Brakes are of vital importance, and the no.1 essential safety feature in your car. If left for too long, brake discs on any vehicle can start to corrode and the danger is this can make it dangerous to drive with the increased possibility of your brakes seizing up when you most need them. To stop this, release the handbrake and roll your car back and forward a few metres now and again, making sure it's safe to do so. Don’t do this if you’re parked on a public road where there’s a risk of other vehicles hitting you, or if you’re parked on a hill.
Keep your tires inflated and avoid flat spots
Under-inflated tires increase fuel consumption and can affect the braking performance of your car. You’ll be able to find the recommended tire pressures for your model on the placard attached to the driver's door or in your car's manual. Many modern vehicles now have a TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) installed which warns you when your tires have lost pressure. Alternatively, you can check tire pressures at local gas stations, or buy a portable pressure gauge to use at home.
Perhaps a bigger concern with tires is flat-spotting, which happens when the weight of the car sitting on one spot flattens out a portion of the rubber on the tire. The longer your vehicle remains stationary, the more likely this is to happen. While proper tire inflation helps mitigate the risk of flat spots, you should also attempt to move your vehicle a little, when switched off.
Be prepared for breakdowns
Make sure you have cover with AAA or a plan in place for an emergency if your vehicle breaks down when you do finally drive it, either during or after the lockdown. And If you are due scheduled maintenance, it might be worth postponing this until after the lockdown measures are lifted or eased.
Washing and cleaning your vehicle
Clean your vehicle, inside and out. Regularly washing your car is still important even when you’re not using it. The interior should be cleaned and disinfected especially if you plan to have passengers. Vacuum the insides to collect food and debris, and spray with disinfectant or cleaning agent, especially around high contact areas - door handles, steering wheel, gearstick, dashboard, and mirrors.
Wash the outside of your car as you would normally. Your local car wash may be closed at this time and if your vehicle is parked outside it's likely to collect dust, insects, bird droppings, or even water spots from nearby sprinklers. Use soap and water to wash the outside of your car and also wax it to protect the paintwork.
Critters and pests
Local wildlife such as rodents and birds can cause real problems for vehicles in long-term storage. Make sure to take some steps to protect your parking area from common pests, and if your car has been parked for more than a few weeks, you should look under the hood for any evidence that wires or belts have been chewed up. And be on the lookout for nests and stowaways in the engine compartment or in gaps between your wheels and the chassis.
Spare parts and essential liquids
Make sure you have spare parts such as bulbs for lights, replacement belts, screen wipers, and stock up on vital liquids - not just fuel but also oil, brake fluid, lubricant, coolant, and screen wash.
Secure parking or storage
Not everyone has a garage, so make sure you can park your vehicle somewhere safe and secure, protected from the elements if possible, and in a well lit area during the nights.