One of the side effects of Melbourne’s extended COVID lockdowns is that a lot of cars haven’t been getting the attention they require. While we’ve been stuck inside, our cars have been stuck in the garage. And it’s worth considering how this period of inaction may be affecting your car.
Leaving a car unused over a long period of time can cause a number of problems. You might think that the less we use our cars, the longer they’ll last. However, it’s important to remember that your cars are made up of complicated electrical and mechanical systems that need to be used regularly in order to work properly.
There are several reasons why you shouldn’t leave your car just sitting in your garage. The fluids that your vehicle uses for hydraulics, lubrication and cooling needs to be circulated on a regular basis. If these fluids are left unused for a significant period of time, they can coagulate (solidify and harden) or become stale. This will most definitely affect the overall performance of your vehicle.
The electrical components in your car also need attention. Most cars nowadays use a little bit of charge to keep the electrical components in the vehicle ‘alive’, even when not in use. As a result, if you leave your car in your garage long enough, your battery can run out of charge.
You also need to care for the tyres. Overtime, your tyres will lose air pressure. If the car isn’t being driven often enough, the lost air pressure might cause the tyre to develop flat spots. These spots can cause vibrations when you do decide to use your vehicle again.
Now that you know the issues that an idle car poses, here are a few ways to keep your vehicle healthy throughout the lockdown.
- Run the engine from time to time
Most mechanics will recommend that you drive your car every four to six weeks for at least 30 mins. Putting your suspension, brake pads and engine to work every month or so will ensure that they’re in working condition once you start driving regularly again.
If you can’t go out for a drive for whatever reason, you can simply rev the engine for a couple of seconds and leave the car idling for 10 minutes. If you’re doing this in your garage, make sure there’s proper ventilation.
- Check tyre pressure
If you only drive your car a few times a month, it’s recommended that you check your tyre pressure every week or two. Ensure that all tyres are at the correct pressure and there are no flat spots developing.
If you’re not going to be using your car for a while, some mechanics recommend putting in a little bit of extra air in the tyres. This is often done when a car owner is going away from home and wants to buy themselves a bit more time before the tyres start to deflate and develop flat spots.
- Ensure fuel level stays above ¼ full
Having fuel in your tank keeps the gas pump cool. If your tank is mostly empty, the pump will start taking in more air to the engine, causing it to heat up. Like with most parts of your car, overheating can cause malfunctioning or even a full breakdown. Your fuel pump will also start wearing out faster. Once the pump is compromised you could experience decreased fuel mileage, difficulties starting the engine, and disruptions while driving. As such, it’s recommended that you keep your fuel tank at least a quarter full.
You should also be careful with older cars as they typically have a metal fuel tank. Because of this, if your tank gets too low on fuel, the pump might start taking in rust sediments. These sediments can cause problems with the fuel line, the filter and the engine itself.
- Use a battery charger
A battery charger is an affordable way to keep your battery alive and kicking during the lockdown. Not only will it keep your battery charged, it will also lengthen its lifespan and improve its performance.
In the past, you could only get single stage chargers. A single-stage charger will need to be manually turned on and then turned off before it overcharges the battery.
Nowadays, there are multi-stage chargers that reduce the risk of damaging your battery through gradual charging. Multi-stage chargers go through the boost stage, which is where the charger is at full power, quickly charging your battery until it’s almost full. They then go through the absorption stage, which is where the charger slows down. Finally, there’s the floating stage, where the charge trickles down until the battery is completely full.
Although they’re more convenient, multi-stage chargers tend to be a bit more expensive than single-stage ones. Be sure to check with your mechanic to see what type of battery changer is right for you.
- Check all fluid levels
First, check your engine oil and top it up if necessary. The oil is responsible for keeping your engine parts lubricated. Without it, your engine will create a lot of friction, which in turn can cause overheating.
You should also check your coolants and brake fluids. Your engine coolant is a mixture of water and antifreeze and keeps the engine cool while it runs. Under your bonnet, you should be able to locate the coolant reservoir easily. If you can’t, consult the car’s manual. The translucent reservoir will usually have a marker telling you if it’s low on coolant.
Similar to the coolant, you should be able to find the brake fluid reservoir under the bonnet. In addition to the levels, you should also check the color of the brake fluid. If it’s too dark (i.e. darker than something like iced tea), consult a mechanic and get the fluid replaced.
That was just a few tips to keep your car healthy during lockdown. Keep these pointers in mind and you should be ready to hit the road once the restriction lifts.