During a period of inactivity anything mechanical has the potential to degrade. Here are our top tips for how to look after your car during a lockdown or any period of inactivity.
During a period of inactivity anything mechanical has the potential to degrade - batteries can go flat, brakes can seize, paint can fade all resulting in an inconvenience when you may need your mode of transport for that essential trip, or for the glorious day lockdown is lifted. Furthermore, the value of your car may suffer. The easiest thing would be to place it in the hands of professionals such as Windrush Car Storage to take care of these risks on your behalf, but for those who are caring for their pride and joy at home let’s go through each potential issue to discuss how you can proactively care for your car yourself in curious times.
Without a healthy battery you aren’t going anywhere, and in the modern age let’s not assume we are talking about just starting the engine. With many EVs now in circulation, without battery charge you are stuck and we’re not talking about a simple ‘jump start’ like the good old days - it’s most likely the car may need to be recovered by a tow truck and taken to a specialist for repairs.
Any battery left unattended for a length of time will discharge, with the speed of this discharge somewhat dependent on weather conditions (temperature, humidity etc). Generally, the older the battery is the closer it will be to the end of it’s serviceable life and it will not have the ability to hold as much charge as a new battery, discharging faster as a result. Click here to read a dedicated article on battery care.
- Placing the vehicle on charge will top up the battery but it’s not a good idea to leave your car on a regular car charger for prolonged periods. At Windrush Car Storage we use specifically designed fully automatic battery charger conditioners. These will charge a flat battery but also automatically switch to an automatic float/maintenance mode, which will monitor feedback from the battery, increasing and decreasing the amount of amps it supplies depending on what the battery needs. These are designed to be left connected safely for months on end.
- You can use the engine to charge the battery. Engines have a device called an alternator (or dynamos on very old cars) and as the engine turns, a belt drives the alternator which puts out a current which tops up the battery. This can be done by driving your car or sitting stationary. Clearly sitting still isn’t very environmentally sensitive, and leaving your car running left unattended could increase the chances of theft. Driving your car for essential food or medicine supplies on the other hand would charge your car’s battery whilst being socially responsible.
- There is also the option of fitting a battery monitor which you can connect your smartphone to monitor battery health. Many EVs have this feature already integrated within their system, but for regular cars it is possible to purchase a dongle that attaches to the battery terminals and connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth. As you notice the battery levels drop, you can use solutions 1 or 2.
Over time tyres will lose pressure and deflate. Why? If my car is new or has new tyres, surely it won’t do this! Not true: all tyres are microscopically porous (rubber is a natural compound) and the air molecules will percolate through the rubber very slowly over time. This can be bad for your tyres for a few reasons.
- Deflated tyres will result in poor vehicle handling and could result in loss of vehicle control – clearly not a good result for you, your family or placing the emergency services under more pressure.
- Soft tyres can develop flat spots on the contact patch with the road surface. This can affect vehicle handling as described in 1.
- Tyres left outside degrade with sunlight. Over time the UV light leads to perishing of the rubber, which increases the chances of a tyre failure.
- Simple aging – older tyres do not age well for obvious reasons.
- At least once a month check your tyre pressures. The manufacturers prescribed pressure for your vehicle can be found in your car’s handbook, sometimes on the driver’s door shut area or inside the fuel filler flap. Most petrol stations usually have a tyre inflation facility which will give the current tyre pressure read out when connected. Alternatively, you can purchase a tyre pressure gauge to keep in your vehicle for periodic checking at home. The issue with having your own gauge is that whilst this is calibrated when new, it can go out of tolerance over time. A garage, however, has a duty of care for public safety to have their equipment calibrated at least once a year.
- Try to garage or cover up your tyres to prevent the UV light getting to them. Be wary of the risks on covering the whole car when parked outside, however – see bodywork section below.
- All modern tyres are individually date stamped. These can be tricky to find but have a good look on the sidewall and it will be there. Essentially general advice is not to keep your tyres in use more than 10 years, however this time can be further reduced if UV damage occurs resulting in perishing. Some motoring professionals now advise not keeping tyres in service for longer than 6 years. Let’s face it - the small four contact patches where your car meets the road are the only thing keeping you on it in a safe controlled manner, so taking due care is crucial.
More information on tyre advice can be found here.
Brakes are moving parts and rely on use to keep in full working order. Due to their location they are exposed to extreme temperatures, cleaning chemicals, salt and grime. As a result of this they only work well when maintained and serviced, so whenever Windrush take a car for a service we ensure the pads are removed, cleaned, and checked before replacing if required and applying anti-squeal and rust compound to the relevant areas. However, brakes do work best when they are used day to day, week to week. When parked up these moving parts can seize resulting in binding brakes or at worse a seized brake. Even if your brakes do not bind, periods of inactivity can reduce braking efficiency which could be unsafe when you do fire your car back up.
- When your vehicle is serviced ask your garage to not only visually inspect the wear surfaces (which is usually done by a trained eye through a wheel spoke) but to remove the wheels, which again is a good idea to ensure they are not seized to the hubs. Have them remove the friction pads, inspect, replace if needed but importantly clean the sliding surfaces and apply a high temperature copper grease. This effort will reward you with maximized braking efficiency and by minimizing the chances of seizing during periods of dormancy.
- Use your vehicle when you can, and don’t be too shy when using the brakes. Too little pressure can also reduce the braking performance over time, so ensure no one is following and when the road is clear on a safe road use a reasonable amount of force for around 4 seconds from 50mph to give the pads and mechanism a work out. Think of yourself sitting on the sofa all day - you would seize up, exercise is healthy for humans and mechanical components.
- After the winter ensure to really rinse down your wheels, underside and brakes to remove any salt residue which will accelerate mechanical degradation if left unattended.
- After washing your car, you may notice your brake discs turn a golden brown colour. Whilst this can look ‘pretty’ it is rust, the arch enemy of cars. If you didn’t move your car this rust would bind the brake pads and to the brake discs, potentially resulting in seized brakes. If you can, leave the car for 24 hours and then take for a short drive applying the brakes to remove this flash rust.
- Try to leave the handbrake off when left for extended periods to avoid seizing. The safest practice is to place the vehicle in gear, chock the wheels and turn your wheels to the curb.
Bird poo, tree sap, brake dust, road grime, road salt and grit all attack the bodywork and glass of your car. If not removed during lockdown these may degrade the appearance and aesthetics of your car, which can be demoralizing at a challenging time but also negatively affect the value of your vehicle when you wish to sell it on. If left for too long not only will the condition of the paintwork be adversely affected but the protective layer in the paint could be compromised ultimately rendering it susceptible to rust.
- Wash your vehicle properly (here's our guide on how to wash your car the right way!)
- Don’t cover your car outside. Be careful here as a generic cover will chafe and rub at the corners of your paintwork possibly causing more damage then not using a cover. The paint on your car is designed to protect as well as looking pleasing to the eye.
During uncertain times and even during every day life, a proactive approach to car care is always a good idea. Having a breakdown that could be avoided and having to call someone out to assist takes them away from someone who may need their help more and potentially placed both of you in a higher risk of virus transfer.
Here are a few essential items which could help. You can keep these in the boot of your car or at home easy to hand.
- Automatic battery conditioner
- Bluetooth battery condition recorder which links to your smartphone
- Jump leads
- Tyre pressure gauge
- High visibility jacket for you and any passengers
- Service record which is regularly updated
In secure car storage at Windrush we keep all cars on the button in a secure, controlled environment alleviating all of these risks. Every vehicle is accessible with same day notice, and our clients can use their cars as often or as little as they wish knowing everything is good to go.