Dealing with Covid-19: Keep your vehicle in good shape during lockdown

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a prolonged lockdown. We are to stay in the confines of our homes and practise social distancing. Given the stern guidelines, you would have very few reasons to drive your car. If you are working from home, your car is likely to be used only for the weekly or biweekly trips for grocery shopping, or maybe not even that.

However, this long period of hibernation and limited usage can have a negative impact on your vehicle. Estimates suggest nearly 30 million vehicles will lie idle. To ensure that your car remains niggle-free and in roadworthy condition, here are a few tips.

Park in shaded area: It is always a good idea to park your car in a shaded area to foil damage from long exposure to direct sunlight. Never park on a slope as this causes errors in reading of fluid levels. It can also cause wear and tear of brakes.

While an indoor parking spot would be the best choice, using a car cover can be a decent alternative. Remember to wash your car regularly as dirt, bugs and bird droppings can damage the exterior.

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Give top priority to security: While parking, lock your car fully. Keep it in a well-lit area to deter would-be thieves. Ensure that it is parked in a place that can be easily monitored through Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras, or it is visible from a window or balcony of your house.

The latest models are mostly equipped with keyless entry. So, keep your car keys in a Faraday pocket and away from windows or the front door.

Mind the battery: The battery gets run down even when the vehicle is not in use. To avoid it from getting discharged, make sure you start the vehicle once a week and keep it running for at least 10-15 minutes. This will let the alternator refill the juice.

If this is not possible, then disconnect the battery from the negative terminal to prevent discharge. This will help prevent the need to jumpstart the vehicle when you are finally able to get back into the driver’s seat.

A trickle charger can come in handy at this time. But since such products are unavailable currently, car owners can ensure that they regularly check the car’s electronic equipment, i.e., lights, music system and side-lights among others to ensure that the battery is charged.

Do not engage the handbrake: Engaging the handbrake when the car is parked for a long period can result in jamming of the brake. So, park the car in gear instead. A smarter thing to do would be to place chocks, say, a piece of wood or stone, before the wheels to prevent the vehicle from rolling away.

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Run the engine: Vehicles work best when they keep running. During this lockdown, the likelihood of limited movement should definitely be a cause for concern. So, start your vehicle every few days and operate all the systems, including the air conditioner. This will help keep it in good shape.

You will also need to change the engine oil. Used motor oil contains chemicals and additives that can damage the mechanical parts over time. So, it is best to put in clean fluid before putting the car away. In addition, start your car occasionally to allow the oil to flow around the engine.

Also, move your car forward and backward to keep it from remaining stationary for too long. This will also help avert flat spots on the tyres.

Check fuel and coolant levels: It is advisable to keep the fuel tank filled up during this period. This will prevent the accumulation of moisture in the fuel tank. It will also keep the vital seals from drying and prevent rusting in the long run. The same holds true for the coolant, which should be swapped before storing the car. Make sure you add the right amount of antifreeze, depending on the make and the model of your car.

Protect your vehicle from rodents: Rodents can damage the vehicle by chewing on the wiring and other plastic components of the car. To protect your car from rodents, park it in a clean space and move your car slightly forward and backward every three-four days.

Wax it: If you want that your car should shine as if it is new, in the absence of a car cover, make sure to protect the paint with wax and seal it before parking it. This will prolong the longevity of the paint even in the face of dust, dirt and other contaminants.

Clean the cabin: Your car is likely to miss good ventilation in the cabin for the duration of the lockdown. So, it’s a good idea to remove any leftovers like food wrappers or knick-knacks to prevent foul odours. So, dust and vacuum the interiors thoroughly, including the muddy bits like the carpets and floor mats. And as a precautionary measure, disinfect the cabin as well to avoid falling prey to the COVID-19 contagion. Determine the spots you touch most often and disinfect them most thoroughly.

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Renew motor policy: Car owners must ensure they renew their motor policies on time even in these challenging times to safeguard themselves from unforeseen circumstances once the lockdown period is over. An active motor policy will not only benefit the owners in post-lockdown servicing but will also guarantee them peace of mind.

While all these steps will help your car tide over the lockdown, ensure you take it for servicing once things return to normal. Given the current situation, many automakers have already announced warranty/free-service extensions by a few months. So, check with the manufacturer outlet and take advantage of the extension.

Ensure your car stays in prime condition

  • Start the car once a week and run it for 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, disconnect the battery from the negative terminal

  • Instead of engaging the handbrake, place chocks before the wheels to prevent the car from rolling away on its own

  • Keep the fuel tank filled up to avoid moisture accumulation

  • Do not park your car on a slope or under a large tree

  • Keep it in an area that is under CCTV surveillance, or where you can see it from your house

The writer is chief, underwriting, claims and reinsurance, ICICI Lombard