Updated: 07 April
With lockdown measures easing across the country, you may be using your car for the first time in a while very soon.
If you’ve not been driving regularly during the COVID-19 lockdown, your car may need some attention before you hit the road. That’s because some car parts rely on regular use to stay in tip-top shape.
Follow these tips and there’s a much greater chance your car will start first time after a lockdown lay-up.
1. Look after your battery
The first COVID-19 lockdown showed just how important it is to look after your battery.
During the lockdown in April last year, over 60% of our callouts were for battery-based issues. In April of the year before, it was only 26%. So, this shows that sitting idle can have a huge impact on your vehicle’s battery.
This is no surprise, as when a car sits unused for a long time, the battery can go flat. That will mean the starter motor can’t do its job and you’ll go nowhere fast.
Cars use a component under the bonnet called an alternator that draws power from the engine to automatically recharge the battery. How long the battery holds that charge depends largely on its age. A new, healthy battery should be able to go unused for at least a few weeks without losing all its charge. Older batteries will need some help to get them through not being used, particularly in very cold weather.
So, make sure you start your car once a week and let the engine run for 20 minutes.
This will charge the battery. But remember to turn off features that draw current from the battery, such as lights and wipers, while you’re doing this.
It’s important that you only access your vehicle when you really need to. Every time you unlock your vehicle, it can ‘wake the vehicle up’ and start the use of electrical components, which reduces your battery charge. One easy way to use less power is to keep your door shut if you’re cleaning inside your vehicle, as this will stop your interior lights from switching on.
Stay with the car at all times while the engine is running and keep an eye on the temperature gauge, if the car has one. The engine shouldn’t overheat but it’s best to be on the safe side.
You could also use a battery charger, if you have one. Some modern battery chargers are designed to condition batteries and then keep them in the best possible shape. Make sure you connect and disconnect any charger according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, and only do this if you have the right equipment and knowledge to do so.
To find out how to charge your battery if it has gone flat, read our simple guide here.
2. Regularly start and move your car
Starting your car regularly isn’t just good for your battery, it’ll help your brakes and air-con as well.
Corrosion building up between the brake’s pads and discs makes them stick on. Moving the car backwards and forwards at least once a week should prevent this from happening. Obviously, make sure it’s safe to do this first.
The air conditioning in most new cars uses the coolant that flows through it to lubricate its seals. If the air con goes unused for a period, those seals can dry out and cause leaks. When you start your car to charge the battery, make sure the air con is switched on too.
3. Keep your tyres pumped up and your tank full
Ensuring your tyres are at the correct pressure for your car will keep them in good shape.
If you don’t have your own pressure gauge and pump, they’re a great investment. Otherwise, as soon as you drive your car again, take it to a garage forecourt and check and inflate the tyres where necessary.
If you need new tyres, find the exact ones your vehicle needs at Green Flag Tyres.
Also, make sure you fill your car with fuel, if you can.
The fuller a car is with fuel when it’s left, the better. Both petrol and diesel can degrade when left for long periods, but this only happens when they’re exposed to air. The more fuel a car has, the less air there is.
With a fuller tank, there’s also less chance of condensation building up. That said, fuel shouldn’t start to deteriorate unless the car is left unused for a year or more
4. What to watch out for when you get behind the wheel
Before you go anywhere, check the fluids beneath the bonnet. This includes engine oil, coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid and topping up the windscreen washer reservoir.
When you first drive the car, the parking brake may be locked on after you release the lever or switch. This will usually be because moisture trapped in the mechanism has stuck parts together. This should free when you drive off. Just be aware that when you first move the car, there might be a loud clunk from one of the wheels.
One thing to remember, your brakes will probably sound noisy when you first apply them. This is because there’s a layer of rust on the discs. It will clear after the first few times you apply the brakes, so there’s nothing to worry about.
5. Head out on a slightly longer trip
At some point during the first few days of driving regularly again, it may be worth taking your vehicle on a slightly longer trip.
If you’ve just been making shorter journeys, head down the motorway if you can, as it’ll let your engine hit operating temperature. Driving at higher speeds can actually have a cleaning effect on the emission control components in your exhaust, which is very handy after your vehicle’s been idle for a while.
What if you own an electric car?
Electric car batteries have clever computer management systems to ensure they last for years. But like any other battery, it’s not great for their long-term health to be fully charged then left for weeks.
If you must leave an electric car for a long period, it’s best to do so when its battery is between 45 and 55 per cent full. Then charge it fully just before you use it again.
If you’re planning on travelling, the Department For Transport has some important advice that’s well worth reading.
And remember to stay up to date with the latest news on our main COVID updates page.
Damon Jowett is Green Flag’s head of service delivery
188 comments on “Expert advice: car care during the COVID-19 lockdown”
Thank you – very useful
Yes very useful thank you
I found your information very helpful, thank you.
Thank you very useful advice
Thank you for your helpful advice. I am at present using my car once a week for a short distance for essential shopping.
Thanks that’s really useful. Shall start a routine to keep the car in good running order.
It has opened my eyes to a few points I was not aware of! Thanks, a very good article.
very helpful advice. many thanks
I’ve disconnected the battery , as per the handbook. Is that ok..?
Without battery power, you may need to reinitialise your radio when you come to reconnect it again. Also bear in mind without power, factory fitted security devices/ car alarms etc wont work.
Thats great advice, I had been wondering about the battery and brakes. Now I know I can easily take of them.
Thanks for the advice
Thank you for some very useful tips. However is it a good idea to charge the battery whilst it is still on the car?
Thanks, very useful advice, I will be following this.
That was very useful thank you
Thank you very much, very useful information.
Can you confirm that its better to lock a car with the supplementary door key so that the alarm system does not set and thereby drain the battery
thank you for those hints.
Just what I needed.
All bvery helpful advice . Thank you..
Brilliant piece of advice. I’ll take it all on board. Thank you. 🙂
Thank you for caring.
Thanks for these useful tips, the petrol capacity was a surprise but well explained
Really helpful, many thanks
Thank you so much my cars been still for 4 weeks I will action these tomorrow.
Thanks for these tips. I will run the engine tomorrow.
Very helpful cheers
many thanks for you very useful advice
That’s great advice , thank you
Really helpful tips and they are certainly useful when you want to look after your car. Many thanks, Robert
Very helpful information, no one to ask and was concerned what harm to car leaving it stood
thank you very much for all the information in this email, It is good to be told and helped with these things, and I have now learnt something. thank you
I leave my hand brake off and the car in gear. I am the only driver. I hope that might help.
Thank you for the advice. I haven’t used my car for over a month so I will carry out some of the tips tomorrow.
Thanks for the hints , I give the car a short drive just to keep it ok but the petrol hint was good
Thank you fotr this. Very helpful
Many thanks… most appreciated..mine had good run after 4weeks standing period..tyres were checked & fortunately filled up just B4 lockdown..will heed advice on all points
I wish I had had this information earlier as my car battery is now completely flat, I can’t even open the doors. I had kept petrol tank fairly full, checked the pressure and moved the car slightly to change the pressure on the tyres and put brakes on and off regularly, so was surprised when after only three weeks I had a flat battery. I live in a retirement home and have been doing exactly what advised and have not contacted anyone regarding my car, as I would not be able to use it anyway. So I will wait until things are mostly back to normal and then can I please contact you to arrange for someone to replace the battery and check the alternator etc for me? Thank you for being in touch, Valerie Joint
Some Of this advice is questionable, and certainly a consensus isn’t always reached. But starting weekly should not be required and starting an engine with no oil pressure is where engine damage occurs. Also why no advice to over inflate the tyres?
Great advice, thank you.
Great stuff. I will definitely give my car a bit of TLC. Didn’t actually realise how long since I’ve driven. Thanks for the reminder
This was most helpful thanks.
All excellent advice thank you
All really interesting and very useful. Thank you Damon and Green Flag and all the best in these difficult times.
thank you, very useful and informative.
Thank you for your advice 🙂
Thanks for the good advice, Well done.
These are all very useful tips. Thank you
Hi, My cars battery is flat again after green flag came and jumped started the car. Its a fairly new battery but seems to be a problem with Kia Vengas.
Could I use a mini portable jump stater, safely?
Excellent advice for someone who is not at all car-savvy. Thank you
The battery tip was welcome
Well I’m glad this is all wrote down. My hubby’s car hasn’t moved off our driveway since lockdown began I’ve been telling him he needs to do this, and he’s finally done it. My car is a workhorse and it’s never stood for more than a day without moving.
Really good ,solid Advice ,some of it I was not aware of.
Thanks for helpful information and suggestions.
Very informative. I was beginning to worry so I will be following your advice. Thank you.
This was very helpful for being able to look after your car without having to leave your home during lockdown
Very useful advice, full marks for customer care.
Thank you. Very helpful.
Thanks for anticipating what I was thinking to do for the battery, and the other tips are just important.
Thank you, very helpful advice.
This has been so very helpful thank you so much
THANKING YOU I carry out some of the above others I did not know about but will certainly add to my weekly check list
Excellent advice .thanks.good luck.
thanks for these useful tips, its easy to remember we are saving money by not driving anywhere for weeks on end but its good to consider the impact leaving your car sat on the driveway can have in the longer term.
Thanks, much appreciated. I was also grateful for the Green Flag rescuer who replaced my elderly battery when the car hadn’t been driven for more than two weeks!
Thank you.My car some will get attention today
Many thanks for this very useful advice.
Thank you – very helpful advice
Many thanks your information was helpful and very much appreciated.
Extremely useful information as usual. I must admit that I didn’t know that a full tank of petrol is better than half a tank. I filled my car up well before the lockdown and It’s still over 3/4 full. Thank fully I’m getting more than 2 months to the gallon.
Sound advice and important for safety reasons to follow it. I run a classic car as well as a modern car and I keep both moving on a regular basis as advised. If you don’t start and move your car you will compromise its overall performance. a bit like us, they need ‘exercising’.
What about Hybrid cars? does the battery charge when the engine is running and the car is not moving?
Hi Keith. Yes, hybrid vehicles are equipped with a smart charge system, which enables the batteries to be charged when a low voltage is detected. So, the batteries will still be charged, even if the vehicle is stationary.
Thank you for clear, concise advice in plain English.
Thank you for these tips they are really helpful. I have been starting her up once a week and moving her out of the garage but hadn’t let her run for 20 minutes only about ten but will do that now.. I am lucky my car does not have the electronics the cars of today have so I’m not so worried about the battery more the engine although she is as-good-as-gold for an classic car “1984 2.8 injection Ford Capri” but I know she doesn’t like sitting in a garage as she is used to being driven/
Wonderful advice and explained.
Just read your tips and found them useful! Thank you!
Very helpful. Thanks for the advice
My battery is already flat. Since I am likely to be in self-isolation for weeks or months, it doesn’t seem worth asking you to come and charge it. Am I right?
can you charge the battery without disconnecting it from the engine in place in the garage ?
thanks for the lockdown tips
I was told by my garage to start my diesel vw once a week but only for a few minutes as leaving it running for 20 minutes idling could lead to a problem with the dpf filter ?
Over time, using a vehicle for short journeys, or having it idle for long periods of time, can cause a build-up of soot in the Diesel Particulate Filter. Most manufacturers operate a warning lamp that’ll warn the driver when soot levels are getting high. The vehicle will then require a DPF regeneration, which usually consists of running the vehicle at 40/50 mph in a motorway setting in order to burn away the excess soot. It’s best to refer to your owner’s manual for vehicle-specific information regarding the regeneration process.
Great, but what advice can you give motorcycle riders with regards their bikes and scooters?
Very helpful advice, thank you. I had looked online but couldn’t find anything relevant.
What about a hybrid car? Will the battery be charging if it is started and runs for 20 minutes?
Hi Keith. The batteries will be charging as long as the vehicle is switched on. Factors such as age and condition of the battery will determine if 20 minutes is long enough to charge it sufficiently. But, on average, 20 minutes should be long enough to sufficiently re-charge your battery.
This is great advice. Thank you 🙂
Really helpful – good advice.
Excellent advice. It was concerning me about the effect it was having on the car and this advice was most timely
Thanks for great advice
Thank you so much. Knew my little car had to be looked after whilst just standing….now I know how to. Really helpful.
I am so grateful for your thoughtfulness. Thank you very much. What an excellent idea to tell us all of this. Bless you and keep safe.
If I keep the car in a locked garage, is it better to not lock the car so the alarm is not activated thus reducing the amount of power drained from the battery
I presume the alarm will use power from the battery?
Many thanks for this advice. It was very informative
If your battery is already flat should you get it going with jump leads straightaway or leave it to the end of the lockdown?
Thank you for all the tips, it may be a long time before I can use my car and my wife’s again so I shall certainly try to check on them every week.
Your comments re running engine for 20minutes to recharge battery every week, does this apply equally to diesel & petrol cars?
Hi Richard. Yes, both petrol and diesel cars recharge their batteries in the same way.
Thank you . These tips were very helpful as I was unaware of most of the problems that can occur when the car is not used for long periods.
Thankyou for that very useful advice. Worth paying Green Flag for that alone
That advice was very helpful. Thanks.
Thank you for the clear instructions
Thanks, I found this really helpful
Thank you so much for the advice to be honest I hadn’t thought about this but I will now it’s good advice.
Thank you very much for your advice – I was at a loss before reading it.
What about cars with stop start. Will 20 minute run time fully charge a battery. Stop start has stopped working on mine and last time it did this I needed a new battery. Any comments will help.
Very interesting,many thanks !
All keep safe n well ?
Running your car if it is fitted with a DPF will not do it any good.20 minutes will do more harm than good and will clog the DPF up.
Over a period of time, leaving a car idle can cause a build-up of soot in the DPF. Most manufacturers incorporate a warning system that illuminates a lamp to warn the driver of increased levels of soot in the DPF. If this happens, the vehicle will require a DPF regeneration, which is typically done by driving the vehicle at 40/50 mph in a motorway setting for a set period of time. It’s always best to refer to your owner’s manual for vehicle-specific information regarding the regeneration process.
This is the best summary of care during lockdown that l have seen. Nobody else mentioned that the aircon should be switched on during the engine run,for example.ak
Thank you for these precautionary tips. Very helpful
Good customer care and advice well done Green Flag
Thanks for the advice. Very helpful.
Thanks for the tips, like Ken it was news to me regarding the fuel capacity. I will run mine round the block tomorrow. I have really missed driving my car and it will feel like a treat just to drive again . Keep safe everyone God Bless Barbara Fleetwood .
Thank you for advice, only worried leaving car running could leave it running out of fuel, as I did not fill it up before lockdown. There’s just under 1/4 of tank left, 3 bars.
Thank you great advice which I will follow.
My neighbours & my garage all tell me 20 mins is not enough for a Diesel engine & it should be warmed up thoroughly?
Hi Sarah. This will depend on a few factors, such as the age and condition of your vehicle’s battery. On average, 20 minutes should be long enough to sufficiently re-charge your battery. The best way to get it fully charged is to use a battery charger, if you have access to one.
Great advice – thank you
Hi Thank you for the information my car is fine I uses to drive under 4 miles twice a day because I am a key worker during lockdown
Thanks very useful.
Thank you for some very useful tips. It is so easy to think you can carry on from where you left off without checking
Thank you for valuable guidance.
Information well received. Thank you for your time in putting this together.
Good advice. I have been giving my car a 50 mile drive once a fortnight when I go to collect shopping my daughter has done for me in the hope that is enough to keep it happy. Should I also move it up and down the drive in the intervening time? It’s a 10 year old car, but had a new battery last year.
Loved the tips and learned something new. Thank you.
Thank you answered my question re air conditioner
Thank you so much. Any and all handy hints gratefully received. Stay safe
excellent overview for self checking an idle car the item about the braking system the noise one might expect when bring one’s car out of lockdown
Many thanks for the good advice.
Thank you so much for this advice. It is very much appreciated.
Thanks for your advice very helpful
The garages are going to be busy with DPF issues with diesel cars! All short spins and no chance to imitate a regeneration
Hi Martin. Short journeys are one of many reasons that can cause a build-up of soot in Diesel Particulate Filters. If the soot level increases to a specific level then garage attention may be required to perform a forced regeneration. So, always try to meet regeneration parameters as stated in your vehicle’s manuals as much as possible to help prevent the build-up of soot.
Do you have any specific recommendations for a Yaris Hybrid
Hi Brian. Toyota recommends that their hybrids should be left in ‘Ready Mode’ for around 60 minutes, at least once a week. This should be enough to sufficiently re-charge the batteries.
Did know most anyway, but can always learn more and most impressed that you’re providing this information. Thank You.
If I’m leaving my car unused for a long period, I leave it in reverse gear ( lowest gear) and leave the hand brake off. Not a good idea on a slope though!
Would,you recommend leaving the car in gear when parking up for long periods and also parking on the flat.
All really good advice.
I read somewhere to leave handbrake off and just
put transmission in Park.
Is this advisable
Very interesting and useful, thank you
great info and a good memory jogger a well. Very useful.
Wonderful help, thank you.
I would like to say I knew it all but you still gave me good tips
Extremely helpful thank you very much
Many thanks for these great tips
thanks for the useful tips to look after your car during the lockdown period.
excellent pieces of advice, written in an easy to understand way , also an explanation as to why they are neccessary too , this not always the case when giving advice , thank you. i am a very experienced motorist but a little reminder does no harm , in the unique situation we find ourselves in.
Thanks Green Flag – Good advice. Hope I never have to use you but great for piece of mind.
I have been asking friends for basic advice but few have any idea. Therefore I am very grateful. There should be notices in garages to inform people
these tips will come in handy thank you
Thanks for your very useful information, much appreciated.
Thanks for these helpful tips. Very much appreciated and shall do what is required.
Good advice especially on the emission control components, many do not know about it and repair can be very expensive.
I am also a so cslled experienced driver, I found this slso helpful reminder. Please, I am not nit picking but, belive its sn offence to allow the car engine to run for period of time whilst stationary.
really helpful- thank you
handy motoring survival tips
Thank you. This advice answered a lot of questions
Very good advice for all those who never open the bonnet or think much about their car and just expect it to run well all the time. Well done..
Thank you was very useful advise
Very useful reading!!
Very good advice for vehicle maintenance, much appreciated.
Rather than drive at a higher speed it is better to use a lower gear and higher than average engine speed, much safer and better for diesel engine vehicles.
It’s always worth checking your owner’s manual for vehicle-specific information regarding the DPF regeneration process. Typically, vehicles would need to be driven at 40/50mph @ 2000-3000 rpm for at least 30 minutes. But, this can vary depending on the vehicle. Remember to have plenty of fuel in the vehicle, as it may not regenerate if the fuel level is low.
Helpful information and advice. Thank you.
Unfortunately I had a flat battery after making several very short trips – but a very helpful technician was with me in no time, and recommended a battery charger which I can leave on all the time, keeping my battery in good shape. I found the one he suggested on Amazon and it arrived in a day – it has been connected by a motor mechanic friend, and is a big reassurance to me, and means that I am not polluting the now very clean atmosphere by running my car for 20 minutes a week without going anywhere. The advice about petrol is very useful and I will fill up soon!
Could you let me know the make of the battery?!
Thank you. Very use information and advise.
Very useful tips. To tune the car up after a week how far should you drive the car- 5 or 10 miles?.
very useful information much appreciated,thank you
Very good, I wish it had been done a few weeks ago!
Very good advise. Thank
I thought it was illegal to leave your car idling?
Thanks Green Flag, good advice and well done for keeping in touch
Very helpful details for the non-technician and non-technically minded.
what are the 12 points that are checked in the health check? thankyou
Very good advise to the drivers In any situation, Thanks to your team to pass the knowledge on drivers who are unaware like mue. Thank you
Thanks for the advice, very helpful.
excellent advise all round Thanks green flag Keep safe, Kenneth Greaves
very helpful advice fortunately did most of the things you suggested including giving the
car a run for about 5 miles every couple of weeks ,i am now running normal most days thank goodness . 29/08/2020.
Thank you so much for all your useful hints.
It’s all very well telling drivers to idle their engine fo 20 minutes but think about the polluting effect this has on the environment, even more so with diesel engines.