Car maintenance during lockdown
Follow our tips so you can get driving again when lockdown is lifted
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With lockdown in place, you can only use your car for the following reasons:
If you’re travelling to purchase essentials, like food or medicine
For work if it can’t be done from home
For medical reasons, for example donating blood, looking after an elderly or vulnerable person or to escape the risk of injury or harm.
This means many of us won’t be using our cars much, and with the weather getting colder, there's a greater chance of you running into car trouble.
But there are simple checks you can do to keep your car in working order.
Jump to a question:
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Am I allowed to idle my car to keep it running?
This is a grey area, as there are laws against idling. But 15 minutes a week while you’re in the car should be fine, check with your local council though.
The best option is to try and combine driving with essential travel.
How do I keep my battery charged?
Cold weather can drain the power from your car's battery, especially if it's old.
If you don’t have a garage, start your car and run it for 15 minutes or use it for essential purposes. This will keep the engine in good nick as well as charging the battery.
While you're running it, switch on the aircon. This will prevent any mould building up in the circulation system.
If you have a garage or private drive, you can use a battery charger to keep it topped up.
A trickle or smart charger should do the trick. The smart charger will draw charge from the mains when required.
The trickle charger will continuously top up the battery. You may need to leave it plugged in overnight or all day.
If you find you can't start your car, you could try using a jump start pack to get you going again.
Read more: How to bump start your vehicle
What about my diesel particulate filter?
Any diesel made from 2009 will have a diesel particulate filter fitted to reduce harmful emissions.
This can get clogged up if the car hasn’t been driven for a while. It would usually take a long run at sustained speed to clear it.
In these circumstances you should run the car for 15 minutes, making sure not to stop during this time.
Again, you should try and combine this with essential travel if you can.
Read more: Dashboard warning lights explained
Can I get my car repaired?
Garages are still open for essential maintenance and MOTs. If your car won’t start, ring your local garage to see what their repair procedure is.
You shouldn't take your car to the garage if you or someone you live with has coronavirus symptoms, you're shielding or if you're self-isolating.
Am I allowed to wash my car?
If you’re not using your car, putting it into your garage or declaring it as SORN you’ll need to give it a good wash first.
Cleaning it inside and out will help get rid of any nasty germs too. Pay close attention to high traffic areas, like door handles, steering wheels and seatbelts.
When cleaning, if you’re parked on the street, be vigilant and stick to social distancing rules.
Read more: How to SORN your vehicle
Does fuel "go off"?
In a way, yes. Petrol will generally last for around six months and diesel around 12 months.
That’s if they’re stored correctly below 20 degrees in a UN approved air-tight jerry can. Make sure it’s out of reach of children.
Without getting into the science too much, properties that keep fuel in good condition evaporate over time. This can cause it to get thicker and clog up the engine.
Read more: What to do when your car won't start
There's fuel left in my car’s tank. Will this still work after lockdown?
If you have a full tank, condensation is less likely to build up which can cause the fuel to degrade.
If you have a small amount of fuel left in your tank that’s been there for a few weeks, top it up with new fuel. This should replenish the old fuel, so it’ll be fine to drive.
We don’t know yet when lockdown will be lifted. But as a general rule, if you haven’t topped up the car in six months – or 12 months if it’s diesel - remove the old fuel and fill it up fresh.
How long does petrol last in storage?
If you store your petrol in a jerry can below 20 degrees it should last for 6 months.
It’s illegal to store more than 30 litres. So only take as much as you need.
How long does diesel last in storage?
If stored in a jerry can, 12 months. After this it gets sticky and gloopy. If you use old fuel It’ll damage the car’s engine.
The same rules apply with diesel, only take as much as you need.
How do I look after my brakes?
Releasing the handbrake will stop the brakes from seizing.
If you park on private land, you could release the handbrake, put the car in gear and put blocks behind the wheel. It’s illegal to do this if you park on the road.
If you can’t do this, driving your car once a week for essential purposes should prevent the brakes from seizing.
How do I look after my tyres?
The weight of your car on its tyres could cause flat spots and cracks in tyre walls Try and keep them at the correct tyre pressure and move your car every now and again.
Getting back on the road
If you haven't driven for a while and you're driving your car for essential reasons, check the following things:
Look at your car's fluid levels, for example the oil, engine coolant, brake fluid and screenwash. Make sure they're at least at the minimum recommended level.
Test your brakes. They may crunch or grind at first if corrosion has built up. If this continues or you feel vibration through the pedal the brake discs might be warped. Speak to your garage about this.
Check your tyres. For more information, take a look at our guide.