At Home Car Maintenance12 February 2021
If, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, your car has been unused for a long time, it’s very important that you carry out some basic but effective maintenance to make sure your car works as normal when it comes time to get back behind the wheel.
Lockdown Car Checklist
Follow these tips to keep your car in optimal condition when inactive.
1. First Things First - Clean The Car
The first thing you should do, whether your car is about to become inactive for a long period of time or if it has been inactive for a long period of time, is to give it a thorough clean, inside and out.
On the outside, giving your car a thorough clean will be beneficial in three main ways.
- Prevent Paint Damage
Regular washes of your car are essential, especially if left outside. Things like tree sap, pesky bird droppings and other annoyances that drop onto your vehicle, can damage your paintwork. If these things are left unattended for a long time, especially the bird droppings, they can erode the paint, so make sure that if your car is stored outside, for example on the drive or nearby road, that you make regular checks and remove any fallen nasties from your car.
Did you know that bird droppings have acid that can burn through the clear coat of your car’s paint in as little as 48 hours?
- Wax = Suit Of Armour.
Wax acts like a suit of armour to the car’s paintwork. By giving your car a full and proper clean, and then applying a coat of wax afterwards, helps prevent things like tree sap, and bird droppings from damaging your paintwork.
Did you know that a new paint job for your car can cost upwards of £500 per panel and over £1,000 for a full body repaint?
- Clear The Corrosion
Make sure you pay attention to cleaning the lower parts of the car, and spraying the underside and wheel arches with the hose pipe/jet wash. This removes the mud and salt build up, helping to reduce the chances of corrosion.
Give the wheels a good clean to all the areas you can reach, removing the brake dust build up. If left this can eat into the clear coat finish on some wheels, causing them to lose their shine and look cloudy.
When washing the car, you may see the brake discs flash over with surface rust, this is nothing to panic about, move the car backwards and forwards to clear it. If you’re storing your vehicle, or the car is becoming inactive after washing, leave the handbrake off so the pads do not ‘stick’ to the discs.
Cleaning the inside of your car is just as important as cleaning the outside. In fact, it’s never been more important due to COVID 19. Here’s some tips to get your interior cleaned properly.
- Do Some Disinfecting
Disinfecting your car is vital in the current climate. Make sure to give the whole interior a once over with some mild disinfectant, but pay particular attention to areas where regular points of contact occur, such as the steering wheel, handbrake, gear stick and centre console.
- Clear Up The Crumbs
Crumbs, and other pieces of food, that are left in your car can decay and cause quite a stench, so make sure to give your interior a thorough vacuuming. If you don’t, and crumbs are left unattended to, it may cause insects and other vermin to infest your car, which can lead to further damage from these unwanted tenants.
2. Beware Of The Battery
One of the most susceptible to problems after a long stint of inactivity is your car’s battery. If you return to your car and find it wont start or that you can’t even unlock it, it’s likely that the battery in your car has gone flat.
Cold weather can sap the energy from your car battery, especially if you aren’t driving anywhere for a while. Even when a car is switched off, electrical items running in the background, such as security devices, can drain the battery, so to prevent your car’s battery from going flat during long spells of inactivity, it’s worth topping up it’s charge now and then.
It’s recommended that you run the car’s engine for at least 15 minutes, once a week. Not only will this give your battery enough time to charge but it will also circulate the oil and fuel around the engine.
While your car is running, it’s also worth firing up the air conditioning. This will reduce the chance of mould developing in the circulation system, will reduce the moisture from inside the cabin and also helps to maintain the seals too.
If you do find that your car battery has gone flat, connect some jump leads to another car to get yourself up and running again. Some models with internal batteries have a pyrotechnic charge to disconnect the battery when the airbags go off, so with all the electric systems on modern day cars, it’s worth reading the handbook before connecting directly to the battery. If that’s not an option, you may need to invest in a mains-powered battery maintainer or trickle charger, which cost around £40.
According to Green Flag, in April over 60% of their callouts were for battery-based issues. A 36% rise from the previous year.
3. Liquid Levels
Leaving a vehicle inactive for long durations can highlight possible leaks in fluid systems, if the vehicle has been left, always check the oil, coolant and power steering fluid levels before starting the vehicle. If any of them are low, top up as necessary, following the vehicles handbook for the correct levels and fluids to use.
Before driving the vehicle check the brake fluid level in the reservoir too, making sure its not dropped below minimum or completely drained away, as this could indicate a more serious problem. If there is evidence of this, do not move the vehicle.
It’s also worth firing up the car now and then as this will pump the lubricants around the system. This will prevent hoses becoming brittle, which can happen when they dry out from not being used regularly.
4. Look Out For Pests
If your car has been stationary for a long time, animals may think that it’s a safe place to nest and/or take shelter, so it’s important to give your car a scan now and then, especially before starting/driving for the first time, to make sure no animals have taken refuge.
Pay particular attention to wires and belts under the bonnet. Little critters that get in can chew on these so make sure that, if you do find evidence of animals that have found their way under the bonnet, you examine these first before driving away.
Chewed engine wires have seen drivers having to pay out between £220 - £440 for repairs.
5. Feel The Pressure
Be sure to check your tyre’s air pressure before departing on your first journey after your car has been inactive for a long time, as air is likely to have escaped during its inactivity.
To find the right tyre pressure for your car, most of the time it’s listed on a sticker inside the driver's door or on the fuel flap. If not, you can usually find the specs in the owner's manual. Most passenger vehicles will recommend an optimal tyre pressure of around 32 psi to 35 psi when they're cold.
6. Flat Spots Prevention
When a car is sat in one place for a long time, the tyres can produce flat spots where the tyre is touching the ground. To prevent this, simply move the car forwards or backwards slightly so that a different part of the tyre is touching the ground. Doing this will prevent a flat spot occurring on the tyre.
If you have a flat spot, hopefully it should only be temporary if it hasn’t been left too long. In order to fix the issue, first make sure that the tyre/s are pumped up to their optimal pressure, then simply go for a drive. During the journey the tyres will heat up and reshape back into their original form.
Unfortunately, if your flat spots are permanent, you’ll have no option but to replace the tyres, which can cost upwards of £45 per tyre or £180 for a full set.
7. Rusty Brakes
Inactivity can cause rust to build up on your brakes, which can lead to inefficiencies when trying to slow your car. To help prevent this, first make sure they’re as clean as possible or simply take the car out for a spin now and then.
However, if for whatever reason you cannot drive the car for a while, make sure that, once you can drive it, that you take things very slowly and cautiously to begin with. As stated, rusty brakes can cause them to function efficiently, and you may also find your vehicle pulls to one side if the rust is worse on one side than the other. Normally, this can be fixed by simply driving carefully and braking accordingly, avoiding heavy use early on. Do this for a while and you’ll find your brakes will normalise in time.
The cost of a set of brake pads can be anything upwards of £15, so if your car needs a fell set, you could see yourself spending over £70.
If you need your brake discs repaired or replaced, you may need to pay as much as £200.
8. Hands Off The Handbrake
Normally when we park the car after a journey we apply the handbrake to stop the car from moving. However, when the handbrake is applied for a long time it can become stuck and you’ll find that releasing the handbrake won’t make any difference. This is likely due to a build up of rust. If you know that your car will be inactive for a long period, and your car is parked in a flat location, meaning it doesn’t move when the handbrake is released, it’s beneficial to leave the handbrake off to prevent it seizing up. If you can do this, make sure the car is put into 1st gear on a manual and park in an automatic to prevent any movement if there is a slight hill. Another option is to place a wooden block or brick behind the wheels.
If you’ve found that your handbrake has seized up and the car will not move even with the handbrake released, try one of these tricks,
- Rocking the car back and forth manually.
- Applying and releasing the handbrake multiple times.
- Gently accelerate and/or reverse the car.
If none of these work you may need to call out a mechanic to fix the issue, which could cost you around £30-£60 depending on where you’re located.
9. Fill Up The Tank
When a vehicle is left for an extended period of time, in some climates moisture can build up within the fuel tank. Fuel itself slowly degrades over time becoming less volatile and easy to ignite within the engine. This is nothing to panic or worry about.
The first step is to top up the tank with some decent fresh fuel. If the tank is below halfway, try to fill the tank with fresh fuel, if the tank is over ¾ full, top up to full and when it reaches a ½ full top back up to full with fresh fuel. If any poor running or acceleration issues remind sneak professional help.
Whilst there's no real book time of draining and cleaning the fuel system as it is a labour intensive job, replacement of the in tank fuel pumps would start at around £100.
10. Take It For A Spin
The best way to prevent your car from many of the issues listed above is to simply take it out for a spin. Doing so will allow the car's lubricants to circulate through the system, change of rust on the brakes will be reduced and flat spots prevented amongst many other benefits.
It’ll also be beneficial to you too. Due to COVID, we’re having to spend a lot more time at home, and due to the winter months, we can’t enjoy the outdoors as much as we’d like to. So why not jump in the car and go for a ride out. It’ll provide you with a much needed change of scenery and it’ll do wonders for your car too!