Canadians have been driving a lot less than usual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As we all adjust to our “new normal”, we urge you to take precautions before getting back behind the wheel. It would seem that an unused car is a safe car – however there are safety and mechanical issues that can arise from leaving an automobile parked for an extended period.
If you haven’t used your vehicle in two weeks or more, we recommend you follow these tips before driving it. Contact a mechanic if you discover anything that doesn’t seem quite right.
1. Inspect your tires
First, walk around and look for obvious tire damage. Then, it’s helpful to drive the car forward or backward a few centimetres to identify any flat spots on the sections that were in contact with the ground while parked.
Use a pressure gauge to check inflation. Improper inflation can result in shorter tire life and, in extreme cases, safety issues caused by poor traction or tire rupture. Damage can also promote wear and tear on other related components in your vehicle and increase your fuel consumption – resulting in unexpected costs.
2. Peek under the hood
You don’t need to be mechanically inclined – at this stage you’re just looking for very obvious issues such as the presence of animals (or evidence that they’ve been camping out in there), visibly damaged wires, or fluid leaks.
3. Test the lights
Functional brake, signal, reverse, and, of course, headlights, are essential safety features. Here is a helpful guide for making sure yours are in working order before you hit the road. If safety isn’t enough incentive, understand that in many regions drivers can be issued fines for burnt-out bulbs.
4. Check fluid levels
Even if you regularly maintain your oil, coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid and windshield washer fluid, they can leak slowly and/or break down while you aren’t driving your vehicle. It’s wise to do a quick inspection after an extended period of down time.
5. Flip on the wipers
To make sure your windshield wiper blades aren’t damaged or stuck, turn them on with a burst of washer fluid. This will help you confirm the blades are still clearing liquid and can be counted on for visibility if you get stuck driving in the rain. Don’t forget to check the rear wiper if your vehicle has one of those too.
6. Run the heat / air conditioning
It may seem like more of a luxury to have these features – particularly in mild weather – but malfunctioning temperature controls could point to other/larger issues. If anything, make sure your defrost system works as this could affect your visibility and, in turn, your safety.
7. Check the battery
Admittedly, this recommendation may be a bit advanced. When in doubt, pay attention to your dashboard display and don’t ignore a battery light (or any other alert) that may appear. For the ambitious, here are instructions for how to read your battery gauge.
Finally, we suggest you run your vehicle at idle for a few minutes and/or take it for a short drive around the neighbourhood after extended downtime. This way, if any problems are identified, you will be nice and close to home.
If anything makes you uneasy or if you find something that is not working correctly, please seek advice or service from a licensed mechanic.