When will lockdown end in Australia? With it having been extended into May and possibly beyond, most of our vehicles are sitting unused for much of the time. It's important to keep your car in good running order so when lockdown is lifted you'll be able to use it as normal, instead of having to repair it or – worst case scenario – book it into a garage, which will be next to impossible for a while. Here are some car maintenance tips.
Check your car’s tyres
Your car’s tyres tend to lose air over time, regardless of whether the wheels are turning or not. Tyre pressure gauges are cheap to buy online. Alternatively, use the inflator at your petrol station, but bear in mind that these machines tend to cost money to use, can be inaccurate and you're exposing yourself to the Coronavirus. We recommended a gauge you can keep in the glovebox. Wondering what tyre pressures your car needs? Check your car's manual or look for a sticker on the inside of the filler cap or on the inside of the A-pillar.
At the same time, check your tyres' tread depth and general condition. Sure, you won't be burning much rubber, but it's good to know how much life is left in the tyres. Remember, you need to keep your car in a roadworthy condition, and a tyre tread depth of 1.5mm is as low as you can go before you risk a fine from the police. We recommend changing your tyres when the tread gets down to 3mm.
Look after your car’s brakes
While you're focusing on the tyres, have a look at the brakes. Your car will have them on the front axle and possibly on the rear, too. Brake discs rust because they're made of iron, but this surface rust is skimmed off by the action of the pads as they are pressed against the surface when you brake. However, when the car's been sitting idle, even for a couple of days, rust can build up. The weather during the first few weeks of lockdown has been fairly kind in most parts of the country, but if we get more rainy days you'll notice rust building up faster.
You shouldn't let this accumulate. Try to use the car for a trip to the supermarket – hopefully a journey of at least a couple of miles, and try to brake heavily now and again to get rid of the rust. You'll 'feel' it through the brake pedal as soon as you move the car – and you may hear a grinding sound – but it'll disappear when you've braked a few times.
Of course, your brakes will stay rust-free for longer if you have a garage or car port – as long as the car is dry before you put it away.
One more thing to bear in mind with brakes – and the rear brakes in particular – is that the pads can stick to the discs. So if your driveway is level, and there's no risk of the car rolling away, put it into gear but leave the handbrake off when you park. It's also vital that you chock the wheels, no matter how level the ground appears to be.
Keeping your car’s battery charged
If anything's going to go wrong with your car during this lockdown period, it's likely to involve the battery. Modern cars use a variety of energy-hungry computers and sensors that continue to operate when the engine is turned off, and it's inevitable that your car's battery will be put under strain.
Simply starting the car and leaving it idling on the driveway (with your sitting in the driver's seat, of course) is one way of keeping the battery charged, but that won't add much juice; you need to take it out for a good run if the alternator is to replenish the battery sufficiently. So why not invest in a trickle charger? They don't cost much and are easily connected. Within a few hours your battery will be back to normal and you can put the charger away.
Even better, though, is a battery conditioner, which takes things to a new level, sensing when and how much charge is required, and is designed to be hooked up to cars in storage, no matter how long that lasts. Yes, conditioners cost more money, but will extend your battery's life.
Flat car battery? A pair of jump leads will get you up and running in no time. However, car batteries don't like going flat and hate being recharged multiple times. If you find yours is going flat repeatedly, and nothing on the car seems to be draining it, it's time to replace it. Shop around – it's very easy to spend well over £100 on a new battery, and even in excess of £200. Just make sure it's suitable for your car – many car spares websites let you filter suitable parts by inputting your registration number.
Wash your car
Less driving might mean there's not as much brake dust on the wheels or as many flies stuck to the windscreen, but pollen, bird poo and other debris isn't going to stop falling out of the sky, so give your car a good wash – it's also a good form of exercise!
Once clean, and with a good layer of wax on, you can probably get away without washing it again for a few weeks, but always wipe off bird lime with a damp cloth as soon as you spot it – it's acidic and can mark paintwork permanently if left too long.
Check your car’s fluids
Finally, don't forget to have a look under the bonnet. Make sure the vehicle is on level ground and that the engine is cold before checking the coolant level, the brake and clutch fluid, the windscreen washer fluid level, the power steering fluid (if applicable – some cars have electric power steering which doesn't need fluid) and the engine oil level via the dipstick.