With the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic affecting the UK, many motorists are making efforts to keep their vehicle in tip-top shape without breaking the social distancing measures set in place by the UK government. To help drivers, Trust My Garage has put together some advice on how you can stay within the guidelines and keep your vehicle at its best – read on to find out more!
With the implementation of a lockdown, it is best to use your car only for essential travel – such as food shopping, collecting a prescription, medical appointments or travelling to work if you are unable to work from home. By using vehicles less frequently than is the norm, many motors are left standing on driveways, in garages and parked on the roadside, leading to potential roadworthiness and safety issues.
Remember, many garages remain open for essential repairs, so if you have any concerns about your vehicle’s roadworthiness, get it checked out as soon as possible.
MOT status, tax and insurance – are you covered?
Without getting into your vehicle, you could be in violation of the UK’s motoring laws – but you can take simple steps to be sure you aren’t driving illegally.
Due to the pandemic, the UK government is extending car MOTs due from 30th March onward by six months on a 7-day rolling basis (so an MOT due on 1st April is now due on 1st October, and so on). Review dates are currently subject to a staggered implementation, and extended dates are being posted on the Gov.uk website here. To find out more on how the extension works, you can view our “The MOT Extension – how does it work and does it apply to you?” here.
Even if your vehicle’s MOT has been extended by the government, should you feel it is unsafe or unroadworthy take it to a garage as soon as possible for an MOT, repairs or maintenance. Your safety and the safety of other road users is paramount!
Although you may not be using your vehicle as regularly as normal, it is still subject to Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), commonly known as road tax. This is an annual tax that is levied as an excise duty and which must be paid for most types of vehicles which are to be driven or parked on public roads in the UK.
About a month before your road tax expires the DVLA will issue you with a V11 Vehicle Tax Reminder, containing the information you need to either renew your tax online, via telephone or at a Post Office branch, as well as the date your current road tax period will expire. You can also check the status of your road tax online via the Gov.uk website here.
During lockdown, you may also need to check that your vehicle is still insured for use. Your insurance provider will send a reminder email or letter approximately a month before your policy is due for renewal, so you can choose to either renew with your current supplier, or with another provider depending on what suits you best.
If you aren’t sure when your insurance renewal is due, your existing policy documents will provide the correct date. Insurance providers often supply these via an online portal or paper format, depending on what you have requested, so you can check at your convenience.
Tread carefully when it comes to tyres
You should check your tyre pressures at least every two weeks – and if your vehicle has a spare, check that too! Under inflated tyres increase fuel consumption and reduce vehicle handling, and they also lead to increased tyre wear, which means your tyres may require replacing sooner than you expect.
The legal limit for minimum tread depth in the UK is 1.6mm across the central three-quarters of the whole tyre, however it is recommended to keep your tyres at 3mm or above for optimum grip. Drivers who fail to comply with the regulations face a fine of up to £2,500 and three penalty points for each illegal tyre. You should also look out for cuts or wear anywhere on the tyre and replace them if you can see tears or bulges.
If a vehicle stands for an extended period of time, flat spots may occur on your car’s tyres. These happen when a vehicle’s wheels have not rotated for a long period of time and the downward pressure from the body causes the tyres to become misshapen where they contact the road surface.
When a car has a flat spot on one of its tyres, this can lead to symptoms such as vibrations on the steering and inconsistent handling, because the wheel is unbalanced. If flat spots do occur on your tyres, they may rectify themselves as the vehicle is brought back into use; however this may take some time. If you are unsure whether the vibration you are encountering is a tyre flat spot or something more serious, contact your local garage.
Batteries and brakes – are they roadworthy?
When a vehicle is not used for a prolonged period of time there is a risk of the battery power draining to a point where there is insufficient charge to start your car. If you find your car has a flat battery you have a number of options:
- Charge it using the correct type of external battery charger
- Jump start the car using jumper leads connected to another vehicle or battery.
Before using either option it is always advisable to consult your vehicle handbook to ensure you connect any cables correctly, as so incorrect use could cause damage to your vehicle’s sensitive electrical systems.
If there are two cars in your household, you may want to consider alternating your essential trips in them. You should also be mindful that repeated short journeys will flatten your battery faster than usual, which is even more reason to follow the government’s guidance to shop for necessities as infrequently as possible. You should also avoid turning your engine on only to turn it off again shortly after.
Another issue that can occur when vehicles are left unused for long periods is brake seizure or sticking. This makes it difficult to get the vehicle rolling after not being used. If your brakes do stick or seize on this may not be as easy to resolve as a flat battery, so contact your local garage and arrange for a vehicle check prior to undertaking any travel after prolonged periods without use.
Working brakes should have a foot pedal that feels firm throughout its working travel, getting firmer the more you push down on the pedal. If you notice that the brakes feel spongy or slack, and perhaps the car appears to be taking longer to slow down or stop, you likely have air in the brake lines. If this is the case, take your vehicle to a garage to have it inspected!
Keep things fluid
You should check fluid levels to keep your engine well maintained and have your car ready to drive when you need it. Top up your:
- Oil: Make sure your engine oil level is showing between the minimum and maximum marks on the dipstick. If your vehicle doesn’t have a dipstick consult the handbook on how to check your engine oil level electronically. Details of the correct oil type and grade will also be noted in your handbook.
- Coolant: The coolant level in your vehicle should be between the minimum and maximum marks on the water tank in the engine compartment. If you need to top up your coolant, you must do so as per the vehicle manufacturer’s instructions.
- Windscreen wash: A clear view of the road is vital. A dirty windscreen combined with low Spring sunshine can make visibility difficult. If your washers aren’t working correctly your view of the road ahead can be severely impaired, so top up your screen wash and check you wiper blades for dirt or trapped debris
Take a long, hard look
Prior to setting off on any journey, it’s always good to visually inspect your vehicle for any issues, such as dirty or broken lights or tyre inflation, and ensure your front and rear number plates are clearly visible.
Not sure how best to care for your car?
Our ‘What to do when…’ series can provide some further tips and insight across other areas of motoring and vehicle maintenance to help you ensure your motor is running at its best! You can check out our other posts in the series here.
If you’re looking for a professional local garage to help give your car some TLC you can find a local CTSI approved Trust My Garage member by visiting the Trust My Garage website’s ‘Find a Garage’ map! You can even read reviews from other motorists about the members in your area to help you decide which garage is right for you. Try it out here:
Want to know more about Trust My Garage?
Trust My Garage is a collection of Britain’s trusted local garages – each one different and all dedicated to the highest standards of skill and personal service.
Every garage in Trust My Garage are members of the Independent Garage Association, which is part of the RMI, one of Britain’s oldest motor trade organisations. IGA members are true professionals who have to comply with a strict code of practice.
Every customer of all Trust My Garage members can rely on using a nationally recognised brand to help you and your vehicle get the best value service for you and your vehicle. If you want to find out more about Trust My Garage, visit our website, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!
Don’t forget: If you can think of any more top lockdown maintenance tips, leave us a comment in the box below!