Looking after your car post-lockdown
Do these things before starting your car for the first time in a while
During and after lockdown, you've probably taken time to look after you and your families' mental health as well as any vulnerable parents or neighbours. But don't overlook your car. Here are our tips for getting your car back up and running after a period of inactivity.
If your car has stood around for a while, without moving, the tyres will need inspecting.
- First, visually look over them. Are there any cracks in the tyres caused by exposure to the sun? Have any bulges or splits formed? If you see any, you'll want to get those replaced urgently, especially if they've formed on the sidewall (the outer faces, with all the tyre branding on), as those are the most dangerous.
- Are the tyres flat? You'll have to fill them back to the recommended pressure. You'll find information on how to do that in your owner's manual.
- If your car has been laid up for a while, then the tyres could have formed flat spots. You'll feel these in minor vibrations as you drive along. That can happen across long periods, with all the car's weight sitting on the same four contact patches. Regular driving puts heat into the tyre rubber, keeping it nice and supple, preventing flattening from happening. Changes in temperature can exasperate this issue. Tyre manufacturers say there are two different types of flat-spots, temporary (which will go away after a few kilometres of normal driving) and semi-permanent ones. Experts recommend you contact a tyre specialist if you have a more serious one.
You'll want to give your brakes a once over. If you have brake discs, these can form a thin layer of surface rust on the exposed metal. That should get scrubbed off as you brake normally and won't affect the performance too much. You could always move the car backwards and forwards on your drive to clean them off. If you notice little rust spots after braking though, then you've got what's called pitting, where the rust has eaten a little deeper into the disc. If you have brake drums, make sure they haven't become seized through lack of use. You may need a mechanic to unstick them for you.
If the pedal feels spongy or squishy when you push it, then you should also have the brakes professionally checked, in case any water has worked its way into the system.
If your car has an oil leak or slight coolant leak, the levels will have dropped and you'll need to check their levels. If the oil drops too low, the engine can overheat from lack of critical lubrication and be irreparably damaged. The same can happen due to insufficient coolant, which regulates the engine's operating temperature. Check your owner's manual to find the location of your oil dipstick and coolant expansion tank. If you feel up to the task, top them up as needed (but don't overfill them).
This is optional, but if the fuel has been sitting for some time in the tank (it feels like we've been using about a litre every two months in a small hatch), you might want to drop in an octane booster or additive to help the car properly combust the fuel. This is because fuel can go off or settle in the tank. One fuel brand says the storage life is as little as one month. Dropping in a dose of fuel additive can help improve combustion and make life a little easier on your car.
There are all kinds of additives available, from octane boosters to injector cleaner, fuel system conditioner, turbo cleaner and even a DPF cleaning fluid. Make sure you buy one that is compatible with your car.
Modern cars are chock-full of electronic gadgetry and tech. These can all put a drain on the battery and, if the vehicle has gone without regular running (which in ordinary use tops up the battery), it could have gone flat throughout lockdown. Some estimates say the battery will discharge by 1% daily.
Your initial reaction might be just to jump-start the engine, but there are inherent risks with the sudden power jolt and the possibility of user error.
CTEK, a producer of battery management products, recommends purchasing a smart battery charger like their MXS 5.0.
This charger is connected to the terminals and left alone. All the while, it'll keep the battery optimally charged. Then, when you need to start the car, you detach the charger and away you go! If you have a lithium battery, CTEK warns you'll need a different product, like the Lithium XS charger.
The brand's Asia Pacific Director of Sales and Marketing, Robert Briggs, cautioned that we shouldn't forget our car batteries.
"Naturally, our vehicles haven't been top of mind for many during the pandemic, but a car battery charger provides a simple, hassle-free solution. Regularly hooking your vehicle up to a battery charger and maintainer is essential to ensuring your car starts when you return to it", Briggs stated.
There's a legend that owners of one particular high-end sports car wouldn't use their car much, leaving them in the garage and really babying them on the rare occasion they drove the car. The engine would start running rough, so it would be taken to a mechanic. Their solution was to take the car out, drop it into a low gear and basically drive it hard. This helps the engine get up to temperature and clear out accumulations of soot and carbon.
Because it seemed to happen to Italian-brand sports cars, it was dubbed the Italian tune-up.
Whether that's true or not, modern cars do have emission-reducing systems that require certain conditions to be met so they can perform a rejuvenation cycle. This won't happen on infrequent and short trips around town to the supermarket. These components include Diesel Particulate Filters (DPFs). They need to reach a certain temperature or road speed for a set number of minutes (though on some vehicles, like Toyotas, they have a manual cycle button) to burn off the deposits. The best way to do this is to get on a long county road or highway and get the car to operating temps. You may even see a light on the dashboard indicating the car needs to do a regen cycle.
If you've carried out the above-recommended steps, then you can think about starting the engine. If possible, start the car and stay with it (leaving a running car unattended is dangerous, illegal and insurance-voiding), leaving the motor to warm up slowly and without much stress. This should put some juice back in the battery and also help you spot any leaks that have formed. The oil pump forces lubricant around moving parts, coating the inside with the protective liquid. If everything looks good, you should be ready to start driving in the world of "new normal".
Clean your car
If things are looking a bit dusty, be kind to your car by treating it to a wash. Tidy out and wipe down the interior, it'll be a pleasant and hygienic cabin to sit in then. We've published a more in-depth COVID-19 car cleaning guide.
Fancy some newer wheels?
Is your car looking, or running, a bit rough following the unexpected isolation lay-up? Dealers are currently running some sweet EOFY car deals, especially for businesses, with up to $33,000 in free extras on some new and demo models, or over $10k slashed from the drive-away price. Also, you could take advantage of the limited-time $150k asset write-off by purchasing a vehicle for your business.
Make your money go as far as possible
If you're going to buy a car with finance, make sure you do your homework and compare different car loans. Doing so could save you hundreds of dollars, freeing up your precious cash.
Images: Getty Images and supplied
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