Keeping your vehicle in good running order: Practical maintenance tips for your car or motorcycle

Blog post posted on 11/11/20 |

With COVID travel restrictions still in place across much of the UK and - even in regions where the rules have been recently relaxed – with many people choosing to stay at home more often, it can be easy to forget about your car or motorcycle. It is not often that your vehicle may sit unused for days at a time. So how will it survive for a period of minimal activity or complete inactivity?

Here is a reminder of Richard Gladman, Head of Driving and Riding Standards at IAM RoadSmart’s useful tips on how to help ensure your vehicle remains in good condition while it is not being used:

Check your car or motorcycle’s tyres frequently. The main things to check are pressure, cuts and bulges and tread depth and to make sure they are at the recommended settings. A tyre that is partially deflated will put extra stress on the sidewall and may cause lasting damage if left that way for an extended period. If you have space, roll the car forward or backwards slightly to change the area where the stress on the sidewall is greatest. The minimum tread depth on a car is 1.6mm and you can test this using the ‘20p test.’ Simply put a 20p coin into the tyre groove and see if the outer band of the coin is still visible or not. If it isn’t, your tyre is above the legal limit, and if it is, your tyre needs replacing. Motorcycle tyres must have a minimum of 1mm, in both cases this must be across the central ¾ of the tyre. Remember to check the tyre pressures as well, preferably when cold. Keeping the pressure right will mean you are ready to go out as soon as restrictions are lifted or when you need to make essential trips.

If left for a long period of time a car handbrake can stick on. To avoid this, sit in the car, apply the footbrake to ensure no movement and release the handbrake. If possible, move the car slightly before re-applying the handbrake, just to vary the part of the drum or disc where the pads are gripping.

A modern car battery which is in good condition should stand up well to periods of inactivity and newer cars will shut down most systems if it detects inactivity for a long period of time. There may however be a small drain due to an alarm system. It is also possible to lose some charge if the terminals are dirty or corroded, so make sure they are clean if you’re able.

To compensate for any power drainage over time, try connecting a maintenance charger which will charge and discharge the battery as necessary. These are available for home delivery from a range of online retailers.

If you do not have access to a power socket, there are some solar devices available that will do the same job without the need for mains power. Again, these are available for delivery from online retailers. As a last resort, if you are worried, you can start the vehicle up and allow it to run stationary for 15 minutes or so every couple of weeks. This is not ideal and certainly not good for the environment, but if you do need to do it, make sure all electrical systems are switched off before you start. If they are on you will likely drain more power than you put in. Remember, if you do run the engine, do not leave your vehicle unattended while doing so.

Checking your engine oil levels is quick and easy with many new cars now having a self-checking system in place. If you have to do it the traditional way, then make sure your car is on level ground and that the engine is switched off and cool. You can check you have the right amount of oil by using the dipstick or – for some motorcycles - a sight glass in the side of the engine casing. For motorcycles, remember to keep the bike vertical when checking this by getting someone to sit on the bike whilst you check the oil. Bear in mind that overfilling will also cause damage, so top up slowly and check the level regularly.

Making sure your car or motorcycle lights are in good working order is essential. When it comes to checking them, you should make sure that your headlights, indicators, reversing lights, fog light and brake lights all work properly. This check is simple, but you may find it easier to ask someone to help you. Alternatively, you could park near a window or garage door and use the reflection to see if your lights are fully operational.

Water and screen wash
Almost as bad as running out of oil is running low on water – also known as engine coolant. This can usually be checked visually by looking at the side of the coolant reservoir. If the level is low or your temperature gauge shows the engine is running hotter than usual you may need to check the levels, but ideally this should be done by a professional as the systems are under pressure and can be very hot. If you do have to top up, remember to carefully follow the information in your car or bike manual.

Keeping your screen wash topped up will ensure you are always able to clear your windscreen. If you use a screen wash additive it will help remove bugs and could stop the water freezing.

Richard Gladman said: “At this time it is vital that we follow the relevant government advice for where we live and, even where we are allowed to travel, do so only when it’s essential. So, while your car or motorcycle is being used less than usual, these few precautionary checks will help make the transition to normality easier when the time is right.”