Motorists have been warned that weeks of not using their car could result in a huge number not starting or developing issues caused by neglect and a lack of running.
Experts said owners should take measures to ensure their batteries remain charged, tyres inflated and checks are made so cars won’t break down when they are first called upon.
With the Government easing restrictions on people being able to drive last week, we’ve spoken to the three major recovery providers to find out if they identified any rise in the number of call outs for stricken motors.
The AA says it has seen an increase in the number of call-outs for flat batteries and attended more breakdowns at customers’ homes than usual – both of which link to cars developing issues while being sat idle for weeks in lockdown
AA (approx 40% market share)
Reported lockdown breakdown increase of 76%
Britain’s biggest recovery provider says it has seen an ‘uptick’ in breakdowns across the country as many vehicles left unused throughout lockdown were started for the first time.
A spokesman for the recovery firm said Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week were the busiest since lockdown, though only with slightly above the average number of breakdowns for mid-May.
On an average day (based on 2019 stats), the AA says it receives around 10,000 call-outs from customers.
On the Wednesday before the lockdown was put in place (18 March), the AA said it responded to just over 7,300 breakdown call-outs as traffic levels slowly started to decline.
A week later on 25 March – the second full day of the country being told to stay home unless they were NHS frontline or essential workers – call-outs dropped to just 4,900.
That figure rose by a massive 76 per cent to around 8,600 breakdowns last Wednesday (13 May) after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stated earlier in the week that people in England could drive anywhere in the country to exercise, including beaches and parks miles away from where they live, from that date.
This suggest that while the 8,600 figure is lower than the daily average in 2019, given the time of year and much lower traffic volumes it is disproportionately high – which suggests an increase in lockdown-related car woes.
This AA table shows journey data up to 14 May. It suggests a continued upward trend since lockdown, with weekends being the quietest on the roads and Fridays the busiest
Edmund King, AA president, said: ‘The combination of Dominic Raab saying you can drive as far as you want to go and walk in a park, petrol dropping under £1-a-litre in some garages, removing the “Stay Home” slogan, and the Prime Minister advising people to avoid public transport, means a turning point in terms of more drivers taking to the roads.
‘We stress the need to ensure cars are in a road-worthy state particularly advising drivers to check tyre pressures, batteries and brakes before venturing out.’
The AA said that breakdowns at the end of last week were at their highest since the lockdown began, with Thursday being the busiest day in England.
‘Most occur between mid-morning and mid-afternoon, with both journeys and breakdowns dropping off into the evening,’ the recovery firm says.
The main reason for breakdown assistance was flat batteries, which accounted for more than two fifths of call-outs.
This points strongly towards a lack of vehicle use resulting in cars not starting.
It also revealed that two in five customers had called for breakdowns that had occurred at home as drivers discover issues which have developed during the lockdown.
The RAC said breakdowns were up by 73% compared to the start of lockdown, but also around 25% higher last week than they were at the start of May
RAC (approx 27% market share)
Reported lockdown breakdown increase of 73%
RAC said breakdown call-out volumes increased in the first five days from Wednesday 13 May to the end of Sunday 17 May by 25 per cent compared to the same period a week earlier.
Comparing last just Wednesday with the same day a week earlier, breakdowns were up 10 per cent, it confirmed.
How does that compare to the start of lockdown?
The volume of call-outs on the first day of easing driving restrictions by 13 per cent compared to the number of breakdowns on 18 March (before lockdown) and up 73 per cent in relation to 25 March (the first Wednesday in lockdown).
Green Flag said a large proportion of breakdowns have been due to battery faults and mechanical issues, which is common with a vehicle not being used for a long period of time
Green Flag (approx 14% market share)
Reported lockdown breakdown increase of 72%
On Wednesday 13 May, Green Flag, reported a 72 per cent increase in breakdowns compared to the first Wednesday when lockdown measures were put in place – similar to the increases reported by its two major rivals.
It reported a total of 7,700 breakdowns on the first Wednesday after lockdown was put in place in March, based on total breakdowns across market.
That compares to 13,200 breakdowns on Wednesday last week.
‘The significant increase in breakdowns is disproportionate to the increase in traffic reported daily,’ the recovery company claims.
‘Green Flag believes this could be primarily due to vehicles not being maintained during lockdown, whilst they have remained stationary for several weeks.
‘A large proportion of reported Green Flag breakdowns have been due to battery faults and mechanical issues common with a vehicle not being used for a long period of time.’
Seven things that can go wrong with your car after weeks of non use
Kwik Fit says demand for replacement car batteries has doubled in the last four weeks as people are using their vehicles less
1. You car has a flat battery
Even when your car’s not being used, electrical devices running in the background (like security systems) can drain the battery.
If your vehicle hasn’t been driven in weeks, there’s a very good chance the battery will be flat.
Kwik Fit says there are some measures you can take:
RAC explains why the battery might not start your car if you’ve not been driving
The optimum voltage for a car battery is around 12.6 volts – that’s the sign of a fully-charged battery.
Yet strangely, a voltage of 11.9 volts indicates a battery is completely depleted and probably doesn’t have the power to start a car.
If a battery – new or old – falls below 11 volts as a result of not being driven or independently charged for a long period it starts to suffer internal damage, meaning it may not be possible to bring it back to life.
– If you are not using your car at all, start the car once or twice a week and let the engine run for at least 15 minutes (stay in your car when you are doing this and the car must be outside)
– Bear in mind that a colder engine takes more out of the battery to start, so if possible start your car during the warmer part of the day rather than first thing in the morning.
– Check under the bonnet and inspect the battery terminals for signs of corrosion. Clean any corrosion and residue away from the terminals to allow a good clean connection with the battery.
– If your car is parked on a driveway or garage, consider buying a trickle charger which can be plugged into the mains and keep your battery charge topped up – always follow the guidance in your vehicle’s owners handbook prior to connecting a trickle charger.
– Check your battery’s age – most batteries are stamped with date codes and a battery more than five years old may be at risk of failure, especially if the car is only making short or infrequent trips.
Sticking brakes can be the result of motorists leaving their cars with the handbrake applied
2. The brakes are stuck on
Leaving the handbrake on for an extended period can result in the brake pads getting stuck to the discs and – in the worst scenarios – not release when you go to drive away.
If your car is parked on a flat section rather than a slope, you should instead leave it in gear to prevent this happening. You can also place a piece of wood or a brick in front of the wheels to stop it from rolling forward while in gear.
Green Flag recommends moving the car backwards and forwards at least once a week – if it’s safe to do so – to stop brakes from seizing.
Car maintenance firm Fixter asked some of its garages for advice, with both Trinity Diesels in Manchester and Wimbledon Service Centre in London suggesting testing brakes for stiffness during an initial test drive.
Any performance issues could require a replacement or repair.
It also recommended that brakes and fluids should be professionally checked after long periods without operation, especially because a build-up of moisture can contaminate brake fluid and reduce performance.
Keeping a tyre inflated to the recommended pressures prevents flat spots, which can write-off rubber
3. You have encountered unforeseen tyre troubles
Just because your car isn’t being used, it doesn’t mean the tyres aren’t potentially losing pressure while being stood in the same place.
Owners need to make sure the tyres are correctly inflated during lockdown – not just to ensure they’re pumped up to the recommended level when it comes to drive the vehicle but also to reduce the chances of developing a flat spot from weeks without use.
As well as using a home tyre inflation kit, Green Flag says by moving your car backwards and forwards once a week to stop the brakes seizing will also stop the tyres from getting flat spots.
This also moves the oils around the rubber, to ensure it doesn’t degrade in place.
Owners of diesel cars who run their vehicles to keep the battery charged need to make sure the particulate filter has completed a regeneration cycle at the same time
4. The particulate filter in your diesel car is clogged
Short runs to shop for essentials, deliver food and medicine to those who are in isolation or to attend medical appointments during lockdown aren’t ideal for diesel cars.
All modern diesels have expensive-to-replace diesel particulate filters (DPF) in the exhaust systems. These are designed to prevent harmful particles of soot being emitted into the atmosphere and the air we breathe.
The build up of this soot is usually burned off when the exhaust system warms up to the peak temperature and when you take the car on fast-paced runs on motorways to clear the filter of pollution away from built-up areas.
Even infrequent trips to the shops and back could be worse for a diesel car than not using it at all, as the soot will begin to clog-up the DPF, which are expensive to replace. So it might be worth considering other methods of short-distance travel in lockdown, if they’re available.
If you decide to run your the car to keep the battery charged, look for the DPF regeneration symbol on your dashboard warning lights (usually a filter-shaped symbol) to go off illuminate and then go off the signify the DPF cycle has been completed.
Neglected air-con units during winter months can cause problems. The same can be said during lockdown
5. The car’s air-con isn’t working
The air conditioning systems in most new cars uses the coolant that flows through them to lubricate the seals.
If the air-con goes unused for a long period, those seals can dry out and cause leaks.
This often happens in the winter months when drivers don’t use their air conditioning systems because it’s too cold.
If you start your car to charge the battery in lockdown or head out on a journey now that driving restrictions have been eased, make sure the air-con is switched on to lubricate the system.
Bird poo can do serious damage to the paintwork of a car. So make sure you’re not parked under any trees
6. Attacks from above have damaged your car’s paintwork
Bird droppings on modern water-based paint will start to impact the lacquer within 90 minutes, or even less if the car hasn’t been polished for a few years.
If it’s dried on, use some warm water to soak it first as this will make it a lot easier to remove.
Tree sap can also have a damaging impact on paintwork.
Scrubbing the paint without soaking the areas first will do even more harm as it can create scratches.
If your car is parked on your driveway or on the road under a tree, consider putting a cover on it to protect against sap and bird droppings.
Rodents taking refuge in your car’s engine bay could have gnawed through wiring, leading to potential repair bills
7. Stowaways have taken shelter in parts of your car
Car engine bays can be an attractive nesting area for small rodents so if you haven’t driven your car for a while, it’s worth having a look around to see if you have any lodgers.
Using a torch, look around under the bonnet for signs of intruders. Droppings, gnawed wiring or pipework and plastics, evidence of bedding or hauls of stored food are all signs that you have guests.
‘Favourite nesting sites are air filter boxes, under fuse boxes and battery trays and the area below the windscreen. But any dry, concealed space could be a target,’ says the AA.
It’s also worth looking under each wheel arch, around the suspension for signs of life.
If you do find anything, it’s important to deal with it as rodents can cause thousands of pounds worth of damage, having a particular fondness for expensive wiring looms.
If you are not comfortable or able to move the visitors on yourself, pest control firms are still operating but you may experience longer waiting times as many are busy with essential decontamination work.
If you find animals have dug in to difficult to access areas, you may need assistance from your mechanic.
It is also a good idea to clear out any build up of leaves and debris that may have accumulated during the lockdown period to prevent them from clogging ventilation systems.
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