Expert advice: car care during the COVID-19 lockdown

COVID-19 lockdown
If your car is equivalent to this during its lockdown lay-up, follow our expert tips to keep it in the best shape (Picture iStock/Istanbulimages

Updated: 13th May 2020

Whether you’re now travelling to work again, or if your car is still sat idle, following the advice below is vital to keep your vehicle safe and ready to go when you need it.

Cars are designed to be driven. Some parts rely on regular use to stay in tip-top shape. That means during the COVID-19 lockdown, your car will need some attention to stay fighting fit and ready for any essential journey.

How long you can leave a car parked and expect it to work as it should depends on what condition it’s in. But follow my tips and when you can drive your car, there’s a much greater chance it’ll start first time after a lockdown lay-up.

Look after your battery

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Pothole problem: new report shows it’s getting worse. Read how to claim

pothole problem
An all-to-familiar sight on England’s roads. Read how to claim for the damage (Picture iStock/kozmoat98)

We may not be driving much at the moment but after the warm wet winter, the pothole problem for drivers is still a motoring headache.

A new report has revealed that road maintenance budgets in England have fallen; there are now fewer roads than last year described as being in ‘good’ structural condition; and the rising backlog of repairs means billions of pounds are still needed to bring local roads in England up to scratch.

What were the survey’s main findings?

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UK COVID-19 lockdown: what it means for MOTs, breakdowns, fuel stations

covid-19 lockdown
The government has suspended MOT tests for six months from 30 March 2020 (Picture iStock/yevtony)

If you’re a Green Flag customer and want our latest advice on what to do if you break down, please visit our important updates page here.

The country is in lockdown due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. The government has told people to work from home where possible and suspended all but essential services. What does this mean for car owners? Read on to find out about MOTs, what’s happening with petrol stations, and what other motoring services are and aren’t available.

What if your car needs an MOT?

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What is a hydrogen fuel cell car and how does it work?

hydrogen fuel cell car
The shape of things to come? Hyundai’s Nexo is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell (Picture Hyundai)

You might have heard the term hydrogen fuel cell car and wondered what it was. It’s an eco-friendly alternative fuel that’s already on sale, and which some claim represents the future of motoring. There is certainly a growing shift for car makers to develop this new tech. But how viable is it? Read on to find out all about fuel cells.

What is a fuel cell car?

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Quiz: how well do you know your James Bond cars?

bond cars
Smoke from the exhausts, machine guns in the headlights and off-set sunroof for ejecting passengers. It can only be James Bond’s Aston (Picture©Bond in Motion)

In April 2020 the latest James Bond movie No Time to Die was supposed to open. Although postponed until November because of the coronavirus, like every other Bond film it’s bound to feature evil baddies, nail-biting stunts and thrilling car chases.

But for many, the Bond cars themselves will be a vital ingredient to the movie’s success. In the latest film, 007 drives an Aston Martin again. But think back to the motors in the special agent’s previous 24 adventures. How well do you know your Bond cars?

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Flood damaged cars: how to avoid buying a motor that’s had a soaking

flood damaged cars
Once it’s been dried out, would you know this car has been partially submerged? (Picture iStock/ProjectB)

Rain and flooding might be in the news at the moment. But anyone buying a used motor over the next few months has got the prospect of purchasing flood damaged cars to look out for.

Having a good soaking in a flood can cause a car to have numerous problems, not all of them immediately evident. Follow our tips to tell if the car you’re thinking of buying is flood damaged.

Look at the windows

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Is it really possible for the UK to go all-electric by 2032?

all-electric by 2032
From 2032 this could be the reality for new car buyers (Picture iStock/PlargueDoctor)

Electric cars are the future of motoring. The government has revealed that petrol, diesel and hybrid cars will be banned from sale by 2035 at the latest. And it is aiming for new car sales to be all-electric by 2032.

It’s certainly an ambitious target but is it possible? In 2018, the Confederation of British Industry described making electric cars affordable as ‘the biggest challenge since the space race’. Has it got any easier since then? And will car companies be able to cope with the added demand? Read on for some answers.

Are there enough charging points?

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Expert Advice: all about turbo trouble in your car’s engine

turbo trouble
This is what a turbocharger looks like inside an engine (Picture iStock/Kool99)

Ever more cars use turbocharging on their engines. And that makes turbo trouble a problem some drivers might face for the first time. A turbo is a way of getting a smaller, more fuel-efficient engine to match the power of a larger capacity unit.

To work their magic, turbos have to work at high speeds, high temperatures and high pressures so they can be susceptible to failures. But if a turbo packs up, the engine won’t necessarily stop. Here I look at what a turbo is and the kinds of problems your turbo car might experience.

What is a turbo engine?

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Valentine’s Day 2020: great gifts to show your car you care

valentine's day
Do you love your car as much as he does? (Picture iStock/HbrH)

How about giving your loved one something really special this Valentine’s Day? No, we’re not talking about a gift for your partner… We mean a present your trusty (hopefully) companion who’s by your side through thick and thin, come rain or shine.

The best gift you can possibly give a car is to have it serviced. But assuming you’ve already done that and a service isn’t due for a while, we’ve got some more ideas. Read on for six great gifts for your car. In some cases, they’ll pay it back for the sterling work it does on your behalf. Oh and some of them might just come in handy for you too.

New mats

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Green Flag and smart motorways: how to stay safe

Green flag and smart motorways

The debate about smart motorways is currently raging, so I wanted to clarify Green Flag’s policy on them, and provide the latest information on what happens if you do break down on one.

A quick explanation of smart motorways

Smart motorways are split into three categories:

Dynamic hard shoulder motorways have a hard shoulder on the left-hand side; however, it can be opened for traffic to ease congestion.

Controlled motorways will have variable speed limits shown on screens above the lanes themselves.

All lane running motorways don’t have a hard shoulder, as every lane is used for traffic. You’ll find yellow-painted ‘emergency refuge areas’ every 600m to 1.5 miles. Any driver can use these areas if there is an emergency or they break down.

If you ever see a red X on the screens above the lane, that means the lane is closed. There may be a breakdown or people working on the roadside. Do not drive on this lane until told otherwise (you’ll usually see the red X replaced with a speed limit).

What to do if you break down, but can still drive your vehicle

If you know there’s a problem, but you’re still able to drive safely, try and leave the motorway and then contact us.

If this isn’t possible, then either use an emergency refuge area or move to the left-hand side of the motorway.

Use an emergency refuge area:

If you’re unable to leave the motorway, aim for one of the emergency refuge areas. As these areas can be up to 1.5 miles apart from each other, it’s worth noting when you last passed one so you can work out how close your next area is.

Every emergency refuge area has a phone that you can use to contact Highways England, or you can call them using your mobile on 0300 123 5000. This should always be your first step if you’re broken down in one of these areas.

When you’re in this area, make sure you leave room behind and in front of your vehicle to allow emergency vehicle access.

Move to the left-hand side of the motorway:

If an emergency refuge area is not available, but you can still drive, the next best thing is to move to the left-hand side of the motorway. Use a hard shoulder if it’s available, or get your vehicle as close to the left-hand verge, boundary or a slip-road as possible.

If it’s safe to, have everyone leave using the left-hand doors, and if there’s a safety barrier, get behind it. Move away from the vehicle and stay at a safe distance from the motorway.

Once safe, call Highways England on 0300 123 5000.

What to do if you break down on an active lane

What happens here depends on what lane you are in.

If you’re on the left-hand lane (lane one):

If you break down on the left-hand lane (also known as ‘lane one’), we will be able to come to your rescue. However, there are some steps you need to take to stay safe.

Where possible leave the vehicle by the left doors and follow the instructions above.

If this is not possible, and you can’t safely exit the vehicle, then do the following.

First, make sure your seatbelt is left on and that you’ve put on your hazards. Second, contact Highways England on 0300 123 5000. They will be able to close the lane (using the red X mentioned before) to help keep you safe.

We will come to your rescue, with the help of a fend-off vehicle. This vehicle will sit further back on the lane to help shield you from other vehicles. This fend-off vehicle will come at no extra charge to you.

We will never attempt fix a problem on the lane. We will tow your vehicle off the motorway to somewhere safe. This minimises the amount of disruption to other traffic and enables our technician to inspect your vehicle safely.

If you’re on lanes two, three or four:

Breakdowns on these lanes need to be dealt with by Highways England or the police, as all lanes will most likely have to be closed.

If you are unable to move to any of the areas previously mentioned, make sure you remain in your vehicle with your seatbelt and hazard lights on, then call the police immediately on 999.

If you’re unable to call, stay calm. Smart motorways have control centres that use cameras to monitor the motorways. They will see the problem and will work to get you help as soon as possible. However, always call the police immediately if you are able to.

The future of smart motorways

The smart motorway debate is an ongoing one.

At Green Flag, our priority is – and always will be – customer safety. That’s why we’re an active member of SURVIVE (Safer Use of Verges In Vehicular Emergencies). This is an industry body made up mainly of government agencies and breakdown companies.

I personally sit on this, and we regularly discuss all areas of the breakdown process from the industry’s perspective.

We’re currently debating how well Highways England, which manages the motorway network on behalf of the Government, can support us in trying to increase driver awareness about smart motorways.

In the meantime, I’d like to reassure all drivers that we’re doing all we can to help ensure smart motorways are as safe as possible for everyone.

Read more about smart motorways here.

Damon Jowett is Green Flag’s head of service delivery – rescue

Safety information from GOV.UK (c) Crown Copyright https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3/