Helping Your Car Cope With Lockdown

Starting to feel like this is your car?

For most of us, it’s going to be a while before the car gets much use. How do we keep it healthy in the meantime?

You know how it feels after you’ve been inactive for a while — on a long-haul flight for example, or stuck in bed after an illness. Everything feels a bit creaky, stiffened up, not moving as smoothly as it should. If that inactivity goes on for a long time, your fitness and eventually health can suffer.

Like human bodies, cars need to be regularly worked to keep them in good condition. Their mechanical and other systems are designed to move, not sit stationary on the driveway. But with the lockdown set to continue for who-knows-how-long, it will probably be some time before you can really blow the cobwebs out of your four-wheeled friend.

Fortunately, we’ve got five simple tips you can use to help your car during its enforced holiday.

1. If you can drive the car legally, do so.

Let’s be clear on this one: no one should be breaking government guidelines just to give their car a run. However, your circumstances may mean that you can legitimately give the car a bit of use. For example, if you’re in a two-car household, you could alternate which car is used on essential shoping runs. The ideal run would be long enough to allow the engine to warm up (if you have one, keep an eye on your oil temperature gauge) and allow the battery to charge. The Independent suggests taking the car home via a longer route or visiting a supermarket that’s a little further away. Even a brief run once a week will help free everything up.

2. Look after your tyres

Tyres are particularly vulnerable to inactivity. Leaving them in one spot for weeks on end can result in flat spots: the tyre settles and hardens, resulting in deformities that can eventually cause tyre damage. This is one reason why the tyres on towing caravans can be so vulnerable to failure — long spells on the drive gradually cause the tyres to degrade.

The best prevention for flat spots is, predictably, driving the car. This should ideally be for long enough to allow the tyres to warm up. But even moving the car a little lets the car’s weight rest on a different part of the tyre.

Adding a little extra air to the tyres can also help stave off flat spots. For long lay-ups, tyre specialists recommend adding about 3PSI. Make sure that you stay within the tyres’ safe maximum and don’t forget to return them to the correct pressure before you start driving.

3. Keep the battery topped up

If your battery is in good condition, then it should cope with at least a couple of weeks before it starts to seriously lose charge. However, continually starting the car for very short periods (for example, moving it in and out of the garage), or making lots of short journeys with the headlights on will quickly take their toll. Using a trickle charger or battery maintainer will keep your battery healthy and prevent the flat battery blues.

If you can’t get hold of a trickle charger, there is another solution…

4. In certain circumstances, let the engine run for fifteen minutes

There are lots of good reasons not to sit in a stationary car with the engine idling. For a start, it’s an offence to do this on a public road. Idling adds to air pollution, which contributes to the premature deaths of 64,000 people a year in the UK and, of course, to the even greater problem of climate change. Major manufacturers now recommend that cars are warmed up by driving them gently, never by sitting stationary.

Having said all that, if:

  • you have no opportunity to take the car out
  • you’re not parked on the road
  • you have understanding neighbours

…then you might consider running the engine for fifteen minutes. This will let oil and fuel circulate round the engine, as well as charging the battery. Obviously, make sure that you’re not in an enclosed space.

5. Be mindful about old fuel

Petrol and diesel do degrade over time as their more volatile components evaporate. In most cases, the effect is unlikely to be worse than a dip in the car’s performance and fuel economy. However, with extremely old fuel, the problems could be more severe. As the RAC explain:

…if oxidisation of the petrol has occurred, it could cause deposits and other impurities to clog up the inner mechanisms in your engine, and lead to substantial damage.

With diesel, the fuel can become sticky after time and quickly cause vital engine parts to congest and bung up if used, which could see you facing a hefty repair bill if left unchecked.

Bear in mind that we’re not talking about a couple of weeks here: petrol and diesel are probably fine for a good six months. However, even if the lockdown ends soon, some more vulnerable people will probably need to self-isolate for longer, and that could mean that their cars are sitting with some fairly ancient fuel in the tank. For petrol car owners in this situation, one strategy is to fill the tank to the brim. The logic behind this is that when the tank is full, there’s very little space left for any oxygen to react with and eventually degrade the petrol. For diesel cars, the situation is less clear and the jury is out on whether filling the tank up is best. The enemies of diesel are water and extremes in temperature, so theoretically, water vapour left in any air spaces in the tank could contribute to the diesel degrading faster. However, it’s not certain whether this makes much real-world difference.

The WVS blog covers a wide range of automotive topics, from the contentious to the light-hearted. We are an independent garage specialising in all the VW group marques, including Audi, Volkswagen, Skoda and SEAT. WVS provides services, repairs and MOTs, delivering a main dealer level of care at affordable prices. To book your vehicle in, or for any enquiries, get in touch.