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

Blog post posted on 26/01/21 |

With COVID travel restrictions back in place across the UK 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?

Richard Gladman, Head of Driving and Riding Standards at IAM RoadSmart has these useful tips on how to help ensure your vehicle remains in good condition - and road legal - while it is not being used.


  • Check your car or motorcycle’s tyres frequently. Look for cuts and bulges and that they have sufficient tread depth. This should be 1.6mm for cars and 1mm for motorcycles. Read TyreSafe’s advice here if you need further information.
  • Keep the tyres inflated to the manufacturer’s settings and if the car is sitting for some time, rotate the wheels to distribute any deformation in the carcass.
  • Remember that wet weather performance starts to deteriorate below 3mm, so – if you do need to make essential journeys - a change long before the legal limit is reached will help maintain safety.


  • 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 carefully 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 they’re inactive for a long period of time. There may however be a small drain due to an alarm system. It’s also possible to lose some charge if the terminals are dirty or corroded. So, make sure they’re clean if you’re able.
  • To compensate for any power drainage in your battery 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. Just check they are compatible with your vehicle. Again, these are available for delivery from online retailers.
  • As a last resort, if you’re 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’re on, you’ll likely drain more power than you put in. And 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, and making sure your oil is kept at the right level will mean you’re ready to start as soon as you can get back on the road.
  • If you have to do it the traditional way, then make sure your car or bike is on level ground and that the engine is switched off and cool before proceeding (unless the handbook requires the oil to be warmed first).
  • 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 cause damage, so top up slowly and check the level regularly as you proceed.


  • Making sure your car or motorcycle lights are in good working order is essential if it is to remain in a road legal condition. 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

  • Check your engine’s cooling system. Most are filled with a specialist mixture which improves performance in varying weather conditions. You can check the protection levels using a readily available antifreeze tester. Always do this with the engine cold as modern systems are pressurised and you should not remove the cap whilst the engine is warm and running. If in doubt get it checked by a professional.
  • Keeping your screen wash topped up will ensure you’re ready to get back on the road as soon as coronavirus restrictions are lifted. You’ll also confident you can clear your windscreen and maintain safe vision on any essential journeys. Getting the correct screen wash solution will also prevent the system icing up and help remove bugs and grime.

Richard said: “At the moment it’s vital that we follow the relevant government advice and travel 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.”