Lifestyle Guides

Maintaining your car during the Coronavirus lockdown

Cars still need to be maintained even when they're not being driven. We're looking at what you need to do during lockdown to keep your car in good working order

woman checking tyre pressure

Lockdowns around the world have proved to be an effective measure to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Driving hasn’t been totally banned in the UK, but leaving your home is only permitted for the following specific, essential reasons:

  1. Commuting to and from work, but only when you can’t work from home 
  2. To shop for necessities such as food
  3. For medical reasons, to provide care, or to help vulnerable people 

Whether you're adhering to the Government guidelines to stay at home as much as possible, or self-isolating completely, leaving your car idle for weeks or months is not ideal. Vehicles still need to be maintained, even if they’re not being driven. 

Additionally, all vehicles must still be kept in a roadworthy condition. You must also continue to tax and insurance your car during this period, unless you have legally declared it 'off road' with a Statutory Off Road Notification, or SORN. Fortunately, restrictions on MOTs are now being lifted - so take the time to make sure your car is road safe.

Here are our simple tips for making sure your car is safe and in tip-top condition during the lockdown.

Tyres

Check your tyres regularly because they’ll gradually lose pressure even if your car is parked up. A partially inflated tyre could cause lasting damage if left that way for an extended period because it puts extra stress on the sidewall and might flat spot (a visible flattening of the tyre). 

If you have space and it’s safe to do so, push your car forwards or backwards occasionally so the weight isn’t on the same spot. If your car is parked on a level driveway or in a garage, you could also consider lifting it off the ground on axle stands. 

Brakes

If a car is parked up for a long period, it's possible for the brakes to corrode slightly and seize. Sit in your car with the engine running from time to time, engaging and disengaging the foot brake and handbrake.

Battery

Giving a petrol car regular runs is the best way to keep a battery healthy. As that's not possible during lockdown, you have two options. Either invest in a smart or trickle charger, which will keep your car’s battery topped up, or run the engine for about 20 minutes every week or two to get charge back into the battery. 

The latter should always be carried out in a well-ventilated space and is clearly not environmentally friendly. If you can tie in giving your car a run with your weekly supermarket trip, that’s even better. 

Diesels

Be cautious if you drive a diesel, because short runs aren’t ideal for diesel cars. The expensive diesel particulate filter (DPF) stops soot passing into the atmosphere, and the soot caught in this filter is usually ‘burned off’ (on longer, higher speed runs) in order to regenerate the DPF. 

Ultimately, not using your diesel at all may be better than giving it a very quick run to the shops and risking a blocked DPF. If you decide to run your diesel in a stationary position to charge the battery, definitely don’t turn your car’s engine off if it’s in the middle of a DPF regeneration (you’ll know because you’ll probably see a filter-shaped warning sign on your dash and the engine note should change).

EVs

We'd recommend checking the owner’s manual, but most advise that electric vehicles (EVs) should be kept plugged in when not in use (if possible and safe to do so), leaving the car’s sophisticated electronic control system to take care of battery pack’s health seamlessly. 

There are fewer parts to worry about than a conventional car, but the same advice as a petrol/diesel car applies for tyres, brakes and windscreen fluid levels.

Hybrids

A halfway house between a conventional car and an electric vehicle, these cars typically have a petrol engine and a smaller battery pack than a pure EV. 

Again, check the owner’s manual, but if in doubt, it may be best to leave it plugged in (again, if possible and safe) or the manufacturer may recommend a trickle charger. Additionally, some will suggest running the car while stationary for a minimum amount of time. 

Check your car’s tyres and brakes etc as with petrols/diesels (above). Read more about hybrids in our guide to everything you need to know about hybrid cars.

Air con

The coolant in a car’s air conditioning unit flows through the system and lubricates the seals. If air con goes unused for a long period, those seals can dry out and cause leaks. 

When you start your car to charge the battery (see above), switch on the air con occasionally too. This will help maintain the seals and reduce the chance of mould developing in the air circulation system.

Fluids

Check your car's fluid levels, including oil, engine coolant, brake fluid and screen-wash, every few weeks to ensure they’re at least at minimum recommended levels. It's also worth looking underneath your car for any possible leaks. 

Cleaning

If you're storing your car in a garage for the duration of the lockdown, it should ideally be cleaned and polished first in order to prevent any dirt drying on, and the space itself should be ventilated. Check your car regularly if parked outside and clean off bird droppings and tree sap which may discolour the paintwork. Read our extensive guide to cleaning and disinfecting your car

Keys

Incidents of keyless car theft, or relay theft, are increasing. It's vital to keep your keys in a safe place as far from the front door as possible, and preferably in a metal box. Find out how to protect your car against relay theft.

Back on the road

Before taking your car out for the first time after a long period of inactivity, you should make sure your car insurance, road tax and MOT are up to date so you can drive legally. If your MOT is overdue, book it in for a date as soon as possible. 

Now repeat the basic car maintenance checks outlined above, covering the brakes and fluid levels, but also check the lights and wiper blades. Finally, check the pressure on your tyres and the tread depth (legally each tyre must have a minimum of 1.6mm of tread).

Take it easy initially, checking the brakes and steering, and make sure your car drives properly and there are no unusual noises. If your car has been left for a considerable period, then it might also be worth booking it in for a service.

I'm an experienced journalist, digital editor and copywriter, now specialising in motoring. I’m editor of Automotive Blog and have worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online for household names including the BBC, GMTV, ITV and MSN. I’ve produced digital content in the financial sector for Lloyds Bank, Nationwide and the Money Advice Service. I'm married with two children and live near Bath in Somerset.

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