Several – long – weeks into lockdown; and almost as many weeks after the surprise announcement of ‘no penalties or fines’ for those who don’t get their vehicle MOTd; some official motoring organisations, including the AA; are starting to express concerns over our safety. And rightly so.
The weekend saw Boris across all news networks telling those of us who can’t work from home to head back to work. Great.
However, he went to great lengths to say we should avoid public transport, which means shoe leather or wheels. Practically, that’s highly likely to be the car choice for most of us.
But what exactly is the impact of jumping into a car with your packed lunch and a bag of enthusiasm (or not!) ready to head back to work? Potentially it could be a bad move. Because your vehicle has been sitting idle for as long as – ahem! – possibly many of us!
Don’t let a lack of vehicle safely checks trip you up
So before you get behind the wheel, we echo the concerns of the AA. And also of Richard Leonard, Highways England’s head of road safety who said: “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.”
Here’s a micro version of the advice from Highways England. Make sure you take time to check it out, so you minimise any risk of accidents and incidents on the road. The last thing you need is for your car to breakdown and be late for work…or worse still, cause an accident
Although these are often the most regular check we car owners carry out; if you haven’t been using your vehicle, they may have slipped too. So as a matter of priority, check all the basics: brake fluid, oil, engine coolant and screenwash
You must make sure your tyres are in good condition. They may have been perfect – brand new even – before all this happened. But remember: they’ve been taking the weight of your vehicle while sitting on the drive or in the garage for the last couple of months. This will undoubtedly have led to a loss of pressure, and they will be underinflated.
Use your owner’s manual to check what the correct pressure should be and use a pressure gauge to make sure you inflate accurately. No guesswork.
What can also develop when a car is stationary for a while is patches of wear on the tyre(s) – aka flat spots. These are particularly hazardous because they can not only cause vibration and affect how the car handles; they can unbalance the wheels. That’s not only dangerous; it can lead to costly repairs. If you suspect your tyres have flat spots, get them looked at by a professional as soon as you can.
Another issue that can arise from long periods of no use is a hardening of the tyres which, in turn, leads to the sidewalls cracking.
And the final check on tyres is the treads– they should be at least 1.66mm.
Even if you’ve been able to take your car out for short shopping trip runs your battery could be feeling as flat as you! Don’t be caught out – check in plenty of time before you need to head off to work and do what’s necessary; a full charge or a jumpstart.
Yes, it’s summertime – and you may not need headlamps or fog lamps unless you’re planning a long day and a late finish. But indicators, reverse and brake lights all need to be in perfect working order.
Dirt and debris can accumulate in and on a vehicle when left outside for long periods. Even relatively small items like leaves and twigs can do untold damage if they get into air intakes and other gaps. A particular hazard to watch for is when they gather around an engine. Because when that engine is started and has been running only a short while those twigs and leaves could easily catch fire.
So before you switch the engine on check beneath the bonnet, the windscreen and the grille.
And don’t forget to clean all windows and lights too.
Test your brakes
If your car is not used, even for a few days, a film of rust can develop on the discs, and you may hear a grinding noise as you pull away. To avoid damage to the brakes be extra carefull and apply gentle pressure to the brakes a few times to clear the rust. Ideally, only do so if the road is empty of other cars.
We mentioned at the start that the Government announced a six-month exemption to MOT testing.
However, you must ensure your vehicle does have a valid MOT certificate as the extension was to allow for the lockdown rules of ‘no unnecessary driving’.
Remember also that if you made a Statutory Off Road Notice on your car, you need to tax it again before using it. The same would apply to insurance – if you suspended or cancelled you need to reinstate or reinsure.
Don’t be in a hurry on your first day back in the car. The above checks should all be done at least the day before you plan to drive. But even when you’re in the car ready to head off to work, take time to sit with the engine running for a few seconds (no more). Familiarise yourself with your vehicle again.
Make sure the seat, seatbelts, mirrors are all positioned as they should be. And take a minute to listen to the sound of the engine idling before you pull off. Not only will you notice if anything isn’t quite right, but it also gives the vehicle time to warm up and get back into ‘work’ mode – just like you!