Coronavirus: Getting your car back on the road

Georgia Petrie

Written by

Georgia Petrie

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  • Lockdown has seen thousands of cars parked up for weeks on end
  • Here's our handy guide to checking your car before getting it back on the road
  • Make sure your car is safe and roadworthy before setting off

Want to get your car back on the road but not sure what you need to check before turning the key? We’ve got some top tips to make giving your car a once over very simple.

Battery basics

To check your battery, start by turning the car on. If it starts as normal, you’re good to go! But if you’re met with some clicking, don’t panic. It most likely means your battery is flat, but it just needs a jump start. It helps to know that starting your car in colder weather takes more energy out of the battery, so try to start your car during a warmer part of the day. And to avoid any inconvenience, don’t check it right before you need to use the car.

If your car is relatively new, it’s best to check that jump-starting it won’t affect the manufacturer's warranty. Then have a browse of the owner’s manual to get to grips with jump starting. If you have roadside assistance, which often comes as part of a car’s warranty, you could call this service to get your car jump started by an expert if you’re unsure.

When that’s all done, run the engine for 20 minutes to prevent it from breaking down due to low battery later on in your journey. If your trip is going to be less than 20 minutes, sit in the car while it runs for a little while longer to make sure the battery gets the time it needs to recharge.

Avoid windscreen wash woes

Checking your washer fluid is arguably your easiest task. Most cars have handy opaque washer fluid tanks so you can see inside without removing the cap. If it needs topping up, mix windscreen washer fluid with the right ratio of water (it'll explain this on the bottle) and top it up. Badabing badaboom.

Don’t overfill the oil

Most oil level readings are done cold, but it's worth double checking your car’s manual. Make sure your car isn’t parked on a slope when you check any fluid levels, too, so the reading you get is as accurate as possible.

When you remove the dipstick from the oil, wipe it clean with a cloth and then dip it all the way back in. Pull it back out after a few seconds and see where the oil level is in relation to the markers on the stick. There should be a series of markers on the dipstick so you can gauge the correct oil levels (often labelled as low, medium, and high).

If the oil is low, check the manual for the type of oil you should use to refill it. Only poor in a small amount at a time - the difference between low and high oil can often be a tiny amount. Draining the oil if you put in too much is a much more difficult job. Slow and steady is the motto.

Don't gun the engine until the oil's warm. It takes the oil a lot longer to warm up than it does the coolant, so don’t only go by the engine temp. Once the car’s been running for a while and you're happy that it's legal to do so, you can push the car a bit more.

Time for tyres

The first thing to do is check that the tyres aren't standing in pools of water or other liquids like oils or fuel. If you spot that they are, remove it using plenty of water and a mild detergent.

Check all four tyres for damage like cuts, bulges or bits of debris that could cause a slow puncture. Once that’s done, check the tyre pressure - which should also be done when the tyres are cold. The right tyre pressure can be found in the car's handbook or on the pillar of the driver's side door. If you need a little help with checking your car’s tyre pressure, we’ve got all the tips for you here.

Hit the brakes

Brakes are a little bit trickier to check visually, which means you'll usually be notified that there's an issue once you start the engine and get a brake pad warning light (in modern cars) or there's a noticeable problem when you try to get the car moving.

After you’ve set off, check your brakes as soon as it's safe to do so - you don't want to find out there's no pedal pressure just before you need to perform an emergency stop. We know you already know this, but, make sure you leave a good amount of space between yourself and the car in front.

If the brakes have locked up, apply and release the handbrake a few times and then try to drive forward gently in first gear, then backwards in reverse to see if this loosens the rust. Be careful not to apply too much force.

You might notice a grinding sound when you first apply the brakes. The sound should clear after not too long. But make sure you keep the music down so you can keep an ear out for it on your first drive.

Electric education

Test your windscreen wipers are working and walk around the car to make sure the lights (headlights, indicators, hazards, dip and main beam, fog) are all in good working order, too - especially brake lights and the number plate lights.

Of course it goes without saying that if your car flashes up with any warning lights, these should be checked out straight away. Common warning lights include low battery charge, ABS, and oil pressure. If you need a little hand with your car’s dashboard warning lights and what they mean, check out our blog here. Many workshops and garages are still open and following social distancing rules, so you can feel safe should you need to get your car checked by an expert.

Leak lessons

It might sound simple, but it’s a good idea to check for any leaks around and under your car before you set off, especially if your car’s been sitting around for weeks. It isn’t a very common thing to happen, but it’s better to be safe than sorry! If you spot liquid puddling under your vehicle, grab a torch and see if you can spot where it's coming from.

A brown liquid that looks multicoloured in the light probably means it's fuel. Both petrol or diesel have very distinctive scents so you should be able to tell from the smell alone.

If this is the case, avoid driving your car as it's highly flammable. The likeliest reason is a leak in the fuel system. Unless there's an obvious fuel hose hanging loose, this one is best left to the professionals to sort out.

Other leaks definitely need to be checked out, so don’t drive if you see one without having someone with a bit of know-how let you know it’s safe to do so. Most garages will collect cars if they shouldn’t be driven, too, so you’ll be in good hands.

See also: 

Best cars for reliability

Best diesel family cars

Best cars with a five year warranty