Get your car into tip-top shape for those post-lockdown adventures

Back to Driving
Essential car maintenance

It's important to keep your car maintained, even when you're not using it. Here, BBC Top Gear expert Paul Horrell walks you through the essentials

We're currently in lockdown due to the coronavirus, but that won't always be the case. Make sure your vehicle is ready for future fun by giving it some TLC now.

Once lockdown has been lifted, you're going to be eager to get back on the road. Not just for the sense of freedom it'll provide, but also because you'll have places you want to visit and people you need to see.

So, you want to be sure that your car won't let you down. Here are some simple tips to maintain your pride and joy when it's not being used. Note that these can be followed at any time, not just during a national emergency.

Maintaining your car: top up your air, fuel, oil and water

Car maintenance tips and tricks; inflating tyres

Start by pumping up your tyres to about 0.5 bar above their normal pressure. This will stop them getting 'flat spots' at the point where the tread meets the road. If you don't do this, you risk getting that annoying drumming sound from each corner of the car for several miles after you first drive off.

If the car is in a locked garage, open its windows. Air circulating through the interior will stop it getting musty. If the car is outdoors, open the dashboard vents.

Top up the fuel tank. Fuel slowly reacts with oxygen and moisture in the air, producing compounds that can compromise your engine – even fungus in the case of diesel. If the tank is full, there's less to react with.

Car maintenance; windscreen washer

Part of the engine oil's job is to clean the engine of various harmful substances. So it's worth changing the oil at the earliest opportunity. The other advantage of this is that new oil is better at forming a protective layer over internal components.

Also check that your cooling system and anti-freeze are at the right level. This applies even in summer, as it inhibits internal corrosion.

Maintaining your car: bodywork, brakes and wipers

Car maintenance; wiping car

Keep your car clean. This is important if you want the paintwork to last. Bird lime in particular can have a terrible effect if you leave it there. 

Once you've cleaned your car, protect it further by polishing it. If it's parked outside, keep it away from trees, which can drip sticky sap and also provide a home to the birds whose droppings you're trying to avoid. High temperatures and sunlight can fade paint and interior fabrics, so look for the shade of a wall or building. 

If you leave the handbrake on while the car is parked up for a long period, the activating pistons can corrode and jam in position, meaning the brake won't release when you drive away. So you should aim to park it in first gear or reverse in a manual transmission car, or P in an automatic.

Car maintenance tips and tricks; windscreen wipers

The wiper blades can also stick to the windscreen over time, so if your car is parked inside a garage, lift the arms off the glass. If it's outside, leave them in place, otherwise they'll get bent by flying twigs on a windy day. If this does happen, order a new set to be delivered from Halfords - Boundless members can get money off by ordering a discount shopping card

Maintaining your car: charging the battery

Car maintenance; battery charge

The battery can drain very quickly from modern cars, even when they're parked up on the drive or in the garage. This is because things like internet connections, security systems and tracker alarms don't switch off, they only go into standby, Older car batteries can also drain quite rapidly, due to poor insulation. 

Obviously, you need a charged battery to be able to crank the engine back to life when the time comes – but there's more to it than that. Running the battery right down can confuse the car's computerised systems, and might even damage the battery permanently. 

So, if you have a garage or drive, consider using a mains-powered trickle charger. Your car doesn't have to be charged full-time – a dose every couple of weeks should be enough to restore its optimum voltage of 12.6 volts. If you're charging outside, make sure you do it on a dry day.

With regular combustion cars, it's also worth starting it up every couple of weeks and leaving the engine to run. Not only will this charge the battery, it'll lubricate the engine and keep the fuel in the lines fresh.

Car maintenance; electric car battery

Got an electric car? These have both a main, high-voltage drive battery and a 12V battery for the lights, wipers and multimedia – the small one charges off the big one. The AA advises that you turn the car to 'on' so that the ready light is lit, and leave it for 10 minutes so as to charge the 12V system. 

It's best not to keep the main drive battery at 100 per cent, but don't leave it close to empty either. Parasitic losses are comparatively small against the huge amount of energy the battery can hold, so it's unlikely to need a top-upAnyway, in most EVs, over the months you can use the remote app to keep an eye on it. 

Maintaining your car: final checks before you go

Car maintenance; oil check

When the time comes to drive your car, carefully reset the tyre pressures and all the fluid levels. Your tyre treads will need to meet legal requirements – at least 1.6mm across the central three-quarters of the tyre.

Find out how to change your car tyres through Blackcircles.com

Also have a good root around under the body and around the engine bay. You might find that some small animal or bird has decided to make it their home while the car's been static. Once you've turned the ignition, pull away gently, testing everything – especially the brakes. Then enjoy the special return to motoring.

You might also like