One important thing to remember about cars is that they like to be used. Sitting around idle does them no good at all. Any viewer who has watched one of those automotive ‘barn find’ programmes on TV can attest to the state into which neglected cars deteriorate. Okay, it’s nowhere near as bad after comparatively short lockdown periods, but checks still need to be made to ensure that the vehicle in question is roadworthy and ready to go. Here are some ideas that may help:
Thoroughly check the condition of the tyres. Ideally, the owner will have left the vehicle with the correct air pressures in the tyre. Otherwise, examine the tread to ensure it meets legal requirements. Then inspect the rubber for any wear and tear which may have gone unnoticed in use; check for any bulges, cracks or anything that doesn’t look right. If in doubt, and when the other checks are done, take the car to your local car servicing garage or tyre centre for professional advice. Don’ t forget to check the alloys for damage too.
If the car has been off the road for a longer time, watch for ‘flat spots’. It’s admittedly an unlikely scenario in the lockdown sense, but the ground-contact patch of the tyre can flatten slightly where it stands on the ground. When driving a slight vibration may be felt for a few miles as the tyre ‘reforms’ itself. If this doesn’t go away, a badly flat-spotted example will need to be replaced.
Assuming the battery is functioning well, switch all the lights and indicators on in sequence and check for correct operation. Get a friend or family member to observe. They should especially look out for all the brake lights; some cars have a third lamp at the roofline or elsewhere. If it’s there, it has to work.
Don’t forget to observe the warning lights when the ignition is started. They should all come on and then go off (the seatbelt light may stay on if the belt is not deployed during this check). Any light that stays on indicates a fault (tyre pressure for example, as above) and requires immediate attention by the owner or their local car servicing professional.
Walk around the car and examine the bodywork for any loose trim or other damage. Cars standing idle, especially in the street, may have been on the receiving end of the odd knock or bang.
The Physical Check
If in doubt, if a garage or private standing is available, it doesn’t hurt to put the car on a trickle battery charger for the duration. You can’t ‘overcharge’ them and the owner will be content that the car will start on demand. There’s a procedure for attaching chargers to batteries; make sure you know it.
Car batteries don’t like being idle. They can go flat fairly quickly, depending upon age and quality. On the first turnover, if the car either doesn’t start or turns over sluggishly, then it needs charging or replacing. If the battery is over four years old, it is probably best to replace it any way.
Many modern cars have a stop/start facility that requires a different, more powerful battery and some motorists are unaware of this. They are called AGM (absorbent glass mat) batteries. When buying new, make sure you are getting the right one.
· The Fluids:
With the engine cold, withdraw the oil dip stick, give it a wipe with a soft cloth and replace it fully. Withdraw it again and check the oil level; it should between the low and high marks. Too low, then the oil needs a top-up. It is after all the lifeblood of the vehicle.
Check also the brake and clutch fluid level to make sure they are on the marker when cold. The same goes for the coolant expansion tank and, while the bonnet’s open, top up the windscreen washer liquid.
· The Clutch:
For cars with manual gearboxes, check the operation of the clutch while engaging a gear. It should all operate smoothly, with a little pressure needed on the pedal. If it is hard to engage a gear, or there is that dreadful grinding noise, it may be that the clutch is ‘stuck’ through lack of use. It’s a ‘tow to the garage’ job or call out a mobile mechanic to free it and advise on condition.
· The Brakes:
Check the operation of the brake pedal and ensure there is the right amount of resistance and braking force. Manual handbrakes can be checked by simply releasing them and checking operation. They can seize when not in use. If the handle pulls up too high, adjustment is needed.
It’s all just common sense really. If you yourself sat in a chair for the whole of lockdown (as tempting as that might be) you would be a bit stiff and creaky too. Ensuring that these simple checks are done will mean that when the time is right your car will be ready for action.