Haven’t Driven Your Car For a While? Check Out Our Safe Car Checklist!

If your vehicle’s been sitting unused for the past two months, Canstar has a car checklist to get you safely back on the road.

As New Zealand battled the spread of COVID-19, a lot of cars were left idle parked in garages. Now we’re more mobile, a lot of Kiwis will be wondering if it’s safe to start their car again cold turkey, or if they need to do any checks.

Basically, cars are designed to be driven, so lack of regular use can lead to a couple of problems when it comes to restarting your vehicle. So it’s best to be on the safe side and check on the health of your car before hitting the road.

How long can you leave a car without starting it?

According to the AA, how long you can leave a car without encountering problems restarting it generally comes down to the condition of its battery. The condition of your battery depends on a numbers of factors, including its age, how the car’s been used and the temperature. Most modern cars with a fairly healthy battery should last at least two weeks without needing to be started to recharge the battery. If you’re concerned about the condition of your battery, it’s a good idea to start it once a week to be safe.

What should I check before getting back on the road?

Your car insurance

First things first, are you covered if you have an accident or run into trouble? Do you know what your insurance will cover? Do you get roadside assist, for example? Make sure your insurance is up to date and right for your usage needs. Don’t just set and forget your car insurance, because it pays to shop around. To help you, Canstar compares car insurance providers based on factors like value for money, claims outcome and clarity of policies. For more details check our our ratings below:


Tyre pressure

Check your car’s tyres are fully inflated to the recommended level, it’s particularly important when you first drive your car after a long period of inactivity. If you don’t know the correct pressure for your car, it’ll be in the driver’s handbook, and newer cars tend to have it on a sticker on the driver’s door. You can also find it by searching for your car’s make online. Energywise NZ has a great tool for checking what your tyre pressure should be, all you need to enter is your number plate. Making sure your tyres are correctly inflated will help you use less fuel, be safer on the road, and ensure your tyres last longer.

Fluid levels

Check all your car’s fluid levels before starting the engine.

  • Check your engine oil. If the oil level is too low, or the oil is dirty, your engine life can be severely reduced. If the level is low, top up with the recommended grade of oil for your car. If the oil is black, it’s a sign it’s time for an oil change. You can buy oil at service stations.
  • Check your brake fluid. As your car’s brakes gradually wear, the fluid level drops. Brake fluid is hydroscopic, meaning it retains moisture. It should be changed at the manufacturer’s recommended interval to ensure the moisture doesn’t corrode the internal parts of the system.
  • Check your coolant. Coolant in your radiator stops your engine overheating. The fluid also has an additive that prevents freezing in sub-zero temperatures. This should remain constant around its “full” level. If it’s any lower, add more and keep a close eye on its progress. Frequent refills could indicate a leak.
  • Check your wiper water level. If you get out on the road and suddenly find your windscreen is dirty or bleary, you’ll need to give it a good clean, so ensure your windscreen reservoir is full, and topped up with any cleaner you use.

Engine

Check nothing’s nesting under your bonnet or has chewed through the pipes/hoses. The car’s various belts and wires can also get corroded if it hasn’t been used over a long period, so check that, too. 

Brakes

The brakes could have some corrosion on them, especially if the car was wet when it was parked. Try putting your vehicle into gear and driving gently to test your brakes. Check your handbrake is in full working order, too. 

Your WOF and registration

Check that your WOF and registration are still current. Arrange a full service once it’s running again if your car’s been standing for a long time. Note that the NZ Transport Agency has new expiry dates for documents like WOFs due to coronavirus.

Finish your car’s check with a 15- to 20-minute drive close to home, as this will loosen everything in your car and evaporate all the moisture in the exhaust and in the engine. It will also give you a chance to listen for any rattles or abnormal sounds, and you can keep an eye on the car’s gauges for unusual engine temperatures, battery charging, and oil pressure.

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