What checks should I perform if my vehicle has been inactive for a long time?

Cars run best when they’re in regular use, so what do we do when a pandemic strikes, and our beloved machines are out of action for weeks – or months – at a time? 

We spoke to Paul Maynard, our Lead Technical Trainer, about what you can do to get back on the road safely.


Step 1: Vehicle lubricants and fluids will need to be checked

After a period of inactivity, vehicle fluids/lubricants can run low or become contaminated. Driving a car in this state is not only dangerous, it’s potentially ruinous to the health of your vehicle. Follow our advice to sidestep any potential issues.

Engine oil

“Engine oil is crucial and it needs checking before you set off. You’ll want your car on level ground with the engine cold,” Maynard says. From here…

  1. Locate the dipstick in the engine bay and pull it out.
  2. Wipe it clean.
  3. Then, drop it back into its tube.
  4. Remove again and check the oil against the maximum and minimum indicators. 
  5. The oil line should be closer to maximum. If it’s not, you’ll need to add more.
  6. Finally, you’ll want to check the quality of the oil. Smear some between both forefingers and check for smoothness. If the oil feels gritty, it’ll damage the engine.


Power steering fluid

“For this step, you’ll want to find the reservoir cylinder located near the power steering pump,” Maynard says. “If it’s proving tricky to find, consult your owner’s manual.”

  1. Remove the dipstick attached to the cap and wipe it clean.
  2. Before inserting it into the cylinder, check the markings on the surface of the stick – in addition to a maximum and minimum marking, there may be heat levels that you can safely ignore.
  3. Insert the stick - you should be getting a reading closer to maximum when you pull it out again.


Brake fluid

“As in the steps outlined above, you’re going to want to use a dipstick to measure the levels of brake fluid at your car’s disposal,” Maynard says.

  1. Locate the brake fluid reservoir near the engine.
  2. Insert the dipstick and retrieve. There should be liquid up to, or near, the maximum mark.
  3. Check the colour of the fluid. It should be semi-transparent as opposed to dark.
  4. If your levels are low, simply add fresh quantities. If the fluid looks dark, you’ll want to book a full car service.


Step 2: Start the engine

After checking the vehicle’s lubricants and fluids are okay, start the vehicle and listen carefully.

Are you detecting any abnormal noises? Look out for:

  • A loud bang as the engine starts
  • Hissing
  • A low-pitch hum as the engine idles
  • A whine
  • A tapping or clicking sound in the background
  • A popping noise

“If something sounds off, switch off the engine and seek professional advice,” Maynard notes.

If all sounds normal, let the car warm up before taking it for a drive.

Step 3: Your lights should be checked before hitting the road

This one’s straightforward. Turn on the engine and engage the headlights, then hit the brake pedals to ensure the lights are working at the rear. You might need someone in your household to assist with checking the latter.

Step 4: Drive carefully when you set out

It pays to be prudent, especially if your car has been sitting in the garage for a few weeks – or months.

“We suggest taking a drive around your immediate neighbourhood first. Ensure that you brake softly; you may hear a slight scraping sound – this is surface corrosion being removed. If the noise persists, seek professional advice,” Maynard says.

Step 5: Get a full car service as soon as possible

Even if all goes well and you hit the road with no issues, it’s important to book in for a full car service as soon as possible.

“A full service will involve an inspection of the vehicle’s main components and may involve certain items being replaced and/or refilled to optimum levels,” Maynard says.

The service will guard against any niggles later down the line caused by your car sitting dormant during lockdown.