The 8 essential car checks to carry out before hitting the road
For many people, the recent changes to lockdown restrictions will not make a huge difference.
Those who can work from home are being encouraged to continue to do so and people are being urged to stay at home if they can.
However, with Boris Johnson’s announcement that anyone who cannot work from home should try to return to work, his advice to avoid public transport, and the news that people can now drive further afield to take exercise, it’s likely that more of us will be heading out in our cars.
During lockdown it’s likely that your car has sat completely idle or little-used, possibly for weeks on end, so it’s important to make sure it is fit for use before heading out on the road again.
Richard Leonard, Highways England's head of road safety, commented: "We should only be leaving home for the reasons the Government has set out – and we want those journeys to be safe ones. If you haven’t driven for a few weeks you might feel a bit strange getting back behind the wheel, and your car will need a few simple checks."
It’s vital that you make sure your tyres are still in good condition - they’re the only thing connecting you with the road.
Even when a car isn’t being driven, its tyres can still lose pressure, meaning they may be under inflated when you get back onto the road. Check your optimum pressure in the owner’s handbook and use a pressure gauge to ensure your tyres are properly inflated.
Likewise, sitting stationary for weeks can cause flat spots to develop. These patches of worn-down tread will unbalance the wheel, causing it to vibrate and affecting the vehicle’s handling. If you do notice these tell-tale signs, you should have the tyre inspected as soon as possible by a professional.
You should also give your tyres' overall condition a checl. After going unused for extensive periods of time tyres can harden, lead to the sidewalls cracking. Inspect your tyres for cracks or bulges before setting off and check the tread depth is at least 1.6mm.
Checking fluid levels should be a regular part of car ownership anyway but if your car has gone unused for several weeks, it’s even more important that you check if the oil, brake fluid, engine coolant and screenwash need topping up.
If you’ve left your car untouched for weeks or only taken it for very short runs it’s possible that the battery could be flat. You don’t want to discover this at the last minute so check it well in advance of taking your car out. If it is flat and you have time, use a charger to bring it back to life. If you’re in a hurry, follow our advice on jump starting a car.
The days might be getting longer but it’s still important that you check your car is properly illuminated before hitting the road. Take a moment to check that all of your lights are still in working order. So not just your headlights, but also your braking, reverse and indicators too. The last thing you want is to wait until you’re driving on a dark road to discover you’re missing a light.
When a vehicle isn’t used for an extended period, especially if it is parked outside, it can easily begin to gather dirt and debris which can cause problems. Small items like twigs and leaves can gather in air intakes and other gaps and have the potential to catch fire in a hot engine bay so make sure to inspect the grille, beneath the windscreen and underneath the bonnet for any debris before setting off.
If your car has sat untouched for weeks, it’s also likely to be dirty. A dirty windscreen or lights can cause serious visibility problems so give them a good clean before heading off to stay safe and on the right side of the law.
At the end of March, the Government announced a six-month exemption to MOT testing for cars, bikes and vans. That means vehicles with an MOT due to expire from March 30 were given an automatic extension. However, it’s important before hitting the road to ensure that your vehicle definitely has a valid MOT certificate, driving without one carries a fine of £1,000. Here’s how to check your car’s MOT status.
It’s also important that if you made a Statutory Off Road Notice on your car tax it again before using it. And if you suspended or cancelled your insurance to save some money, make sure your cover is back in place before driving.
Don’t set straight off
If your car hasn’t been used at all since March, don’t go tearing off your drive the moment you’ve fired it up. If the engine hasn’t run for a prolonged period it’s a good idea to give it some time to warm up first so once you’ve turned the ignition, don’t even rev it, just let it idle for a few minutes before you set off.
Test your brakes
Another hazard of a car being laid up for more than a couple of days is that brakes quickly develop a film of rust on the discs. This is usually just a thin layer but it will affect your car’s braking initially and you’ll notice it in a grinding noise. Take it easy when pulling away and carefully apply the brakes a few times to clear the rust.